Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dell Mini 10 Review

We bought three Dell Mini 10 netbooks at work (aka Inspiron 1010s), and I’ve got one. Now that I’ve used it a month or so, I thought I’d relate my experience with it.

The Mini 10s we bought have the 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor, the 160 GB SATA drive, 1 GB of memory, HDMI output, microphone and headphone jacks, 3 USB ports, an Ethernet port, Bluetooth, a card reader, and a wireless card. As the three of us looked at them, we decided we wanted the fairly loaded units. We all thought we’d like to have a solid-state drive, but going with the 64 GB flash drive was a lot more money than getting the 160 GB hard drive.

An optical drive is sold separately, not built in. I bought portable ones for the two guys, and didn’t bother for myself.

Loaded with that big hard drive it weighs 2 pounds, 14 ounces, and it’s extremely portable. In a pinch, I could slip it into a purse, but it turns out that I prefer a small laptop case with space for the power cord, mouse, and a few odds and ends. It would probably be six or seven ounces lighter with the flash drive instead of the hard drive, but I prefer having all that space.

We bought 3 years worth of warranty for ours. I thought the solid state drive might be more reliable, but the warranty takes care of that concern.

The other decision was whether to get XP Home Edition or Linux Ubuntu. I’ve heard how much people like Linux, but our people are used to using XP Pro, and some of our software recommends XP Pro. Since the price (when I shopped) was the same, I bought XP Home. I could always put Linux on later, if I wanted. These computers are portables for people who have regular desktops, so I thought I’d keep everything as familiar as possible.

I took mine home to configure first because I wanted to do some experimenting before I set up the others. I got Outlook Express, Norton, and MS Works off immediately, then put on Office 2007 and tried it out. It worked just fine. I used the computer a while and was generally pleased. I had read that XP Home can’t be used in a domain. I wanted to join the domain at work for several reasons: I wanted to run our client/server virus checker when we’re at work, to be able to access our files when we’re in the office, and we all want to print to home and several work printers easily.

Next, I tried putting XP Pro on it as an upgrade (we have a site license), and it upgraded without disturbing anything I’d already installed, piece of cake. Maybe they sell it with just those two operating system choices to keep the cost down. I have had no difficulties from using XP Pro on it, and no problems joining it to our domain.

My Mini took 2 minutes 15 seconds to boot with the XP Home, but only 1 minute 15 seconds to boot after I installed XP Pro. It takes a little longer now that I have joined it to the domain, since it goes through a few more steps. I configured them all with some of the special software we run at our offices, the work printers, the virus checker, our company mail in Outlook (I set mine up so it lets me choose between my home email and my work email), the security settings we need for our own software, the trusted sites we need, etc. In other words, I set them up exactly like our other work laptops, and as far as I can tell, it acts just like our other laptops.

One of the things people complain about with netbooks is the keyboard. I really don’t notice switching from my regular desktop to the mini very much: my full-sized desktop keyboard is 10-3/4” from the left edge of Caps Lock to the right edge of Enter. The Mini’s keyboard is 9-7/8”, so it’s 92% as wide as my regular desktop keyboard. The keys go all the way to the edges of the unit, and the special keys (like the arrow keys) are laid out sensibly. The unit is 7” by 10-1/8” and less than 2” thick in the back where the battery is, and less than 1” thick at the front.

One of my coworkers likes the touchpad, and the other one doesn’t. It’s very sensitive, and the left- and right-click buttons are part of the touchpad. I found that wasn’t a problem for me. It doesn’t have a touch stick, and I couldn’t care less, because I never could work a touch stick. I usually use a mouse, but the touchpad is okay when I am only using the Mini for a few minutes.

The wireless card is good; the Mini finds and connects to the various wireless networks I use automatically. The card reader is fine for transferring photos from my camera. Right now, it’s playing all the pix from my camera in a slide show, mostly wonderful shots of our fall cruise to New England and Canada, on its lovely little display. The webcam works, but I haven’t used it much. I really do need 3 USB ports, and sometimes I use them all at once! I haven’t really used the Bluetooth feature yet, because I’m not used to having one. We tried out the HDMI video output to our bedroom television which has an HDMI input, and the picture was wonderful; however, we didn’t get sound using the one cable. We tried watching a Netflix movie, downloading it using the house wireless and watching it on the TV. That was actually a good experience, but I’m going to have to research the sound issue.

For our office use, you might prefer ordinary VGA output. To connect to an external monitor, you need one with either HDMI or DVI input. You can get a HDMI to DVI cable. You can’t easily convert HDMI to VGA, so see what inputs your extra monitor or projector takes.

The speakers sound okay, but are wimpy and located on the bottom of the unit. I have terrific hearing and even so, I’d like more volume and usually use headphones or earbuds. I tried external speakers, and that was fine. I haven’t played with the microphone input.

The monitor is a widescreen format, 10.1” diagonal, and despite my poor close vision, I don’t mind it at all. I don’t have it on its highest resolution setting. It keeps displaying a message offering greater resolution, but I like the medium setting best. It’s doing a glorious job displaying photos - a bright, clear LED display.

One of the other users doesn’t care for the small picture and will use an external monitor when he’s at a desk. The other user is constantly on the go, and doesn't mind the tradeoff of a larger display for extreme portability.

It comes in a bunch of colors and stickers. Ours are basic, shiny black, very pretty. It does show fingerprints!

Battery life is fine. I have mixed feelings about the way the battery pack fits. It puts the netbook at a good typing angle, but it makes it thicker. I certainly hope that in the near future we’ll see more netbooks with ordinary rechargeable batteries instead of these expensive, special notebook batteries.

We bought these netbooks thinking they’d be good for portable email and web browsing, but were pleasantly surprised that they can handle just about any task you’d do on a regular office laptop.

No comments:

Post a Comment