Not to be confused with netbooks, 11.6-inch laptops offer up a tantalising balance between performance, portability and affordability. They are, in effect, the perfect upgrade from a netbook, and the best alternative for those who understandably feel a netbook doesn't meet their needs. An excellent example of the breed is the Acer Aspire Timeline 1810TZ, but the recently released Dell Inspiron M101z offers up stiff competition.
Where design is concerned, the Inspiron M101z definitely has the edge. Its basic design is very smart, as the dark grey body and black screen bezel complement each other nicely. Added to this are Dell's colourful options, which include the 'Lotus Pink' version we have and blue and red options. Fortunately only the pink version has the floral pattern to its lid and body, though at £19 extra over the standard black livery the coloured options are far from essential.
Another important difference between the Dell and Acer's offering is the use of one of AMD's Athlon II Neo processors, which were used to good effect in both the Acer Ferrari One and the HP Pavilion dm3. In the M101z you get the K325 chip, which has two cores running at 1.3GHz and with 1MB cache to share between them. Graphics are supplied by an integrated ATI Mobility Radeon HD4225, and there's 4GB of RAM and a fast 7,200rpm, 320GB hard drive in support.
Though our model came with Bluetooth 2.1, according to Dell's UK website new models are now shipping with Bluetooth 3.0. This is a nice bonus, and 802.11n Wi-Fi is included as well. You only get 10/100 Fast Ethernet for wired networking, but this isn’t the kind of machine that will spend much time tethered to a wall socket.
There are two reasons for this: one is its size, as the M101z measures just 292mm across and weighs 1.56kg; the other is the presence of a six-cell, 56 Watt-hour battery that when combined with the low-voltage processor ought to ensure good battery life. Also aiding portability is the relatively small and light power supply, which weighs just over 300g including the socket and cables. All-in-all, carrying the M101z around shouldn't prove too great a burden.
Also encouraging is the excellent build quality. All the plastics used in its chassis are of an excellent quality, and there's a general sense of sturdiness to panel fittings and the action on the hinge. Like the aesthetic design, the M101z definitely has an edge over the Acer in this department, particularly as Acer has a patchy reputation where build quality is concerned.
For those with one eye on the future, Dell's warranty offering is also extremely attractive. Unlike many competitors, Acer included, Dell's warranty is collect and return (as opposed to Carry-in, where you're responsible for sending your product for repair) as standard, and upgrades to the standard one year package cost just £19 and £29 for two and three years respectively. It seems a trivial issue at point of purchase, but you'll appreciate it further down the line.