Build Quality, Oh Sweet Build Quality

Here’s where ASUS falls short and Dell succeeds: the Inspiron Mini 9 feels like it’s worth much more than you’re paying for. The Eee PC, especially the 901 is actually not all that low-cost, and while build quality has improved it's still not perfect. The problem for ASUS is that the Inspiron Mini 9, at $349, feels like a more expensive product. Consider the bar raised.

That's right, white LEDs

The equivalent on the Eee PC. The Dell looks more...Apple-like

This thing feels amazing, it’s the MacBook Air meets the Eee PC. There are $1500 notebooks that don’t feel this put together. Dell has been promising me that over the next 12 - 18 months that their products are going to get significantly better in terms of functionality, build quality and design - the Mini is the first example of just that. That's not to say that the Eee PC was bad, far from it, it's just that the Mini is better.

Eee PC (left) vs. Inspiron Mini 9 (right)

Eee PC (left) vs. Inspiron Mini 9 (right)

Stylistically the Inspiron Mini 9 borrows a lot from the Eee PC. The beveled edge on the top cover is nearly identical to that on the Eee PC 901. Even the back of the screen is nearly identical, but Dell improved upon ASUS’ design by softening one of the harder angles on the Eee PC.

Eee PC (left) vs. Inspiron Mini 9 (right)

Part of Dell’s trick to making the Inspiron Mini feel more expensive than it is has to do with materials choices on the inside. The frame around the screen and keyboard are made of the same material, and it hides fingerprints. The Eee PC on the other hand mixes two different types of coating and the area around the keyboard happens to show fingerprints/grease a little too well, regardless of whether you got the white or black version.

The Mini's hidden hinges

Dell also hid its hinges as best as it could with the Mini, while ASUS displayed them prominently on the Eee PC. Stylistically, the Inspiron Mini looks more modern, while the Eee PC is more reminiscent of the notebooks of yesteryear. Given the low price point of these devices, you expect slightly older styling, but again - Dell raised the bar with the Inspiron Mini.

ASUS' exposed hinges

Index Expansion: More than a MacBook Air
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  • Klug - Friday, September 5, 2008 - link

    Thanks for the review.

    Maybe I misread but I could not find any info about the external PSU... How fat is it?

    I currently use a M1330 and the external PSU is a pain (big, heavy, thick cable, etc).

    Netbook is nice but when used "on the road" (ie: train, meetings, etc), it needs to be carried with its PSU. If the PSU is fat, that's bad.
  • benlen - Friday, September 5, 2008 - link

    I missed this my self. An is a important information an a netbook.

    I found the answer here:">
    about one minute in.
    I am happy with the type.
    They say it is 2.6 lbs with the psu so the psu should be about 0.4 lbs.
    But I still havent found a picture on the UK psu. I hope it will be a travle type where you can change the plugs/connectors

    I am by the way selling my M1330 to only have a mini 9 and a stationary
  • strafejumper - Friday, September 5, 2008 - link

    i've been researching lappys for a week trying to buy my first one.

    found one i love from lenovo 15.4" but the one problem is all 15.4" lappy's that i've been looking at seem to have the exact same florescent lcd and when i went to circuit city to look at some they all looked very dim because of the vertical viewing angle.

    Then i was in a local shop and they had a macbook air and it was totally different, many times brighter and still bright even at angles. Looking for a cheaper laptop than the macbook air now that has this good an led lcd. May have to wait a while.
  • wvh - Thursday, September 4, 2008 - link

    Looks interesting, especially the passive cooling... But as someone who works in several countries, I think they made a mistake with their peculiar keyboard layout. It's not easy to get used to all the different international layouts, laptop- vs. full-sized keyboards, model-specific multimedia- and function-keys, and having manufacturers come up with their own proprietary layout on top of that makes their product much less appealing to me.
  • JoshuaBuss - Thursday, September 4, 2008 - link

    nice carpet, anand! :)
  • alpine18 - Thursday, September 4, 2008 - link

    The dell sounds interesting, but I'll keep my eeepc 901 for now. I love this thing.
    It is great to see so many new netbooks in the market place. When they come out with a new netbook with the dual-core Atom, I'll probably buy one.

    I differ with the article author's view on battery life and use. My eee 901 has effectively replaced my full size Gateway laptop. The thing sits at home since I got my 901, little more than a glorified portable desktop. I use my 901 all day without having to recharge, take it to meetings so I can act like I am taking notes when I am actually catching up on other work.

    For me, the deal breaker for the Dell would be the battery life and 1GB memory. I have 2GB of memory in my 901 and need the 5-8 hours of battery life. If the Dell had the same battery life as the 901 and was upgradeable to 2GB, I'd seriously be thinking about getting one.

  • MamiyaOtaru - Thursday, September 4, 2008 - link

    Glossy Screen? Why? So I can see what's behind me better than what I'm working on? Especially for a portable computer that just might be used outside, a reflective screen is dumb.

    I know glossy screens sell better in brick and mortar stores, but people are dumb (ooh, shiny!)

    Nice to have a choice I suppose, so those who like it can get the Dell and I can get something else. But that's my point really, I'd get something else.
  • abakshi - Thursday, September 4, 2008 - link

    Dell seems to have done better than I expected, but I'd be curious to see how you'd compare with the HP 2133 Mini-Note in terms of build quality, keyboard, screen, etc.

    I have a Mini-Note (C7 1.6 / 2GB / 120GB 7200rpm / Vista Business), and while granted, most configs are priced higher than the average netbook, the design is awesome and it's built better than any HP/Dell/etc. laptop I've ever seen. More importantly, the keyboard's light-years ahead of the EeePC and all other netbooks I've encountered thus far, and with a nice bright 1280x768 screen, it's a pleasure to work with on the go.
  • Roy2001 - Thursday, September 4, 2008 - link

    1. Dual core Atom.
    2. Power saveing Poulsbo chipset + HD decoding feature.
    3. Smooth HD/BD movie play back.
    4. Has at least 8GB SSD built in and a SDHC slot so I can insert a cheap 32GB SD card (some day) as 2nd HD.
    5. Has mini-HDMI output.
    5. Built-in camera should be standard.
    6. 1GB RAM should be standard.
    7. 10" LCD with 1280x800 resolution.
    8. Bluetooth built in so I can use a wireless mouse/keyboard without a dongle.

    The more I can dream is touch screen, wireless USB hub, and more...
  • Matt Campbell - Thursday, September 4, 2008 - link

    I'm really impressed with what Dell has done with the Mini, they struck a great balance with price/features and it looks fantastic. Thanks for the suggestions - the Wind, Aspire and Lenovo S10 are on my review wish list as well. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming HP 2133 Mini-Note review. Hopefully between Anand, Jarred and I we'll cover everything eventually :)

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