You can’t deny Dell some hard-fought gee-whiz cred with the new Inspiron Duo.
In a world of commoditized portables, it is nothing if not a unique product. Show it off to your friends; it looks like a netbook, and you pop open the laptop-like clamshell and wait for the bored expression to appear. Then comes the sucker punch: you rotate the screen horizontally within its frame and snap the laptop back shut. Ta-da, it’s a freakin’ tablet, bro! People are duly impressed. It’s a neat trick and, at the very least, a clever feat of engineering.
But what is the Dell Inspiron Duo? Cut through the mystery and you will find — sorry to burst your bubble — a Windows netbook with a rotating touchscreen.
And that begs the question, what is it good for?
Well, we’re still working on that one.
This is the problem with dual-function gadgets in general: They rarely do either of the things they’re designed for very well. As a netbook, the Duo is at least passable. While it’s heavier than other 10-inch netbooks by up to half a pound, it’s well designed and looks good, and the 1366 x 768 screen’s brightness is about average for the category. But performance is unfortunately poor all around (a 1.5-GHz Atom doesn’t get you very far), and the two measly USB ports could stand an upgrade.
As a tablet, the Duo fares considerably worse. Here, its three pounds of heft are way too much for extended use, and the clamshell design adds an uncomfortable thickness to the device that makes it hard to hold. The screen also suffers from the same poor viewing-angle problems that sunk the Streak 7. If you’re not holding it dead on, the screen is virtually illegible.
Of course, the biggest problem here really isn’t Dell’s fault, it’s that Windows just doesn’t work very well for touchscreen devices, especially not on a small scale like this. Use the Duo in tablet mode for more than three minutes and your skin starts to crawl. You want to get something done quickly. You try to hit Control-C. Soon you find you’re reaching over and over for a keyboard that isn’t there. Except, of course, it is. Thank God for that.
WIRED 320GB hard drive is bigger than my laptop’s. Flipping system works well, feels sturdy. Dell Stage custom launcher app loads automatically in tablet mode, makes Windows a bit more useful as a slate. Duo Audio Station ($100 more) adds much-improved audio and a vertical docking system.
TIRED Tediously slow all around; get used to a lot of waiting. Screen is hideous. Too heavy for regular, table-free use.
Photos courtesy of Dell