A Mini Tale

My purchase of the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 was led, in major part, by my growing frustration with the web browser on my Nokia N800 Internet Tablet. The N800 is a fantastic device, but the older Gecko based browser has great difficulty with modern, Javascript heavy sites. My frustration was alleviated somewhat with my discovery of the Webkit-based Tear browser for Maemo. It handles modern sites much better than the built-in browser, but it is still not feature complete, i.e. password protected sites do not work and there is no bookmark management. Overall, it is good browser, performs much better than the stock browser and I would recommended it to anyone with a Maemo 4 device. My original plan was to wait for Nokia to release a new device based on Maemo and evaluate the options, but there was no information from Nokia on when that would be until this week (two weeks
after I purchased the Mini 9) and Dell’s recent four day Mini 9 discount ($199 base price) was just to good to resist. That’s enough of the whys, now on to the whats.

The Mini 9 is a little larger than a large format paperback book which leads to some compromises. The main compromise to size is the keyboard, which has a somewhat odd layout. The letter and number keys are almost full size, but the shift, control, caps lock, and tab keys are all highly compressed. The function keys have been removed and F1-F10 have been mapped to the home row keys through the use of the Fn key. The F11 and F12 keys are also mapped in newer versions of the BIOS to Z and X. I assume all recently built Mini 9 have the new BIOS, but older models may require a BIOS update for full function key functionality. My biggest complaint with the keyboard is the location of the dash and apostrophe keys, which I use often. The dash is located to left of the P key and the apostrophe is located on the same row as the space bar.
These locations make continuous touch typing difficult.

The Mini 9 uses the ubiquitous and loathsome trackpad which I am getting accustomed to. The track pad works as well as one can with provisions for vertical and horizontal scrolling along the edges which are quite useful with the small display. It is placed directly below the space bar with no space separating the two, which leads to frequent accidental thumb mousing.

The 8.9-inch LED backlit display is quite good with a resolution of 1024×600 which is wide enough to display most web sites with little to no horizontal scrolling. My one gripe with the display is the limited angle of rotation. I would prefer that it tilt a little farther back for better reclined computing which is my preferred modus operandi with the N800.

Performance is not spectacular, but I was not expecting it to be. Flash heavy sites can bog it down using Firefox 3.5. It performs adequately, otherwise. I may give Chromium or another Webkit-based browser a
test run to see if they perform better.

As far as ports are concerned, the Mini 9 has 3 USB (2 on the left, 1 on the right), an SD card slot, Ethernet, VGA-out, and 3.5 mm audio in and out. It also comes with a webcam in either 0.3 or 1.3 megapixels. I opted for the higher resolution camera since it was only an additional ten dollars. Battery life is averaging about three and a half hours which is about what I expected.

After receiving the unit, I almost immediately installed Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix. I like it quite a bit although I would like to be able to hide the top panel entirely to maximise screen usage. All the hardware I have tested works without any intervention from me. I have not tried the Ethernet, audio-in, or the VGA-out, however.

Overall, I am quite pleased with my purchase and would recommend it to others as long as they understand to compromises involved.