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Today is the grand opening of the Microsoft Store in Bellevue Square Mall, and it’s also the first time you’ll be able to walk into a store and get some play time with the Dell Inspiron duo, Dell’s completely unique take on combining a multi-touch touchscreen and a traditional keyboard. I was lucky enough to have worked with the duo for a few days in the weeks leading up to launch, and wanted to share my take on this very different approach to the “touch vs. type” debate.
The core of the duo’s uniqueness is the screen itself; rather than have a convertible screen that is hinged at a single point on the chassis and rotates laterally, the duo’s lid is fixed and the screen rotates inside the bezel – you literally just press the bottom of the screen and it flips over. It’s an elegant, innovative take on something that’s been around in one form or another for 10+ years.
My duo came with a dual-core Atom N550 processor, a 1366 x 768 display, 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. You pre-order one that’s the same as mine from the Microsoft Store starting today for $549, and they’ll also be available through Dell.com very soon.
Using the duo in both Touch and Type mode
Hands down, the duo is one of the best convertible devices on the market. The new N550 provided great fundamental results running Microsoft Signature when I timed it on my Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. In some cases, like wake time, the duo performed better than many larger, more powerful computers:
- Startup (cold boot): 36.5 seconds
- Shutdown (no apps open): 17.5 seconds
- Sleep (from lid close to power-down): 9 seconds
- Wake (from lid open to working desktop): 1.5 seconds
Performance using normal everyday applications like Word, PowerPoint and Excel was good, although data-heavy applications like Outlook (loaded with my full multi-gig profile) did take somewhat longer to load. That’s not unexpected though; the duo has a usually-for-netbooks Atom processor after all, so that little bit of delay wasn’t a deal breaker for me. I found the duo comfortable to work on – the tight 1366 x 768 resolution, even on the 10” viewable screen area, was easy to read, and 12” body offers up a keyboard that was big enough to type on without my fingers cramping. Sound was impressively good for something this diminutive and I enjoyed singing along to the new Zac Brown Band album on Zune. My office mates, however, did not.
In touch mode, the duo is a capable entertainment companion. When you flip it to reveal the touchscreen, a finger friendly interface called “Dell Stage” pops up, and gives you one-touch access to your photos, movies, the Blio reader, and games. It’s an unobtrusive overlay to Windows 7’s standard interface that’s there when you want it to be there, and hidden when you don’t. It’s smart and useful.
Movies and photos look great on the HD screen. I rented “Get Him to the Greek” on my Zune Pass as a demo movie and it played seamlessly (yes, my job is *terribly hard* sometimes…). Even the Blio reader was fun to play with; admittedly, it isn’t as easy to read as my Kindle DX, but then again, the duo is a multi-function device with eReader functionality built in, not a dedicated appliance like the Kindle. Would I skip on carrying my Kindle for a long trip across the country? No way. But I would likely leave it home and read on the duo for the short hops I often take down to San Francisco.
My favorite time spent in touch mode was playing my old standby for casual gaming – PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies. It’s a perfect format for the game and the large, colorful icons make it extremely finger-friendly. Using touch to play this game was more intuitive, and more fun, than using a mouse.
One of my favorite things about the duo is its optional JBL-powered speaker dock. The dock is gorgeous and well-built and comes with an Ethernet jack, SD slot, USB ports and headphone jack, and the sound that it pumps out is rich, deep and loud – it sounded just as impressive as the Bose speakers I have connected to my desktop PC. The duo is aware when its in the dock, too. When you drop it in, the duo instantly launches a cleverly-named alarm clock app called “Clockdock”. I didn’t have the duo long enough to use it at home as my bedside clock, but I can see how this would be useful. More than that, it showed me that Dell is committed to making the duo an “everything device” – work on it like a laptop, use it in touch mode to watch movies and play online, read an eBook or browse the web, and then make it your bedside clock at night.
Look and Feel
The duo’s hardware is both well-designed and well-constructed. The entire chassis is rounded and rubberized so it appears smaller than it actually is, although heavier than you’d expect at about 3.2 4.5 lbs. The flippable display is without a doubt the high point and is excellently engineered – it’s intuitive to use and “wants to be flipped”, i.e., it is balanced so well that a light press gets it moving, and rubberized catches inside the bezel snap the screen into place in both modes. It just feels good to use. Flip it a few times and you’ll get good enough that you can tap the screen and collapse it into slate mode, or open it into laptop mode in a single, smooth movement.
