on February 24, 2011
I will be updating this review in about two weeks, but I think what has happened with the product so far warrants review as it's an experience I would want to know about when making my purchase.
I currently have an iPad but was given the opportunity to review the Dell Inspiron Mini Duo. My first impression out of the box was that this is an impressive product. The casing appeared to be high quality, with good button response and a firm swivel to the screen. The back was much nicer than my iPad, the grip is smooth and comfortable. Certainly on specs alone I was extremely interested in what this tablet / laptop combination had to offer. During set up I was also impressed with the the ease of using the touch pad. (Non-responsive lap top touch pads are a key issue for me.) All the signs were good. Setup took an extremely long time, with what seemed to be numerous unneeded 'I Agree' and set up screens. I expect that when working with Windows, so no points off there. Just as all of the set up was complete and it was time to configure the security software preinstalled, the screen went black. The system crashed completely, and the error beeps indicate a motherboard failure. Still no points off, while unfortunate, defective hardware can occur. I called the help line.
After 14 minutes on hold, I reached a person. She was extremely polite but it was very difficult for us to understand each other so a lot of repeating was involved. At 25 minutes into the call she had taken my name and we were discussing the problem. Despite telling her the screen had gone black she wanted to know what error code I saw. Nothing, the screen is black and the unit is beeping. (I can't turn it off either.) Despite telling her I had gotten the unit less than an hour ago, she went over the data loss I would be experiencing and explained that I needed to return the unit for repair, sans attachments. I explained I had no attachments and asked why I was sending a brand new unit in for repair. Why wouldn't it be exchanged? The answer was that it needs to be repaired. At 32 minutes into the call she had taken my address and explained it would be two weeks for the unit to come back to me. I let her know I had a review on the product due, was this the only option? It was.
If I had purchased this unit at retail price, I would be extremely upset with Dell. Here the points start coming off. She transferred me to a supervisor to rate her helpfulness. I said she was quite polite, and the supervisor asked if she had informed me there would be data loss. I told him there was no data to lose, the unit had arrived this afternoon and failed during set up. I explained I needed to review the product, was there an exchange option open? He assured me the unit would be back from repair in 8 to 10 days if I mailed the unit in promptly. I thanked him. I will update this review when the repaired unit arrives, but if I had purchased this product I would have refunded it. I am disappointed in the product so far and could not in good faith recommend it. Hopefully, my impression will be more favorable when I have the repaired unit to test.
UPDATED to 2 stars 2/26 - I was called by Dell technical support today and told not to send the unit in as this was a 'known issue'. Tech support said they found this problem could be solved by booting up in test function, and then ignoring the test. (In order to do this, I turned it on while holding down the FN key, then bypassed the screen when it did boot. I did not get a repeat of the black screen.) No explanation was offered or understood as to the cause of the black screen or not being able to turn the unit off, but the unit is working now. I am charging it overnight and should update the review again by the 28th. I still don't know the cause of the initial failures, and tech says if the problem becomes chronic (we weren't able to agree on a definition of chronic) that it should be sent in for repair. I spoke with two people at tech support today and they were as helpful in the phone call as they were unhelpful in the prior. Both apologized for the problem occurring and not being resolved prior, both urged me to contact them via an email they sent to me (received) for future need. A cynic would think they read the review, but I think it's more likely someone caught the work order and questioned it.
UPDATED to 3 stars 3/1 - I've been using the Inspiron Mini Duo for a few days. I have my reservations about it because of the CS experience and the lack of explanation for why it bricked, giving a false code for motherboard failure. Knowing that could happen again at any time means backups have to be religious and external. (A good idea, but not one the average netbook user is going to follow). Setting that aside, I do like the design of this unit. The touch screen was responsive even before I calibrated it for personal use. Flipping the screen from netbook to tablet in the middle of a task works seamlessly. I can see a solid use for this at once as an e-reader replacement. Start a book with the keyboard, flip the tablet, and you can read without having to angle your head. The keys have a nice responsive feeling, the tracking pad is smooth and accurate. As a netbook, I think this is a better choice than many I have used. As an iPad killer, not so much. While the much larger drive and built in keyboards are welcome, the Inspiron is not a true tablet computer. The load time for initial use and individual programs is still much longer than an iPad. You won't quickly and effortlessly move between applications. As with my laptop, there's plenty of hurry-up-and-wait with the netbook. It will probably gain speed when I strip it of the pre-loaded software, but it will still be a netbook with added functions, not a tablet with a keyboard and track pad. All of that said, for the price point it's a nice machine with above average looks worth considering. If I hadn't had the early CS problems, or if I had a better understanding of the chances of recurrence, I'd probably go four stars. As it is, from one to three is as far back up the scale as I can comfortably go.
UPDATED April 20th - this has been used pretty much daily without a repeat of the initial failure to respond. I'm beginning to think it was a one time event as operation has been fairly flawless with the usual issues you might find with a net book. The tablet is holding up very well, no signs of stress to the hinges at all. Connecting it to the home network has shown we're more likely to use this tablet than the main machine, the longer I own it the more I like it.