Ubuntu

The entry level Mini ships with Ubuntu and a very elegant application launcher - this is the version I had for review. Once again, mimicking what ASUS did with its Eee PC, but improving at the same time. There's a much greater degree of polish to Dell's Ubuntu install than Xandros on the Eee PC, functionally the two are equally capable as presenting the netbook as an appliance and not a computer, but Dell's approach feels a bit more...professional.


The default Ubuntu desktop


The standard desktop with the application launcher disabled

The application launcher has some very nice transition effects between levels of the menu, and honestly the only complaint I had was that while ASUS had standardized on Google links everywhere, Dell opted for the less popular Yahoo alternatives. There's even a Yahoo toolbar installed by default, which is completely unneeded on a device with such limited vertical screen resolution. With only 600 pixels separating the top and the bottom of the screen, we need efficiency here - not garbage crowding our screen. Google Chrome would work perfectly in this sort of a situation where there's no need for a menu bar in the browser.


The Yahoo toolbar...totally unnecessary

ASUS' UI places the task bar at the bottom of the screen while Dell's has it on top, it's mostly personal preference. Take your pick. Thankfully, these distinctions only apply to those using it as an appliance - you can obviously load any Linux distro or other OS on the Mini (or the Eee PC).

Like other Linux based netbooks, the Inspiron Mini relies on OpenOffice to provide your basic Microsoft Office compatibility. The OO applications get the job done but they do lack the fit and finish of their MS equivalents. That being said, they are free and we are still talking about a $349 computer here.


The app launcher is very easy to use, you can also add your own icons

Web browsing is provided courtesy of Mozilla, although as I mentioned before, I do believe Chrome would actually shine here thanks to its simpler interface. Pidgin comes preinstalled for IM support, no complaints there either. Updates are handled automatically and for the most part everything worked flawlessly. I did have one issue where the built in camera application (Cheese) wouldn't record usable video, the resulting video file would play back at 2x the correct frame rate and without audio. I'm guessing that's more of a software problem than a hardware one though.

If you've never used Linux, there's honestly no reason to be afraid of the base configuration on the Mini. The application launcher is straightforward enough and Ubuntu is user friendly enough that any computer user should be fine. It's even better if you rely on Gmail/Google Docs for all of your email/documents, then all you need to do is know how to get to the web browser and you're good to go. For a die-hard Windows user, it may take some adjusting to Ubuntu but the switch is, in my opinion, easier than the Windows -> Mac transition.

A Display That’s Not Half Bad Pricing and Availability
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  • jrinco11 - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    for those interested in how it is w/XP, I wrote a bit about it here http://www.jrin.net/2008_09_25/dell-inspiron-mini-...">http://www.jrin.net/2008_09_25/dell-inspiron-mini-...

    in my opinion, it matches the acer aspire one except for it's better battery life and webcam (in low light), but the keyboard layout kinda sucks
    Reply
  • goobersnotch - Tuesday, September 23, 2008 - link

    I got my inspiron mini yesterday. 16 gig ssd version. it had 1 gig of ram but i swapped in a 1 gig ram stick (should've ordered 512 megs and saved $25). with webcam and bluetooth it came to $430 after an employee discount coupon.

    my thoughts? i love the system. it is a lot faster than the acer aspire one that i played around with at circuit city (but granted that was the low end 4 gig ssd linux version). it takes 20 seconds to boot up and comes out of sleep mode in 3-4 seconds. the acer takes 30 seconds to come out of sleep mode (and on linux no less).

    The keyboard? well due to the strange way i type, typing letters on my left hand is flawless, words that primarily rest on the left side i type fast and without typoes. right hand side on the other hand is a disaster. i have trouble getting used to anything that requires the right pinky other than the enter key. and i have trouble hitting the o and p keys. i hate where the ' key as well, as i have to pause and consciously find it in order to use it.

    however i feel like i can get used to it. after all, i'm not using this thing for anything other than web browsing, including working on docs in google docs. the hard drive space is a nonfactor, i still have 11 gigs out of 16 free and i don't see myself using much more since any local docs/images/music/etc that i download i am putting on a 16 gig sd card and most of my important docs are online on my box.net storage acct and in google docs. and my email is done in gmail because its way more convenient than using a local email client.

    no 3g? well I didn't want to pay $50 a month for slow internet anywhere, anyway. there's tons of wireless hotspots in austin.

    I would also recommend that anyone who gets a mini to put 2 gigs of ram in there, as it seems to considerably help in the # of apps you can run, or browser windows you can open.

