Quest For Netbook Nirvana: Dell Mini 12

mini 12 nirvana.jpgA dilemma has struck the quest for Netbook Nirvana this week: when is a netbook not a netbook? Or more eloquently, what is the defining characteristic of a netbook? Is it its low powered processor? Its small screen size? Its cheap pricetag? Or something different altogether. Because the Dell Mini 12 feels like a netbook in a laptop's body.That's not to say that this thing is chunky - on the contrary, it is possibly one of the most solid and usable netbooks I've had the pleasure of reviewing. The body is strong, uniformly thin, and yet lightweight, having dropped the optical drive like its netbook brethren.

The keyboard, while not quite full sized, was still bliss when compared to the cramped stylings of the other netbooks I've looked at so far. The screen is also gorgeous, with the extra inches adding significantly to the user experience - whoever said size doesn't matter wasn't talking about netbooks.

When Mark Wilson looked at the Mini 12 back in November last year, the system was locked to Vista, which made it sluggish and unreliable. That's no longer the case - you can purchase the Mini 12 with XP, which is what my review unit was running on its Atom Z530 processor. Unfortunately, this does little to actually improve performance too much. Booting from sleep would often hang indefinitely, while tasks like opening the browser were slower - much slower than the Mini 9 or Toshiba we looked at last time around. Perhaps it's the fact that there's only 1GB of RAM (without the ability to upgrade it), but quite often I found the Mini 12 too sluggish to work on.

Battery life, despite the larger screen and only a 3-cell battery, was good for one and a half trips to the office, or about 1.5- 2 hours' work. That's not doing intensive video decoding though - it's a combination of surfing the web, sending emails and updating Giz AU. Once again, purchasing online doesn't appear to offer the ability to upgrade the battery which is a huge disappointment for netbook fans.

The internal speakers, webcam and wireless all work as well as you'd expect. All three USB ports were frequently appreciated, as well, and the charger is lightweight and portable too, which is overlooked by many seeking Netbook Nirvana.

It's an interesting conundrum - the Mini 12 seems to have sacrificed processing power, battery life and general usability, but replaced them with a gorgeous screen, solid build and usable keyboard. But it's just not the perfection I've been seeking. A balance between the Mini 9 and Mini 12 seems to be the sweet spot - perhaps 10 inches is the path to Netbook Nirvana? The Quest For Netbook Nirvana will continue in two weeks with the HP Mini 2140 - will 10 inches be the sweet spot?

[Netbook Nirvana on Giz]

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