Base price: $349
Heres an odd fact about the Netbook market: Dell doesnt own it. But why not? After all, Dell is a colossus in the laptop market; why are players like ASUS and Acer topping the mighty Dell in the rapidly growing netbook sector?
The answer, perhaps, is just wait. ASUS beat everyone to the bunch, but Dell may still be on the way to market dominance.
To whit: check out Dells Inspiron Mini 9 customization page. In famous Dell style, you can mix and match the components to build exactly the Inspiron Mini 9 you want. You can spend anywhere from a bare bones $279 to a jazzed up $434, with the bestseller arriving in the middle at $349. (But Dell offers a $50 off Special savings to knock it down to $299 a tempting price for a hip netbook with 1GB of RAM and a built-in webcam.)
With an 8.9-inch screen (which is shiny and bright), the Inspiron is now on the smaller end of the netbook field; personally I like that extra inch of screen space. Thats certainly arguable, though. Some netbook aficionados contend that the 9-inch size is the true perfect for an on-the-go unit. Their reasoning: If you really want a larger screen, get a full-size laptop.
Its keyboard is 88 percent of full size; certainly big enough for some hands, but other units (MSI Wind, HP Mini Note, Samsung NC10, for instance) offer 92 percent, if your hands are on the beefy side.
The Mini 9 has a solid state drive, instead of a traditional spinning hard disk. The SSDs arent known for their huge capacity, and Windows XP sucks up a decent amount of it. For this reason you might opt to spend a bit more and get the 16GB SSD on the Mini 9.
The Mini 9s look is pretty straight ahead: its not trying to be flashy or particularly fashionable. (By the way, Apple, after dissing the netbook market by sniffing we dont know how to build a $500 notebook is said to be entering the market. Certainly Apple will have the fashion angle covered.)
All in all, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is one decent, highly capable machine; the battery is smaller than many competitors, but otherwise the feature set here is solid and useful.
Newsflash: in late February, 2009, Dell debuted the Inspiron Mini 10. The Mini 10 is an attractive unit. Its starting price of $399 gets you a 10.1 inch Widescreen Display (1024x576), a 16:9 aspect ratio, a 160 GB hard drive, a keyboard thats 92 percent full size, with an optional internal TV tuner and a 6-cell battery. Thats a total package. (And that TV tuner is sexy a tuner on a netbook may represent the final merger between the Web and old-fashioned TV.) Heres the product page for the Dell Mini 10.
Check the latest prices: the Mini 10 starts around $350.
The Dell Mini 10 could be the netbook to beat. Engadget actually swoons, calling the Mini 10 yummy.
Laptop magazine is similarly enthused, saying the Mini 10 means Dell seems to have finally gotten the netbook formula on the nose with a stunning 10-inch display, good sized keyboard and trackpad and some seriously different features.
PC Magazine opines that the Mini 9 Inspirons mouse buttons are better engineered and easier to click than the competitions.
CNET praises the Mini 9 Inspiron as offering both XP and Linux options (Dell is in the forefront as a mainstream PC maker selling Linux pre-installed if you want Ubuntu, Dell is happy to help). However, CNET notes that the Mini 9 offers nothing radically different from other netbooks.
Specs: (you can customize, but these specs are for the $349 version):
Intel Atom N270; glossy 8.9 inch LED display (1024X600); 1 GB RAM; Wireless 802.11g Mini Card; 32WHr Battery (4 cell); 1.3-megapixel webcam; Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950; 8GB Solid State Drivel 3 USB 2.0 (the number of USBs may vary by price); 2.3 pounds; a 4-in-1 media card reader (SD, MS, MS Pro, MMC); VGA-out.
The Dell Mini 9 Inspiron netbook (photo courtesy of Dell)
Check out the list of top netbooks: