Jam tomorrow: Dell unwraps its Christmas offerings

Jam tomorrow: Dell unwraps its Christmas offerings

Summary: Dell showed off a raft of new products in London yesterday, including the Inspiron Duo netbook/tablet, an all-in-one touch screen PC, an M101z netbook, and the latest Dell Streak mobile phone. One of Dell's staff also had a Venue Pro running Windows Phone 7.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Dell showed off a raft of new products in London yesterday, including the Inspiron Duo netbook/tablet, an all-in-one touch screen PC, an M101z netbook, and the latest Dell Streak mobile phone. One of Dell's staff also had a Venue Pro running Windows Phone 7. Depending on supply levels, it looks like a strong set of offerings that could do quite well over the Christmas shopping season.

The Inspiron Duo is the most innovative system: it's a nicely-rounded netbook with a 10.1 inch swivelling screen that almost instantly turns it into a tablet. The base operating system is Windows 7 Home Premium running in 2GB of memory, but the tablet side is catered for by Dell's Stage software, as seen on Dell's Android and all-in-one products. Stage is designed to provide easy access to media, including movies, music and photo albums. The Duo's 1.5GHz dual-core Atom N550 processor performs well enough for the intended uses, including HD movie playback on the 1366 x 768 pixel screen.

Buy an Inspiron Duo with the optional JBL Audio Station dock (with speakers) and it becomes even more useful. Dock the Duo and it becomes a bedside alarm clock or digital picture frame while it's charging. It's attractive enough to display in your living room, and would not look out of place on an executive's desk. While not as nice a toy as an Apple iPad, it offers more functions and much greater versatility for a comparable price: £449 including VAT and delivery, with a 250GB hard drive, or £479 with 320GB. In the US, the dock adds $100 to the price, but Dell UK has yet to quote an equivalent.

Dell's Inspiron One 23 also features a touch screen: in this case, a 23 inch WLED with a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. It runs 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium in 4GB of memory and otherwise has the sort of specification you'd expect. Prices start at £549 including VAT and delivery, with a 500GB hard drive. Pay more and you have an Intel Core i3 or i5, a 750GB or 1TB hard drive, Blu-ray instead of DVD, and so on.

All-in-ones represent only a small part of the PC market, and it's a niche dominated by Apple's high-priced iMac range (from £999 with a 21.5 inch screen, up to £1,649 with a 27 inch screen -- and Apple can't do Blu-ray). However, Dell says all-in-ones are a growing market, and seems quite optimistic about its prospects.

The Dell Streak tablet/mobile phone is the third product to offer a touch screen and Dell's Stage software, but in this case running Google Android 2.2. It has a 5 inch (13cm) screen in WVGA format (800 x 480 pixels) which is excellent for web browsing, but not too big to fit in my shirt pocket. It has a 5 megapixel camera for taking photos, plus a VGA webcam for video conferencing. The resolution is less than you get with an Apple iPhone 4 (900 x 640), but much better than an iPhone 3GS (480 x 320), and it probably works better as a phone. The price without a contract is £399.

As well as trying a Streak for the first time, I was also interested to get my first look at a Venue Pro mobile phone. This runs Microsoft Windows Phone 7, which is a huge improvement on Windows Mobile and possibly the most innovative system on the market. The Venue Pro has a 4.1 inch AMOLED screen behind a Gorilla Glass display, and a nice slide-out keyboard that will satisfy old Palm Treo and BlackBerry lovers. It also has an 8 megapixel camera with HD video recording capabilities, plus GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other features. None of the phones in the original Windows Phone 7 rollout had a keyboard, and if the software takes off, Dell looks as though it could finally have a competitive mobile phone.

Finally, I had a look at the new The Dell Inspiron M101z, which has arrived to replace the 11z. This looks like a netbook but is much more capable. You get the full 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium, up to 8GB of memory, and a full 1366 x 768 pixels on an 11.6 inch widescreen display. You also, of course, pay a bit more: prices start at £379 with an AMD Athlon II Neo single-core processor, 2GB of memory and a 250GB hard drive.

The M101z has one marked improvement on the 11z: it has two real mouse-buttons in front of the touchpad. However, the single-core AMD Neo chip is no improvement on the old single-core Intel Celeron 743, and going to a dual-core Neo pushes the price up to £429, which is laptop not netbook territory. Someone with that much to spend can get at least a Core 2 Duo. I know we used to pay £1,500 to £2,000 for executive ultraportables with specs like the M101z, but times have changed.

Dell's consumer business only represents about 20% of its turnover, and it has struggled in the attempt to move upmarket with the Studio and Adamo ranges, which have now been withdrawn. Dell also hasn't had much success in the mobile market since it had a minor hit with the excellent Axim range of handhelds running Microsoft's PocketPC software. Yesterday's preview, however, reveals a company with a narrower but sharper focus on products that more consumers might actually buy. They're not Dell's bread-and-butter business, but there's at least some prospect of jam tomorrow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xr78DvvYK6w Dell's teaser for the Duo

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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