Dell Inspiron Duo Hybrid Tablet / Netbook Review

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Design and Build Quality

Like we said in the opener, the design of the Inspiron Duo is second to none. It has won a number of design awards, and deservedly so. The flip/swivel screen is excellent. What's even more impressive is just how solid and fluid the swivel feels. You can really tell that Dell poured a lot of time and effort into perfecting this piece. It locks into place when you want to, and the swivel is extremely smooth when you want it to flip. There are no loose hinges; everything is perfectly tight and perfectly engineered. It's just great to play with. We found ourselves enamored with the panel, and just flipping it from netbook to tablet mode was entertaining in and of itself.

At 3.39 pounds, it's hardly any heavier than your standard netbook, and the 10.1" screen provides a standard 1366x768 screen resolution and enough room for a nicely sized chiclet keyboard. Dell has also done a good job keeping the bezel thin and the line between the swiveling LCD and the plastic remarkably thin. You can barely tell that it's there. The textured lid was nice in our estimation, and the trackpad was nicely sized for a netbook. We liked the fact that it was texture-less; perfectly smooth and easy to navigate. The separate left/right mouse buttons were also very much appreciated, and the click travel was ideal. It's rare that we get to say both of those things in a netbook review.

Dell also kept the palm rest stickers to a minimum (only 3!), and there's also very little going on around the edges. While the machine looks a lot like a netbook, the port selection resembles that of a tablet. There are no ports on the front and back edges, and the left edge is only home to a headphone jack and two USB 2.0 ports (all of which are covered by a plastic shield that can be popped up when you need access).

There are no ports at all on the right edge, only a power button. Tucked just under that edge is a speaker. On the bottom, there's a subtle docking connector which allows the machine to sit upright in the JBL speaker dock (a $50 option). This means that you can dock your machine for use with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard since a BT module is included, and that dock also provides an Ethernet jack, SD card slot, two more USB 2.0 ports and another audio jack. There are separate AC inputs on the device itself and on the dock, and the AC updater for each is differently sized. So forget about carrying only one cable when you travel; you'll need both.

There's no optical drive, and surprisingly, no media card slot on the Duo itself. There's also no video output. We cannot recall another 10.1" netbook that lacks a video output port of some kind; even the optional JBL dock doesn't have a video output. This fact alone leads us to believe that Dell intends for this to be a tablet first, and a netbook second.

However, there's a full copy (32-bit) of Windows 7 Home Premium, so don't worry about limited functionality from the software side. The keyboard and mousepad were both very rigid and solid, and overall, we felt that this was one of the more solid netbooks on the market. At $550, we didn't expect anything less, but it's always good to see a company live up to expectations.

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