Late last year Dell broke the mold and launched the Mini 12, the world's first Atom based 12-incher. As you probably know, Intel and Microsoft have put in place a number of draconian restrictions, in an attempt to keep netbooks around the 10-inch mark.
Not only did Dell go for a bigger screen, but it was also the first vendor to use a Z-series Atom, and it was one of few manufacturers to offer a Vista option on the Mini 12. Mind you, Vista on a 1.3GHz Atom doesn't really sound like a great idea, unless you enjoy watching snails race.
Apart from the obvious advantages of having more screen realestate and resolution, another upshot of going for a 12-inch form factor is the uncramped layout and spacious trackpad.
The Mini 12 looks like a 12-inch ultraportable, not a netbook, but in the end it feels like a netbook, not a pricey featherweight for businesspeople. It's cheap, and there's no way of hiding it, but luckily, it doesn't feel too cheap.
Although Dell didn't stick to Redmond's and Santa Clara's design guidelines and restrictions regarding panel size, the rest of the package is a bit more netbookish.
In the entry level version the Mini 12 ships with 1GB of memory, a 1.3GHz Atom Z520 and just 60GB of storage. Bottom line, nothing too interesting to report in the hardware department.
Design and Build Quality
Sticking a cool and power efficient Z520 into a 12-inch body wasn't a problem, and it allowed designers a fair bit of freedom. The body is under an inch thick all around, and thanks to ridiculous thermals, there's no ugly cooling vents on the sides.
It's not much thinner than most 10-inch netbooks, but thanks to the bigger footprint, it looks quite a bit more elegant and thin. It's not a MacBook Air, but it still has a nice profile, maybe not befitting a catwalk, but still slim enough to turn some heads.
The glossy silver finish on the palmrests looks and feels nice, and it's pretty resistant to smudging as well. The same can't be said of the piano black lid, which is prone to gathering fingerprints and dirt.
The spacious trackpad clearly indicates this is no 10-incher, and overall the Mini 12 looks quite a bit more serious than your average 10-inch netbook. The shiny power button is a bit too tacky, but luckily it's small and doesn't stick out much.
We have no major complaints about build quality, it's pretty good for this price class, although you can't expect it to be on par with light and thin 12-inch and 13-inch units which cost at least twice as much as the Mini 12.
The rough plastic used on the bottom of the chassis feels sturdy, but also a bit rough and cheap, like a piece of trim on a cheap car. The same goes for the black plastic surrounding the keyboard. It could have been a bit smoother, as it looks cheap.
Overall, the Mini 12 looks and feels pretty good, mainly thanks to its big footprint (29.9 x 22.3cm), and 23mm thicnkess, resulting in a sleek, elegant appearance. With a 3-cell battery, it weighs just 1.26kg. At this price point, you really can't ask for much more.