In the continuing quest to find The Ultimate Netbook, all we've really discovered is exactly how disparate everyone's needs and desires really are. Everyone still loves the idea of a netbook, but agreeing on what that constitutes is nigh on impossible. This is, of course, absolutely fine. One size fits all rarely works in technology and the netbook is as good an example of this as any. If, for instance, you're after something to be your primary notebook the latest MSI Wind (MSI Wind U100-291UK), with its six-cell battery, large hard drive and comfortable keyboard, is just about perfect. If, however, you're after the best battery life and portability possible, something like the Eee PC 901 continues to be king.
Things have only got more complicated now that Dell, a company with at least some experience in computing, has entered the fray. It is selling its netbook, the Inspiron Mini 9, for £279 and £299 in Linux and Windows flavours respectively but it has also teamed up with long time partner Vodafone to offer it with integrated HSDPA for free on its much celebrated mobile Internet tariffs. This is big news because, although we've already seen netbooks sold on contract with HSDPA modems, this is the first to have it integrated into the machine.
At its heart the Mini 9 is very much in the mould of the Eee PC 901, as opposed to the MSI Wind, Eee PC 1000H or Asus' latest offering, the Eee PC S101. It is small - very small in fact - thanks to an 8.9in screen with the ever present 1,024 x 600 resolution and as such is only marginally wider and deeper than the very first netbook, the Eee PC 701. It's light too, but not quite sub-1kg. On our scales it measured 1.08kg which, when combined with its slim and compact frame, puts it among the most portable netbooks available.
It's also, in our opinion, one of the best looking and reassuringly put together ones, too. We've never had a problem with the sturdiness of Eee PCs, but plenty of people aren't so keen on the styling and if you're one of them then the Inspiron Mini 9 should prove a good tonic. Like many notebooks these days it has a slightly wedge-shaped design, with the whole machine narrowing to a slim and comfortably curved front edge. This is reflected throughout the machine, with every edge slightly tapered to ensure there are no sharp edges anywhere. Combined with the subtly curvaceous lid this lends the Mini 9 a pleasing feel that makes it comfortable to handle and carry around.
Visually, it's uncomplicated but attractive. On the lid is a smooth black plastic finish that transitions to silver on the inside, surrounding the screen and bezel, both of which are finished in matte black. This might not be all that adventurous, but given Dell's penchant for coloured lids and arty designs - as seen on the Studio 15 - we fully expect more choice to come in the future. In the meantime, however, our only complaint would be the usual fingerprint issues generated by that glossy lid.