Dell 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 US$600, the Mini 12 supports the Windows Vista, Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP operating systems.
Weighing in 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 and downloading music, according to Dell.
"Dell is stretching its range of offerings, which is good," said Dan Olds, principal analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group. "This is an improvement on the Mini 9 in that it has a good sized screen -- much bigger than the Mini 9 -- and standard hard drives of 60 or 80 GB. The Mini 9, with only solid state drives of 8 or 16 GB, 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 hitting the market is bolstering what otherwise would be a soft PC industry.
And in August, Lenovo 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 getting away from the 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 noted that the Mini 12 is a good first notebook for kids, but also would be useful business travelers concerned about battery life, weight, and having a variety of connectivity options.