• Review: Dell Inspiron Duo

    Posted by Mike Yawney on February 27th, 2011 View Comments

    Late last year Dell announced a product unlike anything we have every seen before; a laptop with a touchscreen capable of doing a backflip. Flipping the display enables you to use it as a tablet. It looked amazing! Within a few months Dell released it in the United States but has held off making it available in Canada due to supply issues. But that changes next month. In March Dell is set to release the Inspiron Duo in Canada. We got our hands on one to run it through the paces. Is it worth waiting for? Unfortunately sometimes looks can be deceiving.

    The Design

    I have to admit I love the look and feel of this laptop. The outer shell has a nice rubberized texture which makes it very comfortable in your hands. It’s a subtle touch, yet one which sets this small laptop apart from many. We got our review unit in Ruby Red which looked quite slick. Even the laptop’s air vents are coloured making for a true seamless design.

    When you open the laptop you’ll notice the keyboard has the newer chiclet-style keys. I’m a big fan of chiclet keys as it makes typing easier and prevents junk from getting caught beneath the keys. Beneath the keyboard you’ll find the trackpad which in all honesty we found to be a bit small.

    All of the ports are hidden behind rubberized tabs, similar to what you would find on a cell phone. There are only 3 ports which include 2 USB and one headphone jack. Strangely enough the ports are inset which can lead to some problems. USB drives with a thick body will not fit into the ports. Even a Rogers Rocket Stick would not fit! We had to find a USB extender cable in order to connect it to the Mini Duo.

    The Inspiron Duo really does look like a regular laptop. It hides its secret well. But when you press on the bottom of the screen you’ll discover it’s on a swivel. It does a backflip and completely reverses so the screen faces outwards. You can then close the laptop and use it like a tablet.

    The screen locks into place via strong magnets. At first I was worried the magnets would lose their pull and the screen would accidentally swivel on it’s own but that was never the case. It always remained firmly in place.

    When you begin to use the Mini Duo as a tablet you will notice just how thick it is. This is no iPad! Remember this is a laptop converted into a tablet. It has some heft to it. It’s not that it’s uncomfortable to hold, it’s just not a thin tablet. You will not be using this with one hand, it’s simply too heavy.

    The Screen

    Dell’s Inspiron Mini Duo has a 10.1 inch, 1366×768 resolution touchscreen. It’s interesting to note that the screen reacts to touch when it’s in the laptop mode and the tablet mode.

    The screen is decent but by no means the best we’ve seen. While it’s quite responsive to touch and seems to accurately track where you touch, the viewing angles are less than ideal. As soon as you move away from direct view the screen begins to darken and some images become a bit muddy. It’s not as crisp as we’d like it to be. The issue became even more noticeable when in tablet mode. When the tablet was laid flat viewing angles became problematic.

    The Performance

    As a laptop, the Dell Inspiron Duo performed decently. With its dual-core 1.5-GHz Atom N550 processor, Windows 7 ran quite well. However things change once you convert it into a tablet.

    While the screen is quite responsive to touch, it seems to get very sluggish while using it as a tablet. Using simple gestures like pinch and zoom takes a toll on the system. The computer is very slow to react which gets very frustrating. There is a huge delay when you try to zoom in or zoom out. The system just can’t keep up with what you want to do.

    Dell tries to simply navigation by using what it calls Stage software. When you first convert the Mini Duo into a tablet a special Stage overlay comes up over Windows. This simplifies things by giving you headings such as Videos, Photos, Music and Games. Tapping on these icons will give you direct access to the media files of your choice. Navigation here is simplified and intended for your finger. But outside of Stage navigation can be tricky.

    Moving, resizing or closing windows from within Windows 7 can be difficult. Remember you are using a finger and not a stylus. Some of the icons are incredibly small and tough to hit with a fat fingertip. Some may get frustrated while surfing the web or simply trying to close certain windows.

    In terms of typing you must rely on a virtual keyboard in tablet mode. The keyboard can be brought up by double tapping fields or by tapping a small tab on the side of the screen. The keyboard is well designed and quite accurate. When you’re done with the keyboard it must be either dragged out of the way or closed as it does not disappear on its own.

    Battery Life

    This has to be the most disappointing aspect of the Dell Inspiron Duo. The battery just isn’t adequate. The Dell website states the battery will last approximately 4 hours. The most we could squeeze out of the Duo Mini was 2 to 3 hours. Most of the time we simply browsed the web and did some word processing, including typing up this review. Now imagine the strain streaming HD video would take on this machine! To make matters worse plugging in the Mini Duo didn’t allow me to continue working when the battery got low. The laptop turned off even when plugged in. It couldn’t keep up with the power that was being demanded.

    The Bottom Line

    While I love the idea of a laptop which can convert into a tablet, sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I love the design of the Inspiron Duo. It looks and feels great, and it works quite well as a laptop, but as a tablet the duo fails. Performance bogs down and navigation can become frustrating. On top of that the battery just doesn’t last as long as it should. The Mini Duo certainly has lots of potential. I hope Dell doesn’t scrap the idea, but rather comes out with a new model which can handle the tasks you throw at it. Maybe the tablet optimized Windows 8 may be the saving grace.

    The Good

    Great design
    Solid flip screen

    The Bad

    Sluggish tablet performance
    Poor battery life

    The Dell Inspiron Duo is expected to retail for $549. You can see a complete list of specs on Dell’s website.

    • Syed Wajahat Hussain Najam

      Its not yet available in Asian Market… :(

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