Dell Inspiron Mini 1012 review
Netbooks are perfectly good for basic internet and office tasks, but are usually incapable of playing high definition (HD) video. To overcome this some manufacturers have fitted their netbooks with HD-capable graphics chips, but these can shorten battery life.
Dell has taken a different route with its Inspiron Mini 1012 netbook: it has a 1,366x768 10in screen and a Broadcom CrystalHD decoder for playing HD video.
The good news is that the Mini's battery life is far superior to netbooks fitted with Nvidia's HD-capable Ion graphics chip. It lasted just under nine hours in our light usage test, so it should be good for a day's work.
The bad news is that the Mini often struggled with HD playback. Although playing a Blu-ray movie or streaming HD video from YouTube and BBC iPlayer was initially smooth, the video quickly dropped frames during fast-paced action sequences, becoming choppy and unwatchable. We suspect the bottleneck is the 1GB of system memory installed in the Mini, which is only just enough to run Windows 7 Starter and a couple of basic applications but insufficient for consistently smooth HD playback.
Annoyingly, while the 1GB stick of RAM can be replaced with a 2GB module, you have to take the entire netbook apart, which is difficult to do. It's a shame that Dell didn't provide access to the memory through a removable panel, as with the majority of netbooks.
Performance in our other tests was as we'd expect from a netbook. The 1.66GHz Atom N450 processor managed an overall score of 15. This laptop's fine for basic office and internet jobs, but you'll want something faster for more processor-intensive tasks. Graphics are powered by the processor's integrated Intel graphics chip, which isn't capable of playing games.
We found it a little strange that this netbook only has an 802.11b/g wireless adaptor, rather than faster 802.11n. It means that file sharing on your home network could be slow. It's good to see Bluetooth built-in, as it makes it possible to tether your phone to the Mini 1012 for 3G internet while you're out and about.
Even though video might not be perfect, it's still nice to have the 1,366x768 screen resolution, as it makes using multiple windows and applications easier compared to the standard netbook 1,024x600 pixel screen. It's bright too with good contrast and reasonably accurate colours. Viewing angles are pretty good, too.
The Mini 1012 feels rigid and robust. It also looks very stylish. The standard model comes with a black lid, but for an extra £35 on the price listed above you can get it in a range of colours.
We found that the keyboard was very comfortable type on thanks to the responsive keys that have just the right amount of feedback and travel. The touchpad is disappointing. Although accurate, it's very small with the buttons built into its lower left and right hand corners. This makes certain actions such as dragging and dropping icons far more difficult than they should be.
Although the Mini 1012's HD playback wasn't what it was cracked up to be, the high-resolution screen and decent battery life still make it a fantastic choice, provided you can live with the annoying touchpad. Alternatively, the Toshiba NB305 or NB300 netbooks have better battery life and are easier to us, although they have standard 1,024x600 screens.
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