While Dell has many machines geared toward business use, one of the other markets it caters to is casual, multimedia computing. With the success of Apple’s iPod and iPhone, those do-it-all devices that play music and video and feature full-page web browsing, Dell has tried to create a similar device only in the form of a notebook computer.
After booting the Mini 9 up, it doesn’t take long to notice the first sign that Dell has taken a page from Apple’s book. The user interface that comes with the basic version contains several rows of colorful icon buttons which dominate the screen. There are several screens of them, and you can pick and choose the buttons that are on each screen. Sound like the user interface of another device? (Hint to non-Apple people: the iPod Touch and iPhone).
The Mini 9 is a very small notebook, weighing in at just 2.28 pounds, and Dell claims 4 hours of battery life in the device. And can you guess which cellphone carrier you can use the built-in cellular mobile broadband to connect to? If you answered AT&T, you must be an iPod or iPhone owner. The notebook also comes with built-in 802.11g wireless networking, which is basically a must have for any portable computer sold in the last couple of years.
Another thing the Mini 9 shares with its smaller cousins is its solid state data storage. Now that technology has progressed to make this form of memory a lot faster and cheaper than it has been in the past, it’s starting to show up more and more in notebook computers. This is an excellent feature in the Inspiron Mini 9, as notebooks tend to be banged around a little bit, and this can easily damage a traditional platter-based hard drive, bricking the computer. The Mini 9 comes with a 16GB drive in the Windows XP configuration, and the drive can hold 32GB in the Ubuntu version. For a computer that is billed as a multimedia machine, this is relatively puny. It does, however, match up almost exactly with the iPod Touch, which currently comes in 8, 16, and 32GB.
With a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor and up to 1GB RAM, you probably won’t be compiling any C++ programs or playing the latest graphics-rich game on the Mini 9, but then again it’s a multimedia computer, so you’ll probably opt for one with a lot more horsepower if you’re into those kinds of things. Some advantages that the Mini 9 has over an iPod Touch is that it has a bigger screen, and you can do normal computer things on it such as edit Word and Excel documents. I know you can technically do those things on an iPod Touch or iPhone with the downloadable apps, but trying to write with any speed using the on-screen keyboard is impossible.
Judging by the similarities between the Inspiron Mini 9 and Apple’s flagship portable media devices, it’s pretty obvious that the Mini 9 is Dell’s sort-of answer to these very popular best-sellers. If I had to choose between the two, I would definitely opt for one of the Apple products, simply because I value portability over all else, and most of the functions Dell is advertising the Mini 9 as having, you can do with the iPod Touch and iPhone. The storage is about the same as well, and while you do give up a lot of screen real estate, for me the ability to put the Apple devices in my pocket outweighs this detail.