In my last blog post, I wrote about installing Lubuntu on the Dell Mini 9. Since then, I’ve been using the Mini 9 quite a bit, almost as a primary machine for day to day use and a bit of work when needed. On the whole, it’s been pretty good especially considering it’s a machine from 2008!
As I’ve said before, the build quality is superb on the Mini 9. It definitely feels very solid, and my brother used to lug it around in his bag when he used to use it at university – without a case. Even then, there are hardly any scratches on the Mini 9. It has a glossy finish on the front surface, similar to other Inspiron laptops.
The sides are kept pretty clean even with the ports. The left side has the power socket, 2 USB ports and an SD card slot. The right side has an Ethernet port, VGA output, single USB port, fan grill for ventilation and the usual mic and earphone ports.
The front and back of the laptop are kept clean. The front side has just two LED’s, one for power to show whether it’s on or not, and the other for battery to show whether it’s charging. It’s a bit annoying that there isn’t a WiFi LED, but the default operating system has notifications to show whether it’s switched on or not.
Screen & Keyboard/Trackpad
The only things left to talk about hardware wise are the screen and keyboard/trackpad. The screen is 8.9″, supporting a 1024 x 600 resolution – not bad for this screen size.
The keyboard does feel cramped and takes some getting used to. For casual use, it’s fine. For heavy use, I’d recommend using an external keyboard. The buttons on the right side of the keyboard become very compact, making it easy to press the wrong key. The Enter/Return key is a single line key too, so if you’re used to bashing the key you may want to rethink that.
The trackpad is very good for a netbook. It’s responsive and the buttons actually properly press down for good feedback on a click. It may feel a bit tiny especially compared to normal trackpads on other laptops, but certainly usable.
I haven’t been able to assess how good the battery is on this netbook, since the battery I’ve had since 2008 is fully flat. This means the netbook will only work when plugged in. I’ve ordered a new replacement battery, but in the meantime official specifications state the battery can last up to 5 hours. I reckon realistically you’d be looking at 2-3 hours with WiFi switched on.
I never tried the Mini 9 with Windows, but the default operating system was an older version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix. For beginners, it’s probably a fine OS, but for anyone wanting to get a bit more out of their netbook, it’s not too great. Obviously now, it’s massively out of date and not even supported – Ubuntu Netbook Remix was swallowed by Ubuntu and packaged in as part of Ubuntu Desktop.
By default however, it came with a bunch of applications for you to get started right off the bat. It had its own office suite, used Firefox for internet browsing and a range of other useful applications.
It’s also good to know that Windows would work on this, but you’ll need to really customise that installation to fit on the 8GB drive. There are other models of the Mini 9 with 16GB, or you can change the drive yourself.
The netbook has an Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz processor. These processors were mainly used as they were energy efficient and meant you can get some extra battery life. Performance wise, it allows for an ‘okay’ experience on the whole. It obviously depends on what you’re planning to use the netbook for, but stuff like YouTube videos feel a bit slow. I have been able to watch some 720p videos just fine on this from a hard drive however, but I’ve noticed if you have a chunky file, then it’ll start getting choppy with the audio and video going out of sync.
For stuff like word processing, spreadsheets, etc., the netbook is fine. I even tried Google Drive without any issues, so I’d be quite happy to use the Mini 9 for some productivity related tasks. I’ve tried it for work too, where I remotely connected via LogMeIn through Firefox. This wasn’t too great an experience, partly due to the low resolution meaning I couldn’t see too much of my work screen. Also, the sluggishness is noticeable, the mouse often lagging slightly behind. I’m sure this isn’t due to any connection issues, as I’ve remotely connected from my MacBook Air without any issues.
So all in all, the Mini 9 is a good netbook for on the go use. The portability of it is great and it’s a solid little machine. If you’re planning on doing some more processor-intensive stuff regularly, you may want to invest in something better – but realistically you’re not going to be going out and buying one of these since they’d only be available second hand from places like eBay.
I’m planning on using it for casual use and may plug it into an external monitor and keyboard/mouse if I need to use it for more work related tasks. I see it as quite a useful netbook to have for on the go – not afraid to chuck it in my bag and for it to take a few knocks!