Dell Inspiron Mini 9 on Vodafone

Vodafone's exclusive take on Dell's Inspiron Mini 9, complete with integrated mobile broadband, is finally here. Is this the best netbook on the market?

There's no escape from the netbook. Asus' ever-expanding range of Eees may have led the way, but with MSI and Acer following swiftly after, and big names such as Fujitsu-Siemens, Samsung, Toshiba and now Dell touting their latest and lightest at every opportunity, it's abundantly clear it's a phenomenon that is here to stay.

It's come to us courtesy of Vodafone. And while this may sound like a roundabout way to get hold of the much-anticipated pretender to the netbook throne, there's good reason for it. Thanks to an exclusive partnership with Vodafone, Dell is the first manufacturer to market with a netbook with embedded 3G. Dell itself won't be selling 3G-enabled Mini 9's directly, so if you want mobile broadband, you'll just have to get one on a Vodafone contract.

Otherwise, though, this is very similar to what you can buy through Dell. There's no option for an Ubuntu Linux version, just the netbook OS of choice, Windows XP, and the specifications are largely the same.

One curious downgrade is the storage. Presumably to make a little room in the budget for the HSDPA adapter, the 16GB SSD found in Dell's 299 XP-flavoured Mini 9 has been downgraded to a rather paltry 8GB in the Vodafone one.

With nigh on 4GB of that consumed by XP, it doesn't leave a whole lot of room to play with. Thank goodness, then, for the SDHC memory card reader. Pop another 8GB or 16GB card in there and it'll provide more than enough room for a sizeable collection of music, video and other digital bits and bobs.

But, we're getting ahead of ourselves here. In terms of look and feel, the Inspiron Mini 9 is a convincing effort. It weighs a very reasonable 1.08kg, with the compact charger only adding another 200g to the figure. The 8.9in screen means that the Mini 9 is a similar size to Asus' Eee PC 901 and noticeably smaller than MSI's Wind.

Crucially for a netbook that's going to spend most of its life rattling around in the none-too padded confines of a commuter's bag, the build is reassuringly sturdy. In fact it's particularly robust by netbook standards, with a solid lid and a flex-free chassis.

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