Wednesday Ginger walked into my office with a small box with a Dell logo on it and promptly asked, “Well, what did you win this time?” I wasn’t quite sure. The box had my name on it, but I hadn’t ordered anything from Dell. It had to be a part for something, because it wasn’t big enough to hold a computer. Boy, was I wrong. The box had the new Dell Inspiron Mini inside, one of the tiniest notebook computers I’ve ever seen.
At the SC EdTech conference last week the Dell rep had mentioned these things and said I should really take a look. I’m guessing he was serious and sent me one to try out, so I decided to put it through its paces.
As mentioned, this thing is tiny. Here’s a shot of the unit sitting on top of my HP full-sized laptop, with my hand thrown in for good measure…
It has an 8 inch screen, and a small footprint to match. At 2.7 lbs, it’s about the same size and weight as a hardback book when folded up. This unit came configured with 1 GB RAM and a 16 GB solid state drive, running Windows XP. That small drive wouldn’t hold much, so PowerPoint viewer and Microsoft Windows were the only things bundled, beyond the XP system itself. It also sports a webcam, three USB ports, an SD slot, an Ethernet port, and VGA out. And, of course, there’s wireless.
With that little amount of storage this is really a network appliance. The idea is that you would do most of your work and store your files online somewhere. The ideal scenario would be to use something like Google Docs for office applications and download them online when you need them. To speed things up and give the option of using Docs offline, I downloaded and Google Gears. This lets me edit files offline, but I still have to be online to create them. It’s a weird quirk, and I hope Google can get that corrected.
But back to the mini. I actually type the last blog post on it while sitting in front of the TV last night. It performed quickly and well. The Atom processor doesn’t pull much power, and the little power plug looks more like something you would see on a cell phone, not a laptop. I haven’t checked to see exactly how much life I can get out of the battery.
The track pad is adequate, but a tad sticky. I like the placement of the buttons better than my HP 2133, but I still wind up using two hands for mouse functions. If the unit has one major drawback, it’s the placement of the keys on the keyboard. For the most part it’s a standard QWERTY keyboard, but they have done some weird rearranging. The double/single quote key is now on the bottom row. Every time I tried to type a contraction I would accidentally hit the Enter key.
Speaking of my HP 2133, I did some comparisons. The 2133 has more of the features of a full-sized notebook – 2 GB RAM and a 120 GB drive. I’ve got Picasa and MS-Office running on it, as well as several other network analysis tools. The Dell is strictly a lightweight and wouldn’t be able to run those applications. Here’s a photo of the two side-by-side, with the Dell on the left and the HP on the right…
You can see that the HP is only slightly larger than the Dell, albeit, a good bit heavier. Being slightly wider means a keyboard closer to standard size, and, more importantly, keys that are in the correct order. The HP has a brushed aluminum casing, which also adds to the weight but makes it sturdier. The Dell, on the other hand, is all plastic. In fact, a colleague took the Dell for an hour or so to try it out, and returned it with a big scratch across the top cover.
Whenever I’ve had either laptop out in public or shown them to someone, the adjective I usually hear is “cute.” The Dell scores over the HP in its cuteness factor. To me, the HP looks more like business.
I think if this were your only computer you would get frustrated with the Dell very quickly. While this might be OK for younger students, I would worry about how they would adapt to a non-standard keyboard, especially when we’re supposed to be teaching the proper keyboarding skills. However, as a small device for doing library research or carrying with you just about anywhere, it makes a nice addition to your computer arsenal.
[tags]mini notebook, laptop, Dell Inspiron Mini[/tags]
5 thoughts on “The Battle of the Minis”
I’m thinking back to the early days of PC’s, when just about everyone was making them in garages and there were dozens of companies making them. There was this little one with a “chicklet” keyboard, I think the name was a Sinclair.
Didn’t stay on the market long as I recall…
The first truly portable computer I encountered was the old TRS-80. It had a whopping 16 KB of memory and a 3-line LCD display. Even after I got a PC I still used it. I could type away, then upload what I had typed as an ASCII file to my PC.
I traded up for a bigger laptop. The “eyesight” thing. Yeah; it’s a lot bigger and somewhat heavier than my old Macbook. But works for me. With normal eyesight, one of these little ‘ens might indeed be cool.
Even with normal (somewhat) eyesight, the minis are a challenge. Despite the funky keyboard and smaller screen, the Dell seems to be easier on my eyes than the HP 2133.
I’m eventually going to start using a speech dictation software on my laptop (and maybe the desktop). As I’m essentially lazy, I haven’t worked with it yet. I wonder how close we are to having really good speech – to – text and maybe an eyepiece (like a contact lens) that lets us have a “heads up” display from a computer maybe the size of an iPod.