The Dell Inspiron Duo, with its novel touchscreen that rotates within its frame, asks us the question: do you want the best of both worlds, PC power and tablet convenience?
To which we ask Dell, “Did you say best?”
You see, the Dell Inspiron Duo is the most ambitious attempt at making a twisting, touchscreen Windows 7 netbook work yet – it’s probably because it shoots so high that it comes crashing down even harder than others that have come and gone before it. Read on for all our thoughts in our full Dell Inspiron Duo review.
The good news? The Dell Inspiron Duo’s rotating mechanism for flipping the screen 180 degrees inside the frame is much sturdier than we expected. Magnets hold it in place in tablet mode and the lid stays firmly down, so there won’t be any unexpected mishaps ever.
The bad news? While the 1366×768 screen is bright and sharp, that flipping feature gives it an enormous bezel, and more distressingly, awful vertical viewing angles.
The Dell Inspiron Duo’s build quality is actually almost its best feature, at least when it’s a netbook: it’s sturdy, with closed sockets to prevent grit getting in and a really solid island QWERTY keyboard, with a full right shift key touch typists will enjoy. It’s one of the best on a small laptop we’ve tried in a while. Why do we say almost? Have a look at the pictures and see if you can see anything missing.
Wait, where are all the ports?
A good question – not on the Dell Inspiron Duo. Perhaps due to price and sizing limitations, the Dell Inspiron Duo comes with a mere two USB ports, 3.5mm audio socket, and that’s it. No Ethernet. No SD card slot. No HDMI or VGA out. You’ll have to rely on Wi-Fi wherever you go, which isn’t perhaps such big deal, but the fact that even the first ever Asus Eee PC back in 2007, the one that started the whole netbook trend, had more connectivity options, sticks in the throat when you try to swallow the fact that this costs more than twice what it did.
That’s cool. I mean, the iPad doesn’t really have any either.
No, but the iPad is a lot more portable than the Dell Inspiron Duo in tablet mode. When the touchscreen is flipped around the lid shut down on the Dell Inspiron Duo, it’s over an inch thick (28.7mm), and we’re confident we could quite easily stove someone’s skull in with it since it weights a chunktastic 1.54kg in its lightest spec.
Why so murderous? You’ll probably feel that way after trying to use Windows 7 on a touchscreen. Now don’t get us wrong: Dell’s used a finger friendly capacitive touchscreen, and prods always go recognised. It’s just that no matter which way you slice it, Windows 7 is not cut out for the task. It’s for a mouse and keyboard. It’s the little things that bug most about this set up, like the exit buttons in the corners where a touchscreen is least responsive, but they all add up to an irksome experience.
Dell’s tried to mask this with a nice launcher for basic things liked media and games, but once you’ve gone beyond them you’re in the regular Windows menus and a long way from Kansas, with reams of files, and hitting the right one, never mind finding it, is a serious chore.
On the plus side, we can at least see digital artists enjoying the convenience of just flipping around and starting to draw.
How does it perform as a netbook?
Netbooks are known for having almost identical specs between manufacturers, so it should come as no surprise to find that the Dell Inspiron Duo performs like any recent 10.1-inch liliputer: the combination of 2GB of DDR3 RAM and a dual core Atom N550 processor are enough to keep several browser windows with lots of tabbing humming along nice, while the Broadcam Crystal HD Media Accelerator does a decent job of cranking through online HD video not all machines of this size can handle.
We still prefer Nvidia’s Ion and Ion 2 graphics in netbooks, now that Optimus graphics switching is included, and Flash supports GPU acceleration, but in light of our final bit of bad news, it’s probably just as well that’s not an option here: the Dell Inspiron Duo has an appalling battery life. The four-cell battery on the back won’t get you past three hours of regular usage, surfing the internet and listening to Spotify. This is a serious step back in terms of netbook tech, and of all the compromises Dell had to make to get a rotating screen here, the one it should have tried to avoid above all.
The Dell Inspiron Duo is certainly unique, but don’t let the shiny TV spots and “Oooh” factor of the flipping screen distract you: no one else has done this for a reason. Windows 7 doesn’t work for casual use on a touchscreen, and we can’t see that changing – in the meantime, opt for an Asus Eee PC with a better battery life and slimmer shell, or a full size super slim like the Toshiba Portege R700.