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Input Devices and Ergonomics
As we said, the Mini 10 features one of the biggest keyboards used on any netbook. You get used to it in next to no time, and within minutes you can type as fast as you could on a 12-inch notebook.
The layout is excellent as well. Note the size and position of Enter, right Shift, Backspace, as well as Tab, Caps lock and left Control. Perfect. Well, almost perfect, the arrow keys could have been slightly larger, but they're still just as good as on any netbook.
The excellent size and layout are somewhat compromised by the bouncy keys, and most of all, the loud and loosely fitted Space key. It's really a shame, as we're practically looking at the best keyboard of any netbook, but once you stop looking and start using it, you're in for a disappointment.
You can probably see a couple of things are missing here. Yes, the buttons are integrated under the touch sensitive surface. It's a pretty good way of squeezing more acreage into the touchpad on a small device, but it takes some getting used to. Nevertheless, it works, and once you get the hang of it you'll appreciate the extra room this solution provides. If you're used to tapping instead of clicking, you'll get used to it even faster.
What's more, the trackpad supports multi-touch input. It works well, and thanks the space saved by the integration of the buttons is more than welcome if you're planning on using this feature. The only trouble is that the system itself can't cope with rotating and resizing massive images in real time. We tried it out with 3-4MB images, and, as expected, the 1.3GHz Atom struggled to rotate them.
Ergonomics, Everyday use
Basically you should have no trouble using the Mini 10 for prologued periods of time. As in all netbooks, the screen is a bit too small for extended use, but the spacious keyboard and touchpad help out a lot.
As for the connector layout, there's not much to complain about either.
The power connector, memory card reader, Kensington and one USB slot are situated on the left side.
On the right you'll find two more USBs, HDMI, audio connectors and LAN. It would have been a better idea to have the HDMI further to the back, but this is a minor issue, as it will rarely be used.
Oddly, Dell installed the stereo speakers on bottom of the chassis, near the thin front edge. Obviously, if you're going to use the Mini 10 in your lap, this will be an issue.
The back is devoid of any connectors, and apart from the 3-cell battery, there's nothing to see here.
Dell is one of few vendors to stick with 3-cell batteries, as most have moved on to 6-cell units even in low end netbooks. The Mini 10 is powered by an energy efficient 1.3GHz Atom and US15W chipset, but this doesn't help much. We clocked just under three hours of use with the backlight set to maximum. If you turn off Bluetooth, Wireless and go Al Gore on the backlight, you can manage over three hours, but a 6-cell battery would have made a world of difference.
At least one upside of the power efficient Z520/US15W combo is the manageable thermals, and the Mini is one of the coolest netbooks we've come across. Even after prologued use, it stays remarkably cold, you can just feel a couple of hotspots on the bottom, but even they are just lukewarm. Once the fan kicks in, you can feel it. Literally. It's pretty quiet, but it transfers a fair bit of vibrations onto the chassis, which is a bit strange. As you've probably noticed, the Mini 10 does not feature any cooling vents on the sides, thanks to its cool Z520/US15W combo. Although this makes for a better looking, and probably more quiet machine, it also means that it will get less air when you're using it on your lap or some other soft surface.
Basically the Mini 10 is easy to live with in most respects. Endurance could have been better, and a more sturdy, quieter keyboard would have meant a lot. We liked the innovative touchpad, it's big enough to use multi-touch, and once you get used to the buttons, or lack thereof, you'll probably end up liking it. We're not sure if the idea will catch on, and as it's pretty much a thing of personal preference, I would advise you to try it out for yourself if possible before you make up your mind.