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Dell Inspiron Duo review

Verdict

Lovely physical design and a keen price can’t mask a selection of serious flaws

Review Date: 17 Dec 2010

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £382 (£449 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
3 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
2 stars out of 6

While countless manufacturers are leaping on the tablet bandwagon, Dell has taken a completely different tack. One part tablet and one part Atom-powered netbook, its Inspiron Duo attempts to subvert the convertible tablet template and inject it with some much-needed sex appeal.

Considering the quite reasonable asking price, Dell has done wonders with the Duo’s hardware. The rounded, rubberised edges practically beg to be touched, and the 1.36kg chassis oozes a solidity and class that belies the budget price. Tilt back that subtly-patterned lid, and the Duo remains stylishly understated, brooding dark greys contrasting with the combination of matte and gloss black inside.

Look closer, though, and a thin sliver of daylight peeking between the inner and outer bezels of the display gives away the Duo’s party trick. Prod the top of the glossy panel and it spins backwards; the magnets holding it in place briefly giving way before seizing hold of it at the end of its 180-degree pirouette. Compared with the somewhat clunky feel of the traditional convertible tablet, the Duo’s transformation from notebook to tablet is almost balletic.

Dell Inspiron Duo - mid-transformation

It’s clear Dell has had to do some serious scrimping to keep the Duo’s price down, though, and it’s performance that suffers. Even with 2GB of non-expandable memory in tow, the dual-core Atom N550 processor is far from fast – it scored just 0.36 in our benchmarks. And, where you might hope that low-powered processor would send battery life soaring, it doesn’t. The Dell expired after just 3hrs 40mins in our light use test.

HD video isn’t off limits, though, courtesy of the Broadcom Crystal HD accelerator. While the Atom would normally struggle with HD video, the Duo shrugged off even our most demanding 1080p files. Web-based content proved far trickier, however, and despite multiple browsers and a cocktail of updated drivers, we couldn’t get the Duo to smoothly play HD content on iPlayer or Youtube.

It’s a shame as the Duo’s panel delivers fine image quality. The combination of a glossy 10.1in display and a relatively high 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution leaves images looking beautifully crisp, and although colour reproduction isn’t exemplary, it’s good enough. There is some room for improvement, though: the Dell’s narrow vertical viewing angles cause problems in tablet mode, and left us tilting it to and fro to get images looking their best.

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User comments

Windows 7 isn't a tablet OS

Surely it's the shortcomings of Windows 7 that this review is all about!
The lack of any external video seems crass -I don't know of any netbook lacking this facility. However the crux of the problem is windows -just as all the "netbook" Linux releases have failed to win market acceptance, so Windows 7 doesn't do tablets. I'm sure some enterprising hacker will get Android up on running on this hardware which might at lest show if Atom can play in the tablet marketplace.

By milliganp on 18 Dec 2010

Sim card?

The dell website tech spec indicates a sim card slot, but no mention in the review. Any ideas if there is one?

By mikepgood on 18 Dec 2010

@mikepgood
The review Engadget did a while back didn't mention a SIM slot either.

By simbr on 18 Dec 2010

@milliganp

I find it odd that after owning and using a whole load of tablets over the years, that not one person I've known in my circle of friends and I.T. colleagues, yet, everyone seems to repeat the same damn thing, "Windows 7 is not suitable for Tablets".

How many of those people that seem to 'repeat' that message have ever used such a device? Answer: Hardly any at all.

Acer 1820ptz, Dell XT & XT2, HP TC1100, Archos 9, Winpad and shortly, Viewsonic Viewpad 10, are 'a few' of the tablets I've owned over the years.

The thing about the Duo that I do like, is the default screen res. Due to the 768 pixels, the owner can change the Display DPI to 125% which makes nearly every part of windows 7 considerably easier to 'touch'. Closing applications with the top right 'x' is easy etc. You also have the full chorus of applications available to you, heck, even older versions of Photoshop or Cad if you're crazy.

One thing: You MUST have an SSD on whatever tablet you own, it simply makes sense due to the speed advantage. Mild tweaks on the Acer 1820ptz managed to speed Win7 to the desktop in just 15 seconds!

Either way, I'd rather a fully functional OS.

P.s. Please remember that the mass majority out there are not technical and when you say, "Ohh, someone will get Android on there", the average joe will reply, "Whats that?".

By rhythm on 19 Dec 2010

Test it with another OS

That's the way to find out

By petermalins on 22 Dec 2010

@rythm

With the greatest respects this debate has been rehearsed several times before on this website. A tablet is not the same as a tablet PC. I've had a couple of tablet PCs and absolutely loved them, based on using a stylus and resistive tablet technology for handwriting recognition as an alternate to keyboard entry.
Internet Tablets (like the iPad) have capacitative screens, multi-touch and swipe based apps.
These two types of device are almost entirely separate in application. It is almost universally agreed that Windows 7 touch capabilities do not add up to a functional interface for an Internet Tablet device -thus my point.

By milliganp on 22 Dec 2010

If you want the best of both worlds....

If you want the best of both worlds....you have to sacrifice a little. I have a Duo and I love the little bugger. It's not super fast and it's not as responsive to touch as my Galaxy, but it does far more than the Galaxy or any tablet does, so that's okay by me. My tablet is fun to surf with and it's fun to play with, however, if I need to do some serious work, it hasn't the power, memory, applications. The Duo let's me run an office suite and all the applications my high powered PC does. When I flip the screen it turns into an e book reader. I don't have to worry that my ebook reader isn't compatible with Android or Mac. Nearly every ebook runs on this. It's touch is sufficient. It's not as intuitive a touch as the ipad or android, but that's apples to oranges. It's doing something that neither of those two machines can, which is getting down to real business. An Android and iPad are simply glorified phone operating systems. They're an amusing novelty that has yet to grow up to a true to life operating system. Until then, I'm happy with this little machine that allows me to approach both sides of the coin satisfactorily. Regarding the speed, it's got dual 64 bit processors that will easily outperform any ARM chip on the market.

By petey on 6 Feb 2011

Bit confused

Just managed to grab one of these for testing here in work and:

"but when every finger-press and every gesture is followed by a lengthy pause for thought, minor irritation swiftly turns to full-blown aggravation."

...? After the initial setup the machine has been perfectly, perfectly fine. Speedy, opens windows fast etc. It's actually so nice that I've just ordered one for myself (along with an Intel x-25m SSD) with a dock.

Odd review?

P.s. Opera is set to release a full touch browser.. please hurry up :)

By rhythm on 17 Feb 2011

More information

After owning one of these for a few days now and performing an SSD upgrade (Quite easy) I can state that it's a fantastic machine.. not perfect, but still something to consider.

It also plays 1080p (various sources) just fine.

Info:
http://www.mydellmini.com/forum/dell-inspiron-duo/
25554-quick-tweaking-guide.html

http://www.mydellmini.com/forum/dell-inspiron-duo/
25550-those-wish-upgrade-solid-state-drive.html

By rhythm on 22 Feb 2011

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