Things really start getting interesting with the keyboard which Dell have completely revamped to fit into the small space that this particular chassis can accommodate.
Immediately you will notice the complete omission of a row of function keys at the top of the keyboard. They have now been moved to a row of letters in the centre of the keyboard and require holding down the Fn key for use. Despite being in a position foreign to where we would normally expect to find these keys, after a short while of use I found it reasonably easy to hit Fn and quickly locate the correct key, subconsciously memorising the placement of the important ones.
It is important to note though that Dell failed to move down the F11 and F12 keys in the original design and a BIOS update is required to enable functionality. Fortunately updating the bios is made easy thanks to the use of the WinPhlash utility, a Windows based BIOS flashing tool.
Usability is key with netbooks and a good chunk of that comes down to the practicality of the keyboard when put into use. The first two days with the Mini were slightly awkward and I started out with an intense love hate relationship with the keyboard, constantly making small errors and hitting extra keys while typing. However, once you adapt to the layout touch typing becomes a breeze.
Despite Dell’s choices regarding the sizing of the punctuation keys and what others have said about troubles with them in use, I’m now able to completely relax and let my hands loose on the keyboard, words flowing out as if I was typing on a full size unit, albeit slightly slower. So yes, the keyboard has a clear learning curve but once you get past that it is perfectly acceptable to use. That said, people with large hands may experience a few issues due to the rather compact nature of the keyboard.
Just below the keyboard the touchpad blends in beautifully with the rest of the machine, keeping up the aesthetic appeal. The touchpad itself is textured yet still rather smooth and offers great tracking accuracy, certainly one of the higher quality PC touchpads I have used. The buttons are slightly wiggly but are incredibly easy and soft to press, something which I personally prefer as opposed to having to use an uncomfortable amount of force. It also includes scrolling gestures.
The 1024×600 LED-backlist glossy display on the Dell Mini is very impressive for this price bracket, exhibiting vibrant colours and strong contrast. The viewing angles are reasonable but the vibrancy starts to dull slightly when at the limits, however, this should not pose a huge problem with such a personal device.
The biggest issue I had with the screen was not within the actual display itself, but was with the hinge mechanism. Despite being aesthetically pleasing, function appears to follow form and if you’re sitting upright in a chair the screen is unable to tilt far enough back to an ideal angle. In any other situation such as sitting on a settee or placing the laptop on a table the tilt angle is perfectly acceptable. However, this certainly isn’t a deal breaker and it does look rather handsome when it is open thanks to the design of the hinges.
There is also a built in 0.3MP webcam located at the top of the display.
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