Dell skates line between netbook and laptop with Mini 12

New Inspiron model has more oomph than the Mini 9 but remains small and light

Dell Inc. is walking the line between ultraportable PC and traditional laptop with its latest Inspiron Mini offering.

The computer maker this week unveiled its Inspiron Mini 12, which now is available in Japan and is slated to launch globally next month. With a starting price below $600, the Mini 12 supports the Windows Vista, Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP operating systems.

At under 3 pounds and less than an inch thick, the Mini 12 is a sort of big brother to Dell's older Inspiron Mini 9. Not a computing powerhouse, the Mini 12 is geared to online chatting, uploading photos, surfing the Web and downloading music, according to Dell.

"Dell is stretching its range of offerings, which is good," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "This is an improvement on the Mini 9 in that it has a good-size screen -- much bigger than the Mini 9 -- and standard hard drives of 60GB or 80GB. The Mini 9, with only solid state drives of 8GB or 16GB, really wasn't usable as a general-purpose machine."

Earlier this month, Gartner Inc. reported that mini-laptops have been keeping the PC market from sinking badly in the tough economy. A strong push from a new slew of mini-notebooks is bolstering what otherwise would be a soft PC market.

Gartner reported that Dell rivals Acer Inc. and Asustek Computer Inc. have been quick to get into the mini-laptop market.

And in August, Lenovo Group Ltd. took a run at the fledgling market with an ultraportable laptop. Scheduled to be available this month, the IdeaPad S10 has a starting price of $399. And this past June, Acer came out with the Aspire One mini-laptop.

Mini-laptops, increasingly known as netbooks, are relatively inexpensive, small-form-factor notebooks designed for basic applications, such as Web surfing, e-mailing and word processing. They're designed to use less power than traditional PCs and laptops and aren't robust enough for serious power users or gamers.

"Dell, here, is skirting the line between netbook and laptop, and it continues a trend for Dell of getting away from plain vanilla notebooks and desktops," said Olds. "It's interesting in that the Mini 9 is essentially only good as a device to connect to the Net. The Mini 12, though, is a full-fledged system, capable of handling a wide range of tasks. It won't be a speed demon, but it'll be fine for standard office applications, as well as downloading and listening to music."

Olds said that the Mini 12 is a good first notebook for kids but also would be useful for business travelers who are concerned about battery life and weight and want a variety of connectivity options.

DELL Inspiron Mini 12
DELL Inspiron Mini 12 Photo courtesy DELL
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