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2010-06-25The Dell Mini 1012, and why "Dell customer service" is an oxymoron

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[Dell Mini 1012]Okay, so my previous netbook (a Zoostorm model) didn't last long before being shuffled off to someone else. The Mini 1012, current version of the Mini 10, is a relatively slight upgrade over it for my usage — the Atom N450 is more energy efficient, there are three USB ports, the built-in webcam is a little sharper, the power adapter is small, etc. The appeal was the no-fan design, which since I tend to use a laptop close to my head turns out to be a must-have feature.

No fans isn't something that would suit everyone — the temperature sensor peaked at over 65 degrees whilst I was setting it up and installing software, which most people wouldn't find very comfortable on their lap (and some mad bastards who want to spawn might be worried about the possible impact on their fertility.) To encourage heat dissipation on cloth-covered surfaces and because I like practical craft projects, I use a slab of 3mm aluminium as a stand.

As a word of general advice, be careful you know what you're getting when buying a 10" netbook as they're starting to become common with 1366x768 screens rather than 1024x600 — which may mean the pixels are too small for some people to read, and software for Windows still doesn't cope with resizing well on the whole. You can always zoom webpages to be a bit smaller in 1024x600 and browse in fullscreen if you want to fit more into the space.

(Also, as better processors become the norm, check spec lists to make sure that's what you're getting. Some manufacturers will be sitting on stocks of N270 powered machines for a while, for example; unless they're priced to sell and you aren't going to be very mobile, don't bite.)

Physically it's clear that this is a further iteration of a few previous designs, and not bad-looking. An interesting design decision is that the touchpad has no separate buttons; the bottom left and right corners of the pad click down. This, again, might not be to everyone's taste. I haven't experienced any particular problems with it.

The 1012 I've got came from a reseller who provided next-day delivery once shipped. This was as far from what was my first (and will definitely be last) experience with Dell's home sales division as it's possible to get. I and people I know/admin have generally had good experiences with Dell's business services and hardware, and similarly our department has been happy with its laptops thus far. The problem is basically that the company doesn't seem to devote resources to people buying one machine at a time, and tries to treat consumers like businesses — but whereas it's fine to work with long estimated delivery dates that're subject to change in an office environment because there'll always be someone around to receive goods, this approach serves home customers very poorly.

Buy a laptop from eBuyer or almost any other online outlet these days and you can choose your delivery date (although of course there's usually a cheaper delivery option if you're housebound and don't care about when stuff arrives.) Dell isn't keen to advertise that you can't pay to upgrade shipping, regardless of whether your item is a standard advertised item with no customisation. It also proudly promotes "ships in 48 hours" items that could lull you into believing the company to being efficient and organised in general practice — although the only netbook that was in this selection only offered Windows XP, which rather suggests they have an inventory problem in the form of a large batch of older Windows licenses needing to be offloaded.

Having failed to quote a delivery date within two weeks, they then failed to honour a cancellation made directly after order confirmation on the same non-working day and over a full day before the machine was marked as "in production" — something that for a standard advertised item is likely to amount to picking one off the shelf and boxing it. Despite the machine not shipping for about a week afterwards, they insisted that the cancellation they'd failed to read for two days (due to a "technical glitch" in their email system, according to a customer representative) could not be actioned, and that the product needed to be shipped and returned. You have to wonder if they think people are going to fold at this point and decide to keep the product, rather than curse them unto the seventh generation and do everything they can to deny the company trade in future.

They then arranged and tried to action two collection dates made without any consultation, the first without any notification at all and the second with notification by email the evening before.

I think it's fair to say that Dell are off my "for consideration" list in any capacity.


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