Dell Inspiron Duo review

17 Dec 2010

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

Price when reviewed: 
449(£382 inc VAT)
3

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £382
Price inc VAT £449
Overall rating 3
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 3
Performance 2

Warranty

Warranty 1yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 285 x 195 x 29mm (WDH)
Weight 1.360kg
Travelling weight 1.6kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Atom N550
Motherboard chipset Intel NM10
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 1

Screen and video

Screen size 10.1in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset Intel GMA 3150
Graphics card RAM 256MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 250GB
Hard disk usable capacity 298GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Seagate ST9320325AS
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive none

Networking

Wired adapter speed N/A
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader no
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Conexant SmartAudio HD
Speaker location Front underside
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 3hr 40min
Overall application benchmark score 0.36
Office application benchmark score 0.30
2D graphics application benchmark score 0.43
Encoding application benchmark score 0.31
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.41
3D performance (crysis) low settings N/A
3D performance setting N/A

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition
Software supplied Dell Duo Stage