By May 19, 2010

Dell Inspiron Mini 1012 Review

Dell Inspiron Mini 1012The Dell Inspiron Mini 1012 or ‘New Mini 10’ as it’s also known on the Dell website is another Atom based netbook, and as the name suggests it has a 10 inch screen (10.1 actually) – the difference here is that it’s a higher resolution than the standard 1024×600 we’re used to seeing.

The Mini 1012 is running a fairly standard 32bit Windows 7 Starter for Small Notebook PCs on a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 Single Core CPU, paired with 1GB of RAM and an Intel 3150 Graphics Media Accelerator.

This particular unit has the 6-cell battery giving a claimed 9.5 hours of battery life – and the case is styled to keep this larger battery nice and sleek – no ‘lumpy’ batteries here.

So let’s take it for a spin.

 

What’s in the box?

Inspiron Mini 1012
Power Cable
Setup Guide
Windows 7 reinstallation disc
Works 9 disc
Drivers and utilities disc

 

Inspiron Mini 1012 Specifications

The specs shown below are for the actual unit I was testing there are other specifications available – to see them go HERE.

Processor Intel®  AtomTM  N450 Single Core, 1.66GHz, 512K L2 Cache
Operating System Genuine Windows®  7 Starter 32-Bit
Memory 1GB,DDR2,800MHZ capped at 667Mhz bus
Chipset Intel®  NM10 Express
Graphics Integrated Intel®  Graphics Media Accelerator 3150
LCD Display 10.1″ (26 cm) HD TrueLifeTM  (1366 x 768)
Audio and Speakers Main Speakers (quantity) : 2 x 1.0Watt with 2 channel High Definition audio
Microphone Integrated single analog
Hard Drives 250GB SATA HDD 2.5″ (6 cm) 5400RPM
Optical Drives External only
Power 6-cell 56WHr Li-Ion Battery
Camera 1.3 MP Integrated Webcam
Wireless Dell Wireless 1397 802.11g Half mini-card
Bluetooth Dell Wireless 365 Bluetooth Internal (2.1) mini-card
Ports, Slots, Chassis Kensington lock
AC Power-in
Integrated network connector 10/100 LAN (RJ45)
VGA connector
(3)USB 2.0
Audio jacks (1 headphone, 1 microphone)
3-in-1 Flash Memory Reader Secure Digital (SD/SDHC) Memory Card
Multi-Media Card (MMC)
Memory Stick (MS/MS Pro)
Height 25.5mm – 32.8mm
Width 268mm
Depth 197mm
Starting weight 1.37Kg (3lbs)

 

General

Let’s take the traditional tour around the outside.

 

Dell Inspiron Mini 1012

Front – Power LED, Hard drive activity LED

 

Dell Inspiron Mini 1012-left

Left side – VGA, USB, USB, memory card reader

 

Dell Inspiron Mini 1012-right

Right side – Headphones, microphone, USB, LAN

Nothing much to see around the back, just the Kensington lock and power socket.

 

Highlights

  • solid construction
  • battery life
  • nice keyboard
  • screen brightness and resolution

Lowlights

  • trackpad

 

Review

Mini10-open Mini10-hinge

The Inspiron Mini 1012 is another in the Dell netbook family, and its styling very much fits in with the previous Mini 9 and 10’s that Dell have released. The only thing that is immediately obvious externally is the extension of the bodywork behind the screen. On most laptops and netbooks the rear hinge of the lid is flush with the back of the netbook, here the bodywork is extended behind the hinges, as you are using the Inspiron Mini 1012 this extension is hidden behind the screen, so the netbooks retains its petite visage.

The screen itself is a 10.1 inch with a resolution of 1366×768 – most netbooks only have a resolution of 1024×600 and feel a little cramped for long term use. The increased resolution here makes more of a difference than you might initially think, it actually helps to make the laptop feel ‘larger’.

The viewing angles aren’t quite as wide as you might like, but in some respects if you are on a portable device you actually may not want people around you to view the screen. One thing that I found frustrating with the screen was the angle that it could be tilted back – sitting with the netbook in my lap I couldn’t push the screen back enough so that I was looking at it straight on, I was looking at it on a slight downwards angle.

The screen does impress when it comes to brightness – on most laptops and netbooks I normally run the screen very close to full brightness, on the 1012 I found that I was happy with the brightness closer to the mid-range, at full brightness I found it a little uncomfortable to work on documents or anything else with lots of white for very long. This ability to turn the screen brightness down also helps to preserve battery life, further extending the life of the 6-cell battery.

The graphics chip driving the screen is an Intel 3150 chipset, and appears to have some sort of Broadcom accelerator for video playback. It pushes things around pleasingly fast, though I can’t see myself installing any games on a netbook I’d mostly use if for text and occasional video, which it handles just fine.