(Side note: Yes, I practiced this, as I am a showoff who likes to impress my co-workers. At least I’m honest about it.)
The Dell Inspiron duo is an interesting device, one of the first that changes the debate from “touch vs. type” to “touch AND type.” I love that partners like Dell are taking hardware in new directions and I think that this is the first of many Windows devices that will look to give customers the best of both worlds – the traditional functionality of a laptop to create content, and a finger-friendly multi-touch interface to consume content.
It won’t be for everyone, but for someone who wants a great companion device, something that you can use for light work, email, social networking, and chatting, as well as conveniently watching movies and reading books, the Dell Inspiron duo is worth a look.
Have a question about the Dell Inspiron duo or any other PC? Post a comment, hit me on Twitter, or Ask Ben Anything via email. Your question might appear in my monthly Ask Ben Anything Q&A column!
You mentioned the ability to pre-order today from the Microsoft Store. Is that only from one of the few brick and mortars or can this be done through the online Microsoft Store. (I looked at the online store and couldn't find it.)
Thanks for an honest review Ben, looks like a great multi-purpose notebook. I would suggest Dell add a higher end model with more robust components such as a low voltage Intel Core i3 processor, 4 GBs of RAM and a 11 to 12 inch screen. The rest of it is quite good and I admire Dell for trying to make Windows 7 more Touch "friendly".
Ben, when you get a chance, could you check out the new DELL ZINO HD? Thanks!
Great review Ben, thanks. I've been eyeing this device ever since Dell announced it. First as a replacement for my parent's desktop computer...which sees little use because my parents aren't really the type to sit behind a computer. I had been looking at mobile slates but none of them offer Live Messenger video conferencing. Along with the dock, the Dell Inspiron Duo would be ideally placed in the kitchen. I am a bit disappointed with the device weight and lack of HDMI output. The bigger issue is that the webcam does not swivel with the display...hope Dell addresses this in their next revision. But Dell did get the price is right.
For myself, I was looking at this as potentially my primary portable device. I wouldn't run Outlook on this as you did...instead I would just use Outlook Web Access. I probably would setup syncing of recent offline documents with Live Mesh. Unfortunately the weight is a tad too much to deal with. All in all, great start but I think Dell is one generation away from perfecting it.
I desperately wish you'd also promote ink-supporting pen-abled tablets like the HP 2740 and the Slate 500.
I love being able to consume content, but I prefer being able to create it as well! :)
@GoodThings2Life - the HP Elitebook 2740p is my primary laptop :-) I love it. Ben's going to do a post on it in a few weeks. I've gone all digital with my note taking. No more trees and losing my paper notes! And I sync my notes through OneNote 2010 to SkyDrive!
@Brandon LeBlanc, you are syncing OneNote to SkyDrive...just checking, does that mean OneNote Web App has been updated to display inking or are you converting ink to text before saving?
@GoodThings2L, the two models you mention are business class. I think the devices that should be promoted more heavily here are HP's consumer oriented TM2 tablet. Get students on that. Hopefully OEMs will see the value in making more pen enabled consumer devices.
The first link in your article is pointing to a file on your desktop.
Will these be available with SSD I hope!
I'd love to get this computer in my hands as soon as possible. As someone with an ancient Dell Inspiron 5150 (running windows 7 :P), the specs (and certainly the weight) aren't really an issue and look great to me. Too bad I won't be able to get it in December. Maybe January or February...
@Web Guy: Fixed, thanks!
Will the Dell Duo be in the store for the next few weeks or just today?
Wow, lots of great laptops/netbooks coming out for the holidays. It's really getting hard to choose one for Christmas. Hopefully, I can narrow it down before December 20. Thanks for the review!
Great post. Can we order this online at the Microsoft store or only in person?
This looks like a great device, the sort of thing I'd be interested in (assuming there aren't going to be any Windows Phone 7 OS based tablets) just a shame that “Dell Stage” doesn't include an icon for Windows Media Center as that would be my primary use for the device when in "tablet" mode. With great 3rd party solutions like DVBLogic it is possible to use Windows Media Center for live TV even with no physical tuners installed. Even without solutions like that it would still be a great way to consume content throught the use of "HomeGroup".