With the extreme thin-and-light Adamo XPS laptop, Dell made its mark as a design innovator. Now, the company continues to push the envelope with this next generation of the Dell Mini 10 (officially called the Inspiron Mini 10 1012), with simple tweaks that give the attractive Mini 10 family an unexpected makeover. Top all that off with appealing upgrade options and an unbeatable starting price of $279 (though our tested configuration was a closer-to-netbook-average $369), and this becomes the most appealing new netbook we’ve seen in 2010.
The glossy plastic lid is attractive and comes in a variety of colors. The bottom of the system is covered in glossy white plastic, and the wrist rests and keyboard bezel feature a glossy, chain-link texture. The keyboard and touch pad are matte black, as are the two small hinges attached to the glossy black screen bezel. The contrasting materials look sharp, and the overall design is unique. Even the chunky battery lip, which extends past the screen hinge (reminiscent of the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t), is a snazzy alternative to the vertical battery bump found on the older Mini 10.
Along the sides of the chassis, you’ll find a standard array of connectivity ports, including a VGA-out port, three USB ports, and a three-format flash-card slot. The Mini 10 comes standard with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi for surfing the Internet. Pricier models include Bluetooth 2.1+EDR connectivity, and for those who can afford it, Dell offers built-in mobile broadband with GPS functionality for $125. The mobile broadband works on the AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon networks.
Those who prefer to connect through video chat will find a standard 1.3-megapixel Webcam embedded atop the glossy black display bezel. The preloaded Webcam utility is easy to use; a small, bright, white LED next to the camera lets you know when the device is ready to capture a photo. While the microphone records crisp audio, still photos are grainy, skin tones look a bit washed-out, and motion captured in videos are blurry. The moving-image quality will suffice for Facebook and video chatting, however.
Below the Webcam, the 10.1-inch wide-screen LCD displays a 16-to-9 aspect ratio at a native resolution of 1,024x600 pixels. Because the glossy-finish screen picks up a modicum of glare from bright overhead lighting, we suggest watching videos in a dimly lit room. When we streamed video from Hulu.com, we noticed that the browser performed sluggishly and responded slowly to clicks and keystroke commands. Full-screen playback looked jerky, and occasionally the picture froze while audio continued to play normally. We downloaded the latest version of Adobe Flash Player, which lessened these problems, but it didn’t correct them fully. (Most netbooks experience at least some issues with Hulu, but the Mini 10 had more trouble than most.) On the other hand, horizontal viewing angles were fantastic, with clear readability all the way out to a near-edge-on 180 degrees. Vertical viewing angles, though, are much more limited; you won't want to view the screen much outside of 20 degrees of straight-on in that dimension.
When we streamed music from Pandora.com, we were pleased to find that the Mini 10’s speakers, located under the beveled front edge of the chassis, pumped out sound loud enough to fill a small room. We quickly turned the volume down halfway and were still satisfied with the level of playback. The sound is somewhat hollow, but the bass is better than we’re accustomed to with systems this size.
The Dell Inspiron mini 1012 keyboard is a vast improvement over the bland, unattractive keyboard from the previous Mini 10. The key tray is sunken slightly into the chassis, and the keys appear to hover above the key bed. During typing, we were pleased with the sturdy, springy feel of the keys and how they were practically silent. As with the older Mini 10, the spacebar is short, about the same width as the touch pad, which features the same integrated mouse buttons found on the older Mini 10. Though the touch pad takes some getting used to, the mouse buttons respond well and function much better than the cramped, finicky touch pads found on the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t and IdeaPad S10-3.
Although the Mini 10’s physical features are superior to those of some of its competitors, the netbook operates on Windows 7 Starter and features internal components that are identical to those of many other Pine Trail netbooks we’ve seen this year. It has an Intel Atom N450 CPU (that CPU family makes it a Pine Trail netbook), 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. When we ran our battery of benchmark tests, we found that the Mini 10 performed about the same as similarly outfitted systems.
To test the CPU we do three tests, starting with the familiar Cinebench 10. The Mini 10 scored 570 on this test, one of the lower Pine Trail scores we’ve recorded. Pine Trail netbooks have ranged from 566 on the Averatec N1200 to 874 for the Samsung N210—all three of which use the same processor and integrated graphics, which leaves us wondering if the low-end showing for the Mini 10 has more to do with cooling or some other factor.
Next, we ran our iTunes test, which requires the netbook to convert 11 standard MP3 files to AAC format. The Mini 10 took 22 minutes and 29 seconds to complete this test, only a second faster than the comparable, $379 Samsung N210 (22:30). We also ran our Windows Media Encoder test, in which the Mini 10 converted a standard video file in 25 minutes and 56 seconds. That score beats out nearly all Pine Trail netbooks, except for the MSI Wind U135 (25:53) and the $649 Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t. For the most part, the take-away here is that the Dell Mini 10 performs on a par with the other Pine Trail netbooks, which is to say, mediocre.
The graphics scores followed suit with the CPU scores. We test 3D graphics and gaming performance by running a standard configuration of our 3DMark06 test; the Mini 10 scored 160 on this test at its native resolution of 1,024x600. That's exactly what we'd expect, seeing as all the netbooks we’ve tested this year have scored from 154 to 164 points—indicating not nearly enough oomph for hard-core gaming, but decent enough performance for social-media games like Farmville.
The Mini 10’s six-cell battery lasted for a solid 6 hours and 14 minutes, a time that should please road warriors and students alike. So far, the best Pine Trail battery times we’ve observed came from the Asus Eee PC 1005PE (6:34) and the Acer Aspire One AO532h-2Dr (6:08). Our battery-rundown test is quite strenuous (we stream continuous video via Wi-Fi until the battery conks out), and we’re confident that the Mini 10, while running a mix of light tasks, will last for the eight or more hours that Dell promises.
The extras included with this model are more generous than most. The Dell Mini 10 comes preloaded with a full version of Microsoft Word and Adobe Reader 9.0. It also comes with 15 months of McAfee SecurityCenter antivirus service and a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, which relieves some of the immediate strain on your wallet. All Mini 10 systems sold in the United States also come with Cozi Family Calendar, a useful app to help busy families stay organized with shopping lists, family journals and memos, to-do reminders, and monthly planners. Cozi is free to everyone, but we appreciate that Dell also offers 2GB of free online backup for a year, a yearlong basic mail-in service plan, and a one-year limited warranty. And there's an unusual addition: The netbook comes with a year of support for LoJack theft-recovery service, under which the netbook can automatically call in to report its location if reported stolen.
The Mini 10 comes in a variety of configurations, incorporated into various software/hardware bundles. You can opt for configurations with an HD display, a dedicated media accelerator for smooth playback of high-definition video, a TV tuner, or even built-in GPS functionality. The $279 base unit runs on Windows XP, and the base units are the only models that come with a three-cell battery. Our Windows 7-based test configuration came in at $369, which also factored in a $40 cherry-red lid, so it's possible to get the same model we tested, but without the color option, for a very competitive $329. On the flip side, Dell offers a plethora of customization options online, and with each one adding a little price bump to the system, it’s all too easy to rack up a tab of $500 more.
The Dell Mini 10 is one of our favorite Pine Trail netbooks so far. Not only is its design attractive, but its keyboard is also far better than the older Mini 10’s. And its performance is just as good as that of netbooks with comparable specs and prices.