Following the critical success of its Inspiron Mini netbook range, Dell has built on its foundation with the CULV Inspiron 11z.

Built around a similar chassis to its predecessors, it provides power, usability and a great battery life at a very affordable price.

While the Mini range came in a choice of screen sizes, ranging from 9 to 12 inches, this is an 11.6-inch machine. Its 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio is perfect for watching movies, although since there is no internal optical drive, videos have to be played directly from the hard drive.

Reflective screen

The screen isn't the brightest or most vibrant, but is sharp, with adequate colour and contrast. It is highly reflective, hindering visibility in bright conditions and it doesn't fold back very far, making it tricky to get a comfortable viewing angle.

Despite the use of a very bulky battery, the slim chassis remains light at 1.6kg. It retains the high-quality feel of the Inspiron Mini range, with resilient plastics used, but the glossy lid is prone to scratches. It is tough enough for frequent travel use, however, and a good choice for the kids.

The keyboard stretches the width of the chassis and is comfortable to use. All keys are large and accessible with an accurate, if a little spongy, typing action. The touchpad is strangely wide and measures 80 x 46mm. It responds well, but its dimensions hinder accessibility.

While you can buy the 11z with a smaller 3-cell battery, our test unit came with the optional 6-cell module. Despite increasing the depth of the rear of the chassis from 28mm to 48mm, it runs for a stunning 520 minutes, easily allowing a full day's work on the move.

The ultra-low voltage design of the Intel Pentium processor reduces heat output, while its dual-core capability ensures office tasks run quickly at all times. Of course, it can't match the power of larger machines, but it functions very well for basic use at home or when travelling.

The 320GB hard drive doubles the capacity of most netbooks, providing ample storage. While there is no integrated optical drive, flash storage card support is provided by