There is a fairly standard 1.3M pixel camera built in above the screen.

The battery here is a 6-cell one, which obviously helps to run the Mini 1012 for longer – Dell claims 9.5 hours on the website. I did my usual unscientific test and ran a video in fullscreen mode with the WIFI on. After an hour and a half the battery had only dropped to 70%, so extrapolating from that, the battery life just running video fullscreen would be around 5 hours. I also took the Mini 1012 out with me on a typical day that including web browsing and text editting, and I left the WIFI on even when I wasn’t actually using it – and I was very impressed with the battery life. Five hours of just video playback would be impressive if that’s all you were wanting to do with it, but for normal usage the battery will quite happily run all day for all but the most power hungry users.

The next thing that is going to affect the user experience is the keyboard. Normally this is an area where both laptops and netbooks fall short of desktops – but that is not the case here, the keyboard is very solidly built, and The actual keys are also very pleasing to type on. Dell say that the keyboard is 92% of the size of a ‘full’ desktop keyboard, and while I didn’t actually measure the keys, I can tell you is that this is the very first time that I’ve been able to type at speed on a netbook keyboard the very second I put my fingers on it. With the various devices that we come across it normally takes me a little time to adjust to the keyboard, and lots of them are slightly spongy due to the construction of the device to make it portable. This time I was able to just start working away – very pleasant indeed.

The function keys are setup ‘inverted’ as with some other Dell’s we’ve seen recently. The primary function is what would normally be the alternate function. Dell obviously believe that most people who are using netbooks will be wanting to turn their WIFI on and off, change the screen brightness or speaker volume etc – much more than pressing f1-f12. I tend to agree with them, but if you don’t, then you can reverse the default behaviour in the BIOS.

The next input device that really affects the user’s experience is the touchpad. They are an area where laptops and netbooks often split opinions. Personally I don’t like multitouch touchpads, I’ve too often found myself doing a gesture I didn’t intend, so I end up disabling the multitouch anyway. Touchpads that have the button and the pad as one single piece also tend to create problems for me, I much prefer the buttons to be separated. So the touchpad here is not to my personal liking, but others may well like it.

3 USB sockets, an VGA connector to hookup to external monitors, a memory card reader and a network connector round out the rest of the visible hardware. All work as you’d expect and the network socket is even the ‘right’ way up.

Not quite so visible is the SIM slot hidden behind in the battery compartment. This creates another network connector in Windows and can also be enable and disabled from the network manager on the ‘f2’ key. There is also a Bluetooth chip hidden somewhere in there as well.

Talking of networking, I was slightly surprised to see that the WIFI is only 802.11 b/g, not ‘n’ as lots of devices are these days. It didn’t really affect it’s performance in my testing, but it’s something that may affect your purchasing decision I suppose.

The hard drive is a 250GB SATA drive split into a recovery partition and an OS partition – the OS partition is 218GB, and when Windows 7 is installed you have 207GB left.

The only other hardware I can think of are the Intel Atom N450 Single Core 1.66GHz processor and the 1GB RAM. These are both fairly standard for netbook computers and the performance is pretty much along the lines of other Atom processors – and as such feels a little underpowered, but of course the upside is the low power consumption on these little computers.

So I think that covers all the hardware, on to the software.

What we have on the Inspiron Mini 1012 is a fairly vanilla install of the 32-bit Window 7 Starter Edition for Small Notebook PC’s. On top of that we have a 60 day trial of both McAfee and Microsoft Office, MS Works 9 and Dell Datasafe Online.

 

Dell_dock

Dell have also installed their Dock software. This is a bit like the OSX one, allowing you to create groups of shortcuts that are easier to access. Personally I didn’t use it much, but I’m sure that some will find it useful.

 

WEI As we can see from the WEI tests, even Windows believes that the Atom processor is slowing things down.

 

Conclusion

Apparently Dell felt that already having a Mini 10 and Mini 10V wasn’t quite confusing enough for customers, so they decided that they needed a ‘New Mini 10’. I don’t entirely know why they have this short form when they also create a long form, in this case ‘Inspiron Mini 1012’.

I guess they are trying to show that it’s like a hardware revision of the previous Mini 10 and in that they are correct, the Mini 1012 is like an improved Mini 10.

Personally I don’t much like the touchpad and I tended to use the Mini 1012 with an external mouse, but in a pinch I could survive with the touchpad, it’s just not something I’d like to use all day.

Overall, I really like the Mini 1012. Even though it’s Atom based, the improved screen resolution, battery life and keyboard make a real difference to the experience. I could myself see using this as a mobile computer for daily use and that’s not something I normally say about Atom powered PC’s.

 

Review by: Iain

Posted in: Laptops, Reviews
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