A couple of months back I finally succumbed to the allure of the netbook and bought myself a Dell Mini 9. I’ve been considering a netbook since the introduction of the original 7″ Asus Eee PC, but held out for some time as none of them seemed to have the right combination of features, price and operating system for me.
When Dell announced that the Mini 9 would be available with Ubuntu preinstalled, I was extremely keen… until I saw the price. Dell initially used their usual trick of apparently pricing their Linux offering lower than the Windows systems, but in practice also offering a lower spec. Upgrading a Ubuntu PC to the same spec as the equivalent Windows machine would have resulted in a more expensive system.
I considered just buying the Windows machine and replacing the OS with Ubuntu myself, but I really didn’t want to send Dell the message that I want to buy a Windows machine, but I did want to send them the message that I want to buy a Ubuntu machine. So I put my netbook lustings to bed for a while, and largely forgot about it.
A few months back I stumbled across a mention of the Mini 9 on Planet Ubuntu and decided to go and have a look to see if the price had dropped – which it had. Not only was the Ubuntu version now appreciably cheaper than its Windows counterpart, but they had a sale on which got me an extra £50 off. In the end I bought a machine with 1GB RAM, an 8GB SSD, 0.3mp webcam and Bluetooth for £179.
Generally it’s a great little machine, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for anyone looking for a netbook. The biggest issue with it is the keyboard, which has a fairly non-standard layout. I’d have preferred to have a separate row of function keys, even if they were half-height, and for a frequent user of the Linux command line the combined finger presses needed to get to the pipe character are somewhat frustrating. There’s also a little clicking sound if you slide your finger over a keytop, which doesn’t cause any problems but annoys the hell out of you once you notice it.
Keyboard aside, the build quality on the machine is great. It feels robust and sturdy, and far superior to some of the other netbooks I’ve looked at. It’s not my perfect netbook, but it’s the closest that any of them have come so far. It beats the nearest competition (the Acer Aspire One) by having built-in Bluetooth and sensibly placed buttons on the trackpad, though the second SD card slot on the Acer is a great addition.
The 1024×600 screen, used on just about all the 8.9″ netbooks, is a very usable size. More vertical space would be wonderful – especially as the current release version of Inkscape doesn’t like such a short screen – but it seems that most manufacturers are addressing that problem simply by making larger netbooks (which I don’t want), rather than by using higher resolution screens (which I do).