Dell tells me it will likely be at least a few more weeks before they can send me a demo unit of the new Inspiron Duo convertible tablet-style netbook to review, but Engadget’s Joanna Stern just published a detailed review of a pre-production model. Like the folks at Laptop Magazine, she found the hardware to be decent, but the overall performance of the software Dell designed for the tablet mode was almost too sluggish to be usable.

Stern also found the viewing angles on the display to be poor — which is more problematic for a tablet than it would be for a typical netbook, since there’s a decent chance you’ll hold a device like the Duo at an angle which could lead to washed out colors and poor visibility.

While the tablet seems to have a sturdy build quality, decent touch panel, keyboard, and touchpad, there are some strange design decisions. For instance, the camera is on the bezel above the display — which means you can’t use it in tablet mode, because it’s smooshed up against the keyboard in that mode. Dell also didn’t include any video output, SD card slot, or Ethernet jack on the computer. You have to spend $100 on an optional docking station with built-in speakers if you want a VGA port or additional USB ports. Update: Nope, there’s no VGA port on the docking station.

That said, I still like the concept of the Duo. Most convertible tablets require you to essentially use Windows 7 with your fingertips — something which can be tricky to do without sufficiently powerful hardware. Dell instead designed a suite of media applications for watching movies, viewing photos, listening to music, and performing other tasks. When you flip the screen to use the Duo as a tablet, this software automatically comes up (although you can disable it).

Unfortunately it takes around 20 second to launch the individual apps (photos, videos, music, and so on), and they seem very unresponsive once loaded.

Hopefully software updates can address these issues. But what I would love to see is a device like the Duo which runs Windows 7 in laptop mode, and can switch to Android or another light-weight mobile OS in tablet mode. That way you’d be able to use finger-friendly apps with your fingers, and keyboard-and-mouse friendly apps in clamshell mode. Or imagine a MacBook Air that could transform into an iPad and run iOS apps.

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10 replies on “Dell Inspiron Duo reviewed: Interesting concept, mediocre execution?”

  1. This is definitely a very good concept. Having the touch screen feature of a pad and at the same time the flexibility provided by a real keyboard and the storage capabilities of a standard laptop is simply fantastic. I never tried one of this but looking at it and reading other people reviews it appears launch has been rushed….

  2. What is weird is not only is it a jack of all trades master of none, but that it is poor at all the trades. It poorly designed, expensive, and heavy.

    It seems like a rushed prototype that was then rushed into production just so they would hit Christmas 2010. There needed to be a second prototype because this has DIY written all over it. It just feels like a parts-bin Frankenstein that an engineer said, “We can do this…see if we just refine it…what? Ship it? No we can’t do that? My job? Yes, I like my job…oh”

  3. ”Dell Inspiron Duo: Interesting concept, mediocre execution”

    of course it’s a Dell !!

  4. Yeah this does seem to be an really odd attempt at this sort of device, but I certainly see this sort of concept gaining ground. But, teh next one will be better…if they get the chance.

  5. My main problem with the is the inability to configure it with ION2 or something better than the crappy intel GMA

  6. dell better would invest in a good tablet mode win7 shell the user could switch into than this nitty gritty pseudo switching stuff (this is valid for other companies too). actually it’s very annoying. i for instance use my own applications be it in laptop or tablet mode. the reason to switch mode is not consuming or productivity. but other forms of input and usage. as long as companies are not able or willing to understand this this sort of gadgets will be out of consideration for me.

  7. ‘Dell tells me it will likely be at least a few more weeks before they can send me a demo unit’ … and still we get a preview! 🙂 I admire your persistence to deliver anything hehe

  8. This is a netbook that converts into a slate. What makes it a tablet? The slate mode?

    Why would you want Android on this? Light-weight doesn’t mean good. Android might be lightweight compared to Windows, but it’s new, insecure, low on features, and relies on an ecosystem of apps rather than a more reliable system of proper software. It also offers no tablet features, but Windows does. You seem like a guy who hates Windows, but Android is terrible. If you mean lightweight then just leave it at that.

    1. Android for the touchscreen games which isn’t common on the windows platform.

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