The Dell Mini 12 is a slim, light and attractive device, however it suffers with a poor battery life and something of an identity crisis.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 12 serves as the successor to the company's first netbook, the Mini 9, sporting a larger screen and more powerful specs.
As the name suggests, the Mini 12 boasts a 12.1in screen with a 1,280 x 800 resolution, and is powered by an Intel Atom Z520 processor running at 1.33GHz, 1Gb of RAM and a 40GB hard drive running an Ubuntu flavour of Linux.
For those looking for a bit more grunt, there is another version of the Mini 12 that sports a 1.6GHz Atom CPU, 80GB hard drive and runs Windows Vista Home edition.
Aesthetically the Mini 12 is an extremely attractive device. It is slim and light and feels nice in the hand, but the glossy black lid is a magnet for fingerprints and smudges, so you may find yourself wiping it down with a cloth or sleeve every time you get it out.
The Dell Mini 12 provides three USB ports as well as a multi-card reader, and can connect over 802.11g Wi-Fi or 10/100Mb LAN. There is also a 1.3-megapixel webcam above the screen for video calls, and a VGA port for connecting to an external monitor or projector.
The screen is bright and crisp and the extra space is definitely very nice. The keyboard is almost full sized and the keys have a good tactile feeling making typing very easy, with the exception of the directional arrows which are very narrow, making it tricky to navigate using them if you don't have needle thin fingers. We are glad to see that Dell has also used the extra size of the Mini 12 to include the top row of F-keys that it took out in the Mini 9.
The touchpad is a nice size and responsive to input, but sadly the left and right mouse buttons below the touchpad leave a lot to be desired, sinking deeply into the chassis with a soft marshmallow feel rather than a nice solid click, that at first made us wonder if perhaps the spring underneath had broken.
For the most part the Mini 12 seems more than capable of handling the every day tasks it is designed for. We wouldn't want to try playing high-end games on it, but surfing the net, editing documents and checking email can all be done simultaneously with no real problems.
For those considering the Ubuntu version but concerned that they won't be able to use it, we can assure you that a lot has been done to make it look and feel like Windows. So, although it does take some getting used to, most users should be up and running in no time. It comes pre-installed with Firefox for web browsing, Evolution for email, OpenOffice and a bunch of other open source applications and games to get you started.
Where the Mini 12 really seems to fall short is the battery, and in our initial tests we struggled to get even two hours of life from the standard three-cell battery under moderate use conditions. There is the option of using a six-cell battery to extend this to a more respectable duration, but this will add to the weight.
Unfortunately the Mini 12 seems to be struggling to figure out what it wants to be. It is being marketed as a netbook, and it does run on an Atom processor and lacks an optical drive, both hallmarks of the genre, but its size and price start pushing it into the realm of the notebook.
We'll have a full review up next week once we've put the Mini 12 through its paces, but so far, with the exception of the poor battery life, it's shaping up to be a good potential option for those looking into a new netbook. The slim and sleek form factor means it will fit nicely in most briefcases or bags, and it packs enough power to get all the basics done.