Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 netbook finally debuts at $349

Another week, another new netbook. This particular contribution to the exploding tiny-laptop market seems more notable than most, though. Dell pimps the new Inspiron Mini 9 right on its web site's front page, luring customers with the slogan, "Meet your new best friend."

Click the link, and you'll be transported to the Inspiron Mini 9 product page, which lists three different models priced at $349, $399, and $449. The cheapest offering has 512MB of RAM, a 4GB solid-state drive, and Ubuntu Linux 8.04 pre-installed. The middle child runs Windows XP and packs an 8GB SSD, while the priciest of the three features 1GB of RAM and a 16GB SSD. All three have Intel Atom processors, 8.9" 1024x600 displays, 802.11g Wi-Fi, and four-cell batteries rated for about four hours of run time.

With those specs and the 2.28-pound weight (1.04 kg), the Inspiron Mini 9 sounds a lot like other netbooks. However, Dell has apparently worked hard trying to make the laptop look sleek and refined, and the keyboard layout strays from the cramp-inducing norm. Letter keys are disproportionately large compared to the rest, which should make typing a little more comfortable. That does come with the trade-off of missing or misplaced keys, some of which will require a function-key combination to access.

As a side note, all Inspiron Mini 9 variants currently cost less than Asus' Eee PC 901s. The Eees do have more storage, bigger batteries, and 802.11n Wi-Fi, but Windows-powered variants currently cost $550-600+ according to our price search engine.

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