Dell's first netbook, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, proved rather popular, hitting the sweetspots of price, small size and usable features. It can be had for just £199 with Linux Ubuntu, from £259 with Windows XP, or for ‘free' from mobile providers such as Vodafone with a lengthy 3G contract. It also had the distinction of being able to run Mac OS X with ease and without a litany of hacks and kludges to get the upscale OS to recognise all the laptop's built-in hardware.
But for some people, the compromise of a 8.9in screen and tiny keyboard keys is just a shrink too far. Hence we see a broader appeal for 10in screen models, which tend to be a far more usable proposition. Dell has responded with the Dell Inspiron Mini 10, broadly similar in styling, scaled up to allow a larger screen.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 10's screen features edge-to-edge glass, a classy looking touch found on the latest MacBooks - and recalling the same nightmares when used in daylight or overhead-lit conditions.
We looked at a Dell Inspiron Mini 10 model sold by PC World, which uses a lower power version of the Intel Atom processor: 1.33GHz instead of the original 1.6GHz. Another step away from the norm is a new system controller (US15W) and GMA 500 graphics, designed to work with the new Z-Series Atoms and draw less power.
In general trim, the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 has few other surprises, packing three USB ports, an SD Card slot, webcam, ethernet and audio in/out sockets.
But the change of graphics system has allowed a useful upgrade in the shape of an HDMI video output. Most netbooks use VGA analogue out, so when you do want to expand a limited screen with an external monitor, you must make do with fuzzy, soft-focused pictures; the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 meanwhile gives super-sharp rendering on an external screen. The new chip is also supposed to facilitate high-definition video playback. In our tests, though, it struggled with 720p video, let alone 1080p material.
While the 16:9 widescreen has even less space than usual with its 576 horizontal lines, but it's possible to synthesise a 1024x768 mode in XP's Display Properties. This may makes for poor quality and a distorted aspect picture, but it does at least allow you to see OK confirmation boxes in certain software installation routines.
Where the previous generation of Intel integrated graphics were a non-starter for 3D gaming, the new GMA 500 proved unable to even get into the paddock. An Intel X3100, for example, can just muster 2fps in our basic FEAR games test; the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 wouldn't get as far as loading the game.
Another neat touch on the Dell Inspiron Mini 10, with another nod to Apple, is the pivoting trackpad. Instead of individual left/right click buttons below the touch area, Dell has made the entire pad hinged at the back - and with left and right clicks available by aiming for the respective corners. It's not truly multi-touch as per Apple designs, but you can use the useful two-finger scroll to move pages up and down and side-to-side. We found this setup still one of the finest trackpads on any netbook yet.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 10's keyboard is also one of the better examples of the breed, showing wide, almost-flat keys that fall well below the typist's touch. Whereas the Dell Mini 9 had to forsake the F-key row, the 10 has the keys in place, making extra functions such as volume, brightness, and even battery status readily available.
Despite the lower the low-power processor, we recorded a WorldBench 6 score of 35, comparable to that found on 1.6GHz Atom netbooks. Battery life disappointed though, at only three hours (183 minutes) in MobileMark 2007 Productivity, with all wireless switched off; and just 163 minutes with Wi-Fi active.
Battery life was the damper on an otherwise very well turned out netbook. In size, style, general performance and ergonomics, this Dell Inspiron Mini 10 is a must-see for any shortlist. Note, though, that the PC World model tested does not feature Bluetooth nor the hybrid USB/eSATA port that are standard for Dell-sold units. If you need a slightly faster 1.6GHz model and either of these features, look to Dell direct, with a £50 price premium.