Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Inspiron 1010 Mini is a disappointment

Early this summer, my wife happened to be buying several new computers for her office, and Dell was running an offer: for $75 additional, they would throw in an Inspiron 1010 Mini. Well, the so-called "netbooks" have been all the rage, and at that price point it seemed like a pretty low-risk way to evaluate the netbook experience, so we bought one and I've been using it, on-and-off, for a few months now.

We're not novices with Dell laptops, or with laptops in general: we're currently running a Dell Latitude 610 (Ubuntu) and a Dell Studio 17 (Windows 7) as our primary compute platforms, and we've used a variety of other Dell and non-Dell laptops over the last 15 years.

But, unfortunately, I'm quite disappointed with the Inspiron Mini, and can't find myself willing to recommend this computer to anyone else. Here's why:

  1. The machine is slow. It takes a long time to boot up, it takes a long time to draw web pages in the browser, it takes a long time to start and run even simple applications.

  2. The touchpad is horrendous. I've used a lot of touchpads over the last decade, and this must be the worst one I've ever used. The cursor jumps all over the place, sometimes it doesn't track at all, sometimes it generates mouse clicks completely randomly, sometimes it won't generate a mouse click at all. It's abysmal. If you've never experienced the agony of having your machine "randomly" injecting mouse clicks into the input stream while you're trying to work, you probably don't know what I'm talking about, but trust me: it's a disaster. Text is suddenly selected or de-selected, you're suddenly typing into the wrong area on the screen, etc. The touchpad by itself would make me unwilling to recommend this machine.

  3. The machine is small. This is no surprise, of course, but if you've never used a netbook, you should try it and see how you feel about it, before you commit to it. In particular, the keyboard, although it is a relatively full keyboard with a decent keyboard feel, is just small enough to throw me off: my hands just don't fit. I'm an extremely rapid touch typer, and this keyboard probably cuts my typing speed by 1/3 or more.

  4. The machine has no optical drive. I guess this is pretty common with ultra-portable devices, but it can be a real annoyance to have no optical drive, because it means that you either (a) have to do all software installation and updating over the net, or (b) have to attach an external optical drive quite frequently. It so happens that we have a variety of external optical drives available, and the machine's USB ports seemed fast and reliable, but still this one was surprisingly annoying.

  5. The lid open/close feel is too tight. I'm not sure if there is a magnet of some sort which holds the lid closed, or if the friction control was just designed too tightly, but I simply can't open the machine single-handedly. When I attempt to lift the lid with one hand, the base of the unit remains stuck to the lid and the entire laptop just pivots uselessly. To open it, I have to use two hands, holding the keyboard down firmly with one hand while I lift the lid with my other hand.

In addition, and really this is not Dell's fault, but the battery on this machine appears to be trash. The battery never took a charge, even when the machine was brand new a few months ago, and it's remained usable only on AC power. Possibly this is just a manufacturing defect, and possibly Dell's support staff would have sent us a new battery if we'd asked, but frankly the machine is so unpleasant, I didn't even try.

On the positive side:

  1. The screen is also small, but it's quite nice. Of course, a small screen is not unexpected when you're using a netbook, but I was guilty of over-worrying about this problem, and in fact the screen is very reasonable. The screen runs at 1366x768 pixels, which is plenty of real-estate for browsing the web, editing text, etc. And the screen is crisp and clear.

  2. The machine is light. Compared to even our lower-end laptops, the Inspiron Mini is a featherweight, and it's comfortable to pick up and carry around.

  3. The machine doesn't get too hot. All too frequently, recently, I've found that laptops can be surprisingly unpleasant to actually hold on your lap! This machine, however, heats up somewhat, but it doesn't become distracting or uncomfortable.

So, there you have it: my sadly disappointing experience with the first Netbook I tried, the Dell Inspiron 1010 Mini. If you've had a different experience, or if you have suggestions about fixing some of these issues (particularly the touchpad), please do let me know. But I suspect I'm back to using my other Dell machines.

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