Dell’s 12 inch Vista netbook will cost $999

Dell’s supersized 12 inch netbook will go on sale mid-November for $999 tying with Asus’ Eee PC S101 for the title of Australia’s most expensive netbook. However its 12.1 inch screen sees the Mini Inspiron 12 step more gingerly into the traditional realm of notebooks while boasting a slim profile (which tapers from 24mm to 21mm) and light weight (around 1.24kg) associated with more expensive subnotes.

The Mini 12 also sets itself apart from the increasingly crowded netbook field by shipping with Windows Vista Home Edition and unlike the SSD-only Inspiron Mini 9 is available with a 60GB or 80GB hard drive (the Aussie edition scores the larger of the two).

Evan Williams Dell’s regional General Manager for Consumer Sales and Marketing told APC that the Inspiron Mini 12 “is purely targeted at the consumer who wants to stay connected outside of the home but with a larger screen and keyboard than the Mini 9 while keeping it as thin and light as possible… it’s a premium offering in the netbook category”.

Williams agreed that the more conventional keyboard layout of the Mini 12 may also attract those displeased by the more unique layout of its smaller sibling. “Feeback (on the Mini 9) is more heavily towards the keyboard it takes quite a while to get used to the different keyboard layout and the 12 will address some of those issues.”

Of more concern may be the Mini 12’s limited battery life at launch and a non-negotiable memory ceiling of 1GB. Dell estimates the standard three cell battery to be good for 3.5 hours although that appears to be under the most optimistic conditions – APC’s exclusive review of the Inspiron Mini 12 shows battery life falls an hour short of that mark with simultaneous use of Wi-Fi and video playback indicating that three hours would be a more realistic maximum for average use. Williams says that Dell will offer an optional six cell battery “early next year” which is claimed to boost battery life to just over seven hours.

Meanwhile Dell’s decision to build the Mini 12 around the low-power Atom ‘Silverthorne’ Z-series processor rather than the popular Atom ‘Diamondville’ N270 means the netbook can’t support more than 1GB of RAM owing to a limitation of the Silverthorne chipset.

“We chose the Z-series because it contributes to thinness and lower power consumption (more) than the N270 chip” Williams told APC. “I think that 1GB of memory works fine with Windows Vista Home Basic. It’ll be different for different users but for the target market were going for 1GB should be good enough.”

When the Mini 12 is launched next month it will be available only with Windows Vista Home Basic but Williams says the Windows XP is on the cards. “Windows XP and the six cell battery will be part of what we’re considering for a refresh in early 2009.”

That’s the same timeframe for the Mini 12 and the Mini 9 to both sprout their wireless broadband wings courtesy of an embedded 3G mini-card. “We’re in final testing stages we’ve got a number of units going through their paces at the moment and we’re wanting it to happen as fast as we can” Williams told APC.

Dell currently has agreements with both Telstra and Vodafone for embedded 3G in its regular-sized notebooks and the 3G card specified for the Mini 12 is rated for 7.2Mbps on both the 850MHz Next G and 2100MHz 3G bands. In the UK Vodafone now offers the Mini 9 for ‘free’ to users who ink a 24 month contract for 1GB of data at £25 per month ($64) or 3GB for £30 per month ($76).

However Williams says the 3G broadband is one reason Ubuntu Linux which Dell offers in some overseas markets remains missing from the local Inspiron Mini menu.

“We’re continuing to look at Ubuntu but we’re not at a point yet where we’re confident with the experience around 3G connectivity” Williams says. “Linux has a lot of capabilities but we don’t yet have the connection managers all set up and tested (under Linux) to make it something we can take to the Australian market at this stage.”

Williams declined to comment if Ununtu might therefore be offered on Mini 9 or Mini 12 models sold without inbuilt 3G apart from repeating that “We’re looking at it very closely”.

Don’t forget to check out our scoop review of the Inspiron Mini 12 – it’s a worldwide exclusive and it’s packed with details and pics!