Dell's Inspiron Mini 10 isn't just a netbook, it's a work of art. Well, its lid is anyway. Dell has employed an artist by the name of Tristan Eaton to supply three designs for the Inspiron Mini 10 range and we tested one of them. It was an image of a sharp-kneed woman with her hands together, covered in patterns including swirls and circles. Now we're not properly qualified to say what is and isn't art, but we definitely thinks it looks cool.
It's a far cry from the flowery pattern that adorned the HP Vivienne Tam Special Edition netbook, which was designed primarily for a female audience. The artwork for the Inspiron Mini 10 is a tad more masculine, as it offers a modern graffiti-like vibe (although the colours were still inherently feminine in the design on our test netbook). There are many artworks you can choose from on the Dell Web site (not just Tristan Eaton's) and they can be backed by one of five available colours: purple, blue, red, black, green, and pink. You can check out all the art, patterns and colours on offer at Dell Design Studio.
The artwork is not the only feature of the Inspiron Mini 10 to stand out — its specifications are also different compared to most netbookswe've tested. It has a 16:9 screen ratio with a native resolution of 1366x768 whereas most netbooks have a 1024x576 resolution; an HDMI output port; 802.11n wireless networking; a 250GB hard drive instead of 160GB; it runs an Intel Atom Z530 CPU instead of an Intel Atom N270 or N280 CPU and it has Intel GMA 500 graphics instead of Intel GMA 950 graphics.
The Intel GMA 500 graphics give the Mini 10 better capabilities in the area of hardware-based video acceleration. This is needed because the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 has a built-in high-definition digital TV tuner. Although Dell didn't supply a cable for the TV tuner, we had to hand in our labs and in our tests the netbook was able to play HD channels very smoothly. Its screen has good brightness and contrast for displaying TV shows. However, the software that Dell ships with the netbook (Dell Digital TV) can only be used to watch and pause TV shows; it doesn't have the ability to record shows, which would be a major benefit for anyone wanting to catch up on the previous night's viewing while commuting to work. Furthermore, we were unable to resume watching TV after unpausing the action.
When you're not watching TV, the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 can be used to run office applications and browse the Web. Not only that, you can use it to crop photos more comfortably than other netbooks (because it has a larger resolution) as well as listen to music and even encode music. However, encoding music is a taxing task and it will take a while to complete this task. In our iTunes tests it took 8min 32sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s. This is a slow time score that's well below the fastest netbook we have seen to date, the ASUS Eee PC S101.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 10's hard drive (Hitachi Travelstar 5K320 HTS543225L9A300) also wasn't fast. It recorded an average transfer rate of 13.85 megabytes per second in our tests, which is approximately 7MBps slower than we expect for a 5400rpm hard drive. It's a very quiet drive though, and its vibration through the chassis is minimal.
We love the Dell Inspiron Mini 10's spill resistant keyboard, which has 16mm wide keys (with a 1mm gap in between), but it is a little noisy when typing and the keys on our test unit were mapped incorrectly (the Fn key and the left Control key were swapped around). We didn't enjoy using the Inspiron Mini 10's touchpad. It doesn't have separate left and right buttons, and the buttons are part of the touchpad as a whole and are located beneath its surface. They are hard to click and you can't use your left hand to click while moving the cursor with your right hand. It's a little like Apple's touchpad for the Macbook, but not as effective. It also doesn't support scrolling actions.
Physically, the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 feels solidly constructed and its ports are located on the left and right sides. It has three USB 2.0 ports, a 10/100 Ethernet port, an antenna connection, an SD card slot, and an HDMI port. The battery is located on the spine of the netbook and you can select either a 3-cell or a 6-cell battery. The 3-cell battery on our review model lasted 1hr 49min in our video rundown test, in which we disable power saving schemes, use full screen brightness and enable the wireless radio. This is one of the lowest times we've seen to date for a 10.1in netbook. We advise that you select the 6-cell battery instead of the 3-cell when configuring your unit.
After using the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 over time, it will start to get a little warm, and you will feel this if you use it on your lap. It doesn't have a side-mounted exhaust for its fan, and the only vents it has are located on the base. This means that the vents are obstructed when you use the Mini 10 on your lap, which contributes to the heat build up.
Despite the poor digital TV software, slow performance and the awkward touchpad, the Mini 10 is a great netbook, especially if you want a high resolution, a large amount of storage space and the convenience of an HDMI output. Plus it has some cool lid artwork!
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