Dell’s Inspiron duo: A tablet with a double personality

With the tablet market heating up, Dell Inc. launched the Inspiron duo last fall, a 10.1-inch laptop with a bit of an identity crisis. The duo is most recognizable by its flip screen, making the transition to a tablet quick and fun.

Unfortunately, as a tablet, the Inspiron duo doesn’t quite measure up to competing products that are faster and come with better applications.

At about three pounds, it’s a pretty light laptop, but a bit bulky and heavy for a tablet. The device is powered by an Intel Atom Dual Core N550 chip, 2GB of memory and has a 320GB hard drive.

The Inspiron duo’s best feature is probably how attractive it is-and that alone will likely get a nod from some consumers. The way the duo flips between laptop and tablet modes is, for lack of a better word, cool.

It’s also pretty fun once you realize it’s not as delicate as it seems. The flip screen looks like it could break easily, but magnets keep it in place properly. The rest of the laptop is well-built and durable. 

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As the company says, “You can tell it’s Dell,” but really, the Inspiron duo has a more updated look than other Dell laptops aimed at SMBs, though it’s not as sleek as other tablets. The price point is also pretty attractive for a laptop-tablet combo, at about $550.

The duo features two USB ports and a headphone jack, but no external volume control, which is frustrating when playing games or videos that have varying sound levels. You can use the duo with an optional dock with speakers for an additional $100.

Slow and steady does not win the tablet race

Because it runs Windows 7 and functions as a laptop, the Inspiron duo doesn’t start up in tablet mode as quickly as it’s competitors. True, an extra 40 seconds isn’t typically that annoying, but the problem comes with the product’s short battery life.

Dell claims the duo will last nearly four hours, but it’s only about three until its battery needs charging.

The tablet screen features an attractive design with large icons for your music, videos, photo, games and Internet. There is also a books application for reading on the go. But getting into the applications from the tablet stage is quite slow. Video plays beautifully on the screen, but actually opening up the application takes a bit of time. For a consumer, it’s not a hugely long wait, but for an SMB looking to use these applications for work, it can get irritating quickly.

Again, with a short battery life and sluggish performance when using the tablet for tasks that should be quick, those extra seconds could be a pain. Switching between the horizontal and vertical views is also slow and if you want to switch back and forth often, the delay can hinder your work. 

The touch screen functions well, as does the touch keyboard, but it doesn’t appear right away when you’re typing in a URL or search item, as with other tablets. When typing, the touch keyboard does have the right level of sensitivity, so you can type quite easily.

The webcam in laptop mode features a good quality image, but a nice webcam is generally easy to find in the laptop market, so it isn’t a winning feature.

Overall, if you’re looking to try out a tablet for work or for use among your employees, then the Inspiron duo is a good starting point and as a consumer product, it’s a fun buy for a decent price. But, if you’re already a seasoned tablet user or are hoping one will increase your productivity, then the duo’s tablet mode likely won’t do it for you.

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