Dell Mini 9
Though netbooks were born diminuitive 7-inch machines, consumers and manufacturers quickly found that larger screens were preferable. Nowadays you can find netbooks as large as 12 inches, but before these days of luxury that first round of amended netbooks tended to fall into one unique category – the 8.9-inch netbook.
Though some time has passed since its birth, the Dell Mini 9 is part of the pantheon of classic netbooks the industry has grown to love. But does it still hold its water? Read on, intrepid netbooker, and you will find out.
- 1.6GHz N270 Intel Atom Processor
- 1GB DDR2 533MHz (1 DIMM)
- Ubuntu 8.04 Linux with Custom Dell Interface (Includes Open Office) or Windows XP for a fee
- 8.9″ 1024 x 600 WSVGA glossy LED backlit display
- 8GB miniPCI SSD card
- Intel GMA 950 Integrated Graphics
- 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
- 4-in-1 Media card reader
- 1.3 Megapixel webcam, Dell Video Chat application, Dell Support Center
- 4-Cell 32Wh Li-ion battery (14.8V)
- Size: 9.2″ x 6.8″ x 1.3″ (including feet)
- Weight: 2lb 5.5oz (with 4-cell battery), 2lb 11.6oz (with battery and AC adapter)
- Price: Can be found for under $400
The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is compactly designed with glossy plastic, rounded edges, and a casual but capable air about it. It has matte plastic for the netbook base and keyboard. Unfortunately, as is always the case with glossy parts, fingerprints will be left behind now and then.
The Mini 9 is built of sturdy plastic and passes what I call the Bookbag Test – jostling around the netbook in a backpack full of stuff – without breaking. The Dell Mini 9 can take a lot of pain, especially due to the magnesium alloy-reinforced chassis.
As far as upgradeability goes, the Dell Mini 9 won’t require complicated surgery if you want to boost storage or RAM – just a few minutes with a Phillips screwdriver. This is an aspect many common netbooks lack, and is a nice touch for those of us that like to mess around with our machines. However, if you’re happy with the 800 MHz DDR2 RAM, wireless mini cards, and mini PCle SSD card, you won’t have to worry about that anyway.
OS and Software
It should be noted that Dell offers the Mini 9 netbook with Ubuntu Linux or Windows XP for an extra fee. While most of us are familiar by the way Windows works, NotebookReview‘s summary of Linux might give you a better idea of what to expect with the new OS:
Click on the “Web” icon and you can select from one of multiple bookmarks or just open the Firefox web browser. Click on the “Productivity” icon and you’ll have instant access to the Open Office application (compatible with Microsoft Office) or Adobe Reader for PDFs. Click on any standard movie file and the video plays in either the Media Player application or inside Firefox … you don’t need to spend hours searching for video plugins and codecs, the movies just play. Don’t waste time downloading iTunes. Just plug in your iPod and the Music Manager detects the music player and begins importing the songs. It’s all part of the beauty and simplicity of Linux. Things just work.
On the other hand, if you ever find that you need an application that isn’t already installed in Linux then you need to be familiar with the console and typing strange lines of code like “sudo dash” and “apt-get.” In other words, it’s not as simple as just downloading a Windows program installation file from a website and clicking “install.”
Ubuntu has a special place in the hearts of thousands, so if you’re curious about it, you can read all about it here.
Keyboard and Touchpad
While the Dell Mini 9 is an inch smaller than the current market average, it manages a fairly usable keyboard. It might take a few hours of adjustment to get back to full typing speed, but after that it’s very possible to have a pleasant typing experience on the Inspiron Mini 9.
However, netbooks just aren’t supposed to be primary computers. I’ve seen better keyboards on contemporary netbooks, and while I can stand typing on the Dell Mini 9, the machine could definitely improve… by being bigger.
Function keys on the Mini 9 are curiously placed on the middle of the keyboard, and the Dell Mini 9 lacks F11 and F12 keys. These are minor downsides, but could be a deal breaker for those who like to use the hotkeys for common tasks like maximizing windows.
The touchpad on the Dell Mini 9 holds its own to comparable netbooks. While it isn’t enormous, it’s a tad larger than the standard, and is responsive enough to make most people happy. Tracking is smooth on the Synaptics touchpad, and the buttons leave nothing to complain about.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook has a glossy LED for a display. Colors are vibrant, contrast is great, and white levels are clear. While you shouldn’t have many complaints using the Mini 9 in the majority of lighting situations, the gloss makes outdoor netbooking difficult due to excessive reflections.
As tends to be the case with LED displays, horizontal viewing angles are good enough to watch a movie with a friend. Vertical viewing angles are good enough to work with, but can wash out or become inverted when you look from too far above or below.
The Dell Mini 9 has 3 USB ports, which put me in a good mood to begin with. Aside from the one extra port (2 USBs is standard) were a multi-card reader, Ethernet/LAN, VGA, and audio jacks. You’d imagine that with the extra space on the chassis you could add a Firewire or something, but there’s nothing to really complain about otherwise.
The left side has the security lock slot, power jack, two of the USBs, and the card reader:
And the right side has the headphone/microphone jack, another USB, VGA out, and Ethernet.
While comparing my Mini 9, an Ubuntu netbook, to the majority running XP might be inaccurate, a couple unofficial benchmarks on the Dell Mini 9 are helpful for knowing what kind performance you get out of it. I found that it booted in around 20 seconds, took about 3 seconds to start playing videos, loaded Open Office in around 4, and booted PDF documents in around 4 seconds. The 8 GB SSD has been benchmarket at 26.91 MB/sec – faster than the ASUS Eee PC‘s.
The Dell Mini 9’s 4-cell manages around 3 hours and 45 minutes of juice under taxing conditions – 100% backlight and watching videos at decent volume. It may not seem like a long time, but you can watch a few 100 minute movies on a flight before your machine burns out on you. If you’re just typing or surfing the web, your Dell Mini 9 will go much further.
However, the Mini 9 is a hot netbook, and I’m not just talking about its looks. The wireless card gets toasty with extended use, so disable it if you aren’t using the Wi-Fi.
The Dell Mini 9 is outstandingly quiet as well. It doesn’t have a cooling fan, which explains the high temperatures, and a lack of moving parts in the SSD keeps it stealthy.
- Small and portable
- Firmly designed
- Synaptics touchpad is responsive
- Easily upgradeable
- Nearly silent
- Under $400 on Amazon
- Runs for almost 4 hrs
- Gets very hot
- Only 8-16 GB of storage space
- Glossy screen causes glare and attracts fingerprints
- Strangely placed Function keys
- Lack of F11 or F1
- No 6-cell battery
The Dell Mini 9 is fun, but suffers from a few flaws that keep it firmly in an earlier generation of netbooks. It seeks a balance between the bare-bones style of the earliest netbooks and feature-packed modern netbooks like the Eee PC 1000HE. Unfortunately, this may just mean it’s too expensive for the true budget buyers and too weak for people who want a more luxurious PC companion.
However, it will appeal to those of us with a taste for the in-between. If you need a cheap netbook to work with and you don’t care about the extra heat, misplaced Function keys, and other flaws, the Dell Mini 9 won’t let you down. However, it’s not a netbooker’s netbook, and without more storage space or a 6-cell battery it won’t compete with the latest netbooks out there.
I liked my Dell Mini 9 and put it forth as a flawed but admirable machine. It may suit you perfectly, but make sure you’re ready to accept the downsides so you can learn to love your Dell Inspiron Mini 9.
Like the Dell Inspiron Mini 9? Buy one now at Amazon!