    Overall, i love this system and dont regret paying extra for it when i could have gotten a cheaper, but inferior, acer aspire or asus eeepc.
    Reply
  • goobersnotch - Tuesday, September 23, 2008 - link

    whoops, in the first sentence, meant to say that i swapped a 2 gig ram stick in. it was only $46 from crucial.com

    Reply
  • DeadpanScience - Saturday, September 13, 2008 - link

    I't looks really nice. 8.9 inch screen, LED backlighting, convertible tablet mode, all for $699. Plus none of the reviews from laptop mag/umpcportal have really gone in-depth with their reviews. Give me some numbers please! Reply
  • J Beck - Sunday, September 7, 2008 - link

    Nice review, well done!! As others suggested, you ought to look at the Acer Aspire One. I have the Atom processor, XP, 120GB HDD, 1GB "150" model, for the same $349. It is killer. The only limitation is battery life as I have the 3 cell version and get only about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. But, I rarely use it "unplugged" anyway and a 6 cell battery is available. It lacks built-in Bluetooth, but a tiny Kensington Bluetooth usb dongle took care of that and with 3 usb ports, no worries.

    I can touch type very easily with no adjustment or learning curve and I am 6' with fairly large hands. The keys are all in the right places (it has regular punctuation and "F" keys and with great key sizes (especially the right hand "enter" and "shift" keys being larger as with full size keyboards). The touchpad has this amazing function. In addition to scrolling (along the right edge of the touchpad), you can zoom using touch strokes like the iPhone and Mac Air.

    The 120GB drive makes this really usable for the long run. I can't imagine 4GB, 8GB or even 16GB. My iTunes library alone would almost use any of those that. The screen is a backlit LED screen and it is super at the same resolution as the Dell. The build is as good as my newly acquired Dell XPS M1330.

    I thought this was going to be a toy or for really occasional use as this review sort of suggests the netbook category "must be". But, when I started using it, I found I can put everything I do on it and virtually carry my office anywhere around my house, my office or, for that matter around the world. The 120GB (with 2 memory card slots to boot!!) allows me to do that and not worry about a connection to the web or the security issues of "Cloud computing".

    Reply
  • kenbx84 - Friday, September 12, 2008 - link

    Sorry but this review is all wrong on prices. EEE PC 901 is now $499 with more bells and whistles and the EEE PC 1000H is $449 now with a lot better specs. Reply
  • ed21x - Sunday, September 7, 2008 - link

    With the Dell, you don't have a 1.3 mp camera, bluetooth, upgradeable SSD, or 6 cell battery that comes standard on the Asus. Once you upgrade all those options on the Dell, the prices come out to about the same. Add in $50, and you can step up to a 10'' screen and larger keyboard (Asus 1000H) which is a much better deal, and makes more sense, as that extra inch really makes the keyboard feel like a fullsize. I think comparing the prices of a low-spec'ed Dell to a full-spec'ed Asus is definitely biasing against the Asus. Reply
  • Igor37 - Wednesday, September 10, 2008 - link

    ed21x wrote: "With the Dell, you don't have a 1.3 mp camera, bluetooth, upgradeable SSD, or 6 cell battery that comes standard on the Asus. Once you upgrade all those options on the Dell, the prices come out to about the same."

    Personally, I like having the option, since I don't need Bluetooth or the camera, and could care less about upgrading the RAM or having a larger battery.
    Reply
  • Pixy - Friday, September 5, 2008 - link

    Despite the recent improvement I still like the design of the HP Mini-Note.

    I am still waiting for the Netbook market to mature before I casting aside my Sony SZ. Hopefully the internal hardware will improve enough for a fanless version which produces little heat to come out soon. Two things I hate most about laptops: heat and noise!

    I wonder whether Nvidia could have an advantage here because of their CUDA concept. Basically, it would create a Netbook with superb graphics capabilities and is able to run simple program, which is what the average consumer needs anyway.

    Intel and VIA, hurry up with the new chips. AMD... keep trying... and hopefully you can surprise me.
    Reply
  • weihlmus - Friday, September 5, 2008 - link

    dell already tried the fanless approach on the latitude X1 and for all the whole system was only using 10W or so (no battery) according to my power meter it still got feindishly hot after a few hours use - theres nothing worse than trying to type on a small format laptop with sweaty fingers!

    also when reviewing netbooks can you compare the power adapters? its one think having a 1 kilo netbook but then having the best part of a kilo of power adapter and leads to carry around is another... sureley the atom laptops can run from a wall wart not a standard 60W laptop power pack?!
    Reply

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