Dell Mini 9 vs. Lenovo S10

I finally decided to pull the trigger on a netbook – and that’s when the fun began. :)

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I basically narrowed my choices to the Dell Mini 9 and the Lenovo S10, after reviewing the available choices and reading up on the process of getting Mac OS X running on them. I decided to order both so that I could try them out – the major difference I expected was going to be the form factor, and you can’t really go to a store to test them out.

My initial reaction after receiving them was that the Dell was much more pleasing to hold/touch. It was a little more compact, felt more balanced, and I was surprised to like the taper effect (thicker in the back). The Lenovo feels heavier, less balanced, etc.

The specs on the machines were about the same, except the Lenovo had a 160GB 5400rpm HD while the Dell had a 32GB SSD drive. I’m a big fan of SSD drives after having a MacBook Air for about a year, so this was a big plus for the Dell in my book.

I tried to get the Lenovo running on OS X first using the great video tutorial here (with follow-up here and here). While the videos were great, I wasn’t initially able to get the USB drive working properly and thought I’d bricked the machine. Turns out, removing the battery for 30 seconds or so brought it right back.

After a few more attempts I was still unsuccessful, so I decided to try getting OS X running on the Dell. This was dead simple. Follow the instructions here – they worked great for me. That night, I happily took home the Dell Mini and used it a bit. That was when the honeymoon period started to wane.

The Dell form factor is smaller and feels nicer, but at the expense of reasonably sized keys. Some of the guys in the office couldn’t type on it at all. I was able to – but not that easily. Some of the key positioning was awkward as well – particularly the apostrophe/quote (‘/”) key being on the bottom row with the spacebar instead of the home row of keys. It was usable, but not comfortable.

After a day of using the Dell, I decided to try the install on the Lenovo again.

The Lenovo keyboard is far superior to the Dell. I can touch-type on it with few mistakes and little concentration. That ended up being the killer feature for me. The Lenovo isn’t perfect – among its problems are:

  • A small trackpad, with uncomfortably stiff buttons.
  • No SSD (which I’m solving by getting a 3rd party drive).
  • Poor battery life (which I may solve with a 6 or 9 cell batter from ebay).
  • A bigger power brick/cord.

On the plus side, the Lenovo doesn’t experience the “0” issue on wake (acts like the “0” key is being held down, hit any key to snap it out of it) that the Dell does.

I brought the Lenovo with me to SxSW and was really pleased with it as a conference machine. Easy to get out and use in cramped quarters – easy and light to carry in a small bag (no backpack or messenger bag needed). It’s not replacing my Air anytime soon – I don’t see myself doing development on it – but it’s great for quick communication needs, browsing and note taking. I’m looking forward to getting the more stable SSD drive to make it a real “take anywhere” machine.

I’m probably going to put the Dell Mini 9 on eBay. If you’re in the market for one with 2GB RAM, a 32GB SSD and OS X already installed, let me know. No longer available.