Friday, November 14, 2008

Review of my Dell Mini-9 Netbook PC

I've had the Netbook for a little over 6 weeks now and am getting used to it's ways so it's about time to post some of my thougts about it.
I'm not going to list all the specs for the machine since they are well laid out on the Dell website. I will list the customization that I selected for them machine and then my Pros, Cons & final opinion.

Customized options
O.S - Windows XP (I know but my hospital's lame IT people wouldn't authorize this PC to log into the VPN if it was a Linux one)
16 gig SSD
1 gig RAM
1.3 megapixel webcam

Pros:
  • It's a small, light machine which will easily fit into my briefcase, the power cord has just a relatively small box on the end instead of the larger brick so that is no problem to carry around
  • The screen is a bit 'glarey' but not too bad unless light is shining directly on it, it is a fingerprint magnet though. Color reproduction is excellent the the screen & video card refresh rapidly enough that watching DVD's show no appreciable smearing or lag.
  • Excellent WiFi antenna reception. I'm getting great reception at the ragged edge of my home's WiFi network even in areas where my husband's HP laptop can get nothing
  • The SSD is a bit slow to load programs but once it does the machine's performance is more than adequate for browsing, word processing, e-mail & other basic functions.
  • Battery life is more than enough, I'm getting 4 hours (or more if I turn the bluetooth off) of time before I have to plug in the machine to charge
  • The widescreen form factor is great for watching movies on a plane or while waiting at the airport/train station (you have to plug in the optional optical drive for this but the one available is very lightweight and easy to carry, does affect battery life though)

Cons:

  • Biggest complaint NON STANDARD KEYBOARD!!! Many keys have been moved or shrunken to fit into the smaller form factor. I don't mind the function keys being moved to the home row or the tab & shift keys being narrowed but moving the '/" key to the bottom near the space bar is driving me buggy. I've lost track of the number of times I've hit the enter key by mistake, not a big deal while word processing but for filling out forms or microblogging it's a major pain
  • The webcam requires a lot of ambient lighting to get an adequate image. In low lighting situations the picture is grainly almost to the point of unusability.
  • The USB hard drive offered by Dell with this unit will not work with it. The WD Passport (their recommended external drive) requires 1000 mAmps to spin up and the maximum power output of the USB ports on this unit is 500 mAmps. There is an optional 'split usb' cable available but Dell doesn't offer it so I had to get it from the manufacturer & this version of the drive doesn't have the option for an external power cord as some of them do. I'd suggest that you get an external drive with either the split cord or power cord option. The Iomega drive worked just fine on this unit once I plugged in the split USB cord
  • The mouse pad is too close to the space bar and far too sensitive. It's very easy to brush up against it while typing and have the mouse cursor bounce all over the screen. Also, it has those scroll option areas on the bottom & right side of the pad but they're not marked at all so it's difficult to tell where they are. I solved this by getting a minimouse and using that, when the minimouse is plugged in the touchpad can be automatically disabled (an option) so that problem goes away. Turning down the sensitivity of the pad to the point where accidental brushes didn't occur made it so insensitive that you really have to tap on the pad to make it work. It's almost an "all or nothing" type of option.
  • I'd have preferred a little more range of motion for the screen, it only opens to a maximum of about 75 degrees from the horizontal. More than enought when you're working at a table but not really enough when you've got the unit in your lap at an airport or on a train.
  • Many may find the wordprocessing software inadequate. The most you get is Microsoft Works (& that's only if you get the 16 gig SSD option). This wasn't a problem since I'm not using the unit for major text editing and there are viewers for both Excel & Powerpoint included. Also, I have access, via my institution's VPN, to Microsoft Office 2003 and can do any major work once I log into their network.
  • When they say XP home, they mean the real basic installation. Although sp3 was included the unit came with IE6 & WMP XP, both of which I had to upgrade to Firefox & WMP 10 respectively (I'm not adding a lot of extra software to this machine, after installing Java, Flash, Adobe Air & Firefox, I've only got 9 gigs left (of the original 16) on my SSD. I use a 8 gig USB key for data storage but hibernating the machine takes almost 1.3 gigs so I'm trying to avoid installing anything else.

Summary & Conclusions:

This netbook is more than adequate for the purposes I purchased it for (e-mail & web browing while on the road). While not as speedy as most laptops or desktop machines the performace (at least with 1 gig of ram) is zippy enough to play DVD's or stream music or YouTube videos from the net without visable lag or stuttering. While it certainly will not replace a standard computer for most people it's a great 2nd machine for traveling or a good machine for those who want the only the basics (i.e. e-mail, web browsing, IM'ing etc) for a very reasonable price

2 comments:

Robert Arthur Smith said...

A succinct and helpful review. I've read hundreds of reviews while trying to make up my mind, but I've finally ordered a system--Mini 9 with Ubuntu Linux, 2 gigs of ram, and the 16-gig hard drive.

I know some people have worked around the misplaced apostrophe problem by remapping the keyboard--switching the apostrophe to the semicolon key. You can do this in windows with keyswitcher software.

Then, of course, you have the problem of the missing semicolon.

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