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?

It's a choice that leaves the keys tall, but awkwardly narrow and cramps up the right-hand shift and cursor keys. It's usable for short stretches, but it's nigh on impossible to touch type at any speed.

If you can live with that keyboard, and you want to buy Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 you've got a few choices. Buy direct from Dell and you can wave the embedded 3G goodbye, but at 229 exc VAT for the Ubuntu 8GB version and 254 for the 16GB Windows XP version, it's not over-priced. Look to Vodafone's tariffs, however, and things aren't quite so clear.

Prices begin from free with a 25 a month tariff - fair enough. But with a choice of 1GB or 3GB per month data caps as well as 12, 18 or 24 month contracts it all gets a touch dizzying.

Vodafone's Business tariffs seem to work out a little more favourably than the Consumer equivalents, with one of the 3GB-capped deals asking for 199 up-front, then 15 a month for 24 months. At a total of 559 spread over two years it's tempting.

Good value it may be, but the decision to tie the 3G version to Vodafone is disappointing. If Dell were to sell a Mini 9 with unlocked embedded 3G it would have been easier to overlook the cramped keyboard and somewhat curt battery life. In fact, it would have been very attractive indeed. But, as it stands, you could buy any other netbook - such as MSI's fantastic U100-291UK - then add a USB 3G modem. Then you'd even be able to use your 3G modem with any laptop you want, rather than it being tied to just the one.

The long gestation of the Mini 9 suggested that Dell were carefully scrutinising the opposition; preparing to pounce with the perfect distillation of the netbook formula, but, it hasn't capitalised on the opportunity. The Mini 9 isn't a bad netbook by any means - we much prefer it to Asus' 8.9in Eees - but we just can't forgive that keyboard.

Verdict

By coming late to the party, and with its integrated broadband Vodafone modem, Dell should have been able to capitalise and deliver the best netbook yet. However, the Mini 9 suffers from a key flaw – a poor keyboard, so this can only be regarded as a missed opportunity for Dell.

By coming late to the party, and with its integrated broadband Vodafone modem, Dell should have been able to capitalise and deliver the best netbook yet. However, the Mini 9 suffers from a key flaw – a poor keyboard, so this can only be regarded as a missed opportunity for Dell.

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