Unless you’re living under a rock, (or new to the netbook space), you know that Dell is expected to announce a low cost ultraportable laptop any day now. Many folks expected the company to to launch the Inspiron Mini yesterday, but instead Dell announced a business-class laptop that it claims can get up to 19 hours of battery life. Pretty cool, but not the $299 laptop I was hoping to see.
I’m still hopeful that Dell will announce something in the next few days. It’s in the company’s best interest to release a product in time for the back to school shopping rush. But it’s already getting a little late to cater to the college-bound crowd. My guess is that the Intel Atom shortage and/or other technical issues may have caused Dell to miss its intended ship date. I hope I’m wrong, but several sources have indicated that Dell planned to ship its netbook in August, and the month is already nearly half over.
With so many other ultraportables flooding the market, why does anyone care about Dell’s entry? There are at least two reasons. The first is that Dell could charge as little as $299 for the Inspiron Mini, making it the cheapest laptop around with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU. And shoppers love a bargain. But I’m hoping Dell will bring something else to the table that’s been sorely missing from the current netbook lineup: customization.
At $299, I don’t expect the basic configuration of the Inspiron Mini to be powerful. It will likely sport 512MB of RAM and the same slow SSD that you find in the Acer Aspire One, which makes Windows XP run pretty slowly. It might give the Aspire One a run for the money in the low-end space. But this version won’t hold a candle to the MSI Wind or Eee PC 901 in terms of performance.
But unlike Acer, MSI, and most other computer makers in this space, Dell typically lets users customize their orders. Want more RAM? Just check a box on the website and pay a few more bucks. Want to upgrade your SSD or swap it out for a hard drive? Check another box. I’m guessing that for $100 – $200, you can trick out your Inspiron Mini to make it a true Eee PC killer.
Right now, Acer, Asus, MSI, and even HP (a company that typically does allow users to customize their orders) are offering only preconfigured netbooks. If you want an Eee PC with a 7 inch screen and a 40GB SSD, you’re out of luck. Dell could be the first mini-notebook maker to offer the chance to mix and match netbook parts to your heart’s content. You know, if the company ever gets around to releasing the thing.