Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Reviewed: Refining the Netbook Marketby Anand Lal Shimpi on September 4, 2008 12:00 AM EST
- Posted in
Typing Speed: Tested
I decided to do an informal test of typing speed on these netbooks to see exactly how much you give up by going to the smaller, awkwardly laid out keyboard. I went to typingtest.com and tested myself on all five typing tests, averaged the results and compiled them here:
|Average Net Speed over 5 Tests||Average Accuracy over 5 Tests||Peak Speed / Accuracy|
|Apple Al Keyboard (Reference)||106.8 wpm||97.8%||118 wpm / 99%|
|ASUS Eee PC 901 (Run 1)||92 wpm||95%||100 wpm / 96%|
|Dell Inspiron Mini (Run 1)||81.4 wpm||95.2%||96 wpm / 100%|
|ASUS Eee PC 901 (Run 2)||87.8 wpm||95.4%||103 wpm / 98%|
|Dell Inspiron Mini (Run 2)||91.2 wpm||97.8%||104 wpm / 100%|
My reference was the standard Apple aluminum keyboard I type most of my articles on. I netted just under 107 wpm with an average accuracy of 97.8%. I only did one pass on the Apple keyboard but two on the Mini and Eee PC; I figured I was most used to the Apple keyboard and I could use a few more tries with the two netbooks.
On the first run through all five tests my speed on the Mini wasn't anywhere near as good as on the Eee PC, but accuracy was slightly higher. My peak accuracy was higher on the Dell, while my peak speed was higher on the Eee PC.
The second run switched things for me. My scores improved dramatically on the Mini, and dropped slightly on the Eee. Accuracy on both improved however, it seems like I was trying to be more patient on the Eee PC and as a result dropped my speed a bit.
At the end of the day it looks like either of these netbooks let's me type at around 80 - 85% the speed of me on my desktop, which isn't bad but it's slow enough for me to be frustrated if I'm trying to do real work on them. I wrote parts of this article on the Mini and I've written things on the Eee PC as well; while I can do it, I prefer not to. None of this data should be surprising, I'm just trying to convey the idea that you shouldn't try to use the Mini for something it's not intended for: typing out novels or really long reviews of netbooks.
What We Need: Predictive Text Entry on Netbooks
Perspective is important, so I took advantage of the fact that I've got a friend (let's call him Ben) who spends parts of his days playing around in my lab while I work.
I sat Ben in front of the Inspiron Mini and the Eee PC. His hands are a bit bigger than mine and I wanted to see how well he could do on the same typing tests I was running. On a standard keyboard he was averaging between 70 and 80 words per minute, shifting to the Eee PC and he was down in the single digits, eventually giving up. He said the keyboard was simply too small for him to use. I asked him to try the Dell and while he could only muster around 20 words per minute on the Mini's keyboard, he felt it was at least workable. The Eee PC in his mind was too cramped, and while the funny apostrophe key location on the Dell was annoying, he could use it. What followed however was the best suggestion I'd heard about one of these devices: it needs predictive text input.
When Apple set off to develop the iPhone it also came up with a fairly ingenious way of predicting user text input. The virtual keyboard on the iPhone is small, but the software can look at the keys you're hitting and at least guess at what letters you may have meant to hit based on a combination of word-length and the letters surrounding the one you actually hit. Using this data, the iPhone can figure out what you may have wanted to type and correct it accordingly. Apple assumes you're going to make typing errors and attempts to figure out what you meant to type - when you don't have the flexibility of a full hardware keyboard, use the software to make up for it.
I think Ben may be onto something here, the true potential in these netbooks lies in the user interface. If you try and use the Mini as a standard notebook or desktop you'll be sorely disappointed, but combined with an easy to use application launcher interface it all of the sudden becomes quite acceptable. It's what I've been arguing for years: in order to work in a new form factor/usage model, you need a new UI. Microsoft figured this out with Media Center and yet we've seen most companies (MS included) forget this lesson in nearly everything mobile, Apple being the exception.
Whether it comes from the open source community or from someone like Dell, what these < 9" netbooks need aside from a good keyboard is good predictive text software. The standard QWERTY keyboard layout hasn't really changed, we know where the keys are supposed to be, if we mess up because they aren't there on a cramped netbook keyboard, we need software to make the appropriate adjustments on the fly; it's a much better alternative than just having to put up with cramped keyboards.