Mini laptops and cloud computing go well together, if only because the true thoroughbred netbook uses solid-state storage. Often limited in their storage capacity to keep prices low, if you need access to all more of your digital data you can always reach out to your online data cloud - such is the idea behind the Dell Mini 9.
But this makes sense only if you're always connected to the internet. We now have 3G broadband in most parts of the UK, so a netbook such as the Dell Mini 9 with an integrated 3G modem makes sense - especially when it's offered for free.
Of course, Vodafone's offer of a ‘free' Dell Mini 9 netbook is predicated on your signing up for a subscription, in this case a lengthy two-year contract, starting at £20 per month.
For this contract you get the Dell Mini 9 and 1GB of combined up/download data per month, a relatively paltry amount, which you can extend at the rate of £15 for each additional gigabyte.
The Dell Mini 9 offered is not available to the same spec from Dell UK, as this Vodafone version features 8GB of solid-state storage and Windows XP Home. The nearest comparative Dell model that includes 16GB SSD and Windows XP costs £299.
The limited storage undermined our attempts to WorldBench test the Dell Mini 9, but MobileMark gave us a battery life of 178 minutes. In use we found the keyboard to be the limiting factor for comfortable use, as those keys are just too small for accurate typing. The screen suffers from gloss reflections but is of an apparent high resolution, with fonts especially rendered very sharply.
We tried the Dell Mini 9's broadband connectivity at various locations in central and greater London, and found reasonable data speeds. Peak download speed recorded was 3.3Mbps and upload to 660kbps, figures which do fall well short of the 7.2Mbps claimed maximum.
The price may look attractive but it doesn’t take a supercomputer to calculate that the actual cost of this Dell Mini 9 3G netbook is closer to £500 over two years; and anything much more than occasional online use may incur additional charges as you exceed the data limit. Nevertheless, the laptop is a mostly sound design, and the convenience of 3G modem integration means no unsightly dongles to lose.