I promised a post about my Dell Mini months ago, but didn’t write it up. OK, my bad, here you go!
Back in July I posted about my Asus netbook, and how great that had worked out on a roadtrip I took in March. Although the Asus was great, Windows XP wasn’t. I’ve used Windows machines for work, but occasionally, not on a day-to-day basis as my primary machine, having mostly used Macs and Linux machines. As a day-to-day OS, I found XP clunky, and frankly not very visually appealing.
I tried Windows 7 and I quite liked it. Between it’s visual and functional workover, and the free Virus protection from Microsoft, Windows 7 addressed all my day-to-day complaints, but although it worked great on my Asus, it wasn’t technically supported, and I had to decide if I was going to shell out 1/2 the price of the Netbook for a new OS. The Asus had a feature to restore back to a fresh version of XP, I didn’t want to loose that. So, I decided the Asus was best left an XP machine, if I wanted to keep it the cheap functional tool that it was.
But, I wasn’t going to use it daily if I had to use XP, and Windows 7 wasn’t shipping on any other netbooks yet. What to do. Well, I’d read an article on how to get MacOS running on a Dell Mini 9. Apparently, all the devices in the Mini were supported under MacOS, although Apple doesn’t really approve of installing MacOS onto non-Apple devices, but I was going to make sure everyone was paid for their work, and that I accepted I’d be on my own support-wise.
Dell had just stopped making the Mini 9, replacing it with very nice netbooks, but that used components MacOS didn’t support. I picked up a very reasonably priced refurb for $199, with wireless and bluetooth, bought a RunCore 64GB SSD which reviews said was very fast, and a new shrink-wrapped copy of MacOS Leopard.
I followed the easy online instructions (Note that this method has been replaced with a new, universal method of creating a bootable OSX for netbooks) and in short order had a Dell Mini 9 running MacOS. I quite understand why Apple isn’t making a netbook. They’re a big compromise in many ways, and Apple wants all their products to have a minimum amount of compromise vs. functionality. The Air was as much as they were willing to compromise. I had an air for a while at a prior job, and really did love it, but it was frankly too expensive to carry with me as a "rough and ready" personal device.
They Dell keyboard on the Mini 9 is a huge compromise. It’s not nearly as nice as the Asus. The biggest mistake, they not only squeezed a bunch of keys to be very, very small, they moved some. In a huge tactical error, they messed with the "home row" on they keyboard, and they did it by moving the apostrophe key down in a group of keys by the right of the space bar, and left the semi-colon. Think about this for a second. When did you last use an apostrophe or quote? OK, now when’s the last time you used a semi-colon? Yes, exactly. In the world of quick notes and 140 character micro-blogging, you use an apostrophe over and over and over again. Then, to make it worse, the return key is nice and big. And you hit it every single time you are going for an apostrophe. Toss touch typing out the window. I used Ukelele to remap the apostrophe/semicolon keys, and that helped a little, but you’re not going to be typing full speed on this keyboard, where I could get a pretty good clip going on the Asus.
The touchpad isn’t perfect either. Although the touchpad can handle multitouch, it just doesn’t work well with the Mini9 in my setup. No scrolling with the touchpad, which is a bit of a pain. I sometimes use a wireless mouse just to have a scroll wheel if I’m going to be doing a lot of browsing.
The verdict? This is a GREAT little machine! Even with the issues with touch typing, if you go in knowing you’ll have to type slowly, or use an external keyboard, its small and light, battery lasts for at least 3 hours with wireless on, has an SD card slot for importing photos/videos without cables. I use this as a portable blogging machine, a way to archive/post photos on the road, a great microblogging platform, and a great web browser and email machine, and a way to follow my recipes on kencooking in the kitchen without taking up all the counter space! It can also be used to play movies, and works passably there. With the SD card slot, you can load up movies on a card, and bring them with you, not sucking up precious SSD space. I also have a copy of my iTunes library on an external drive, so I can use this netbook, or my big MacBook to play anything in the library. And the 64GB SSD is a lot more space than I had on my 40GB 12" MacBook! Also, the SSD is FAST. Disk operations usually take much less time than on my big Intel MacBook Pro with its spinning rust.
The compromises aren’t for everyone. If you’re a power-blogger or a writer, the keyboard is a deal breaker. Carrying the netbook AND an external keyboard destroys any portability you gained. But, if you’re looking for a tiny, silent, rugged occasional use machine, especially if you’re out and about, it’s worth a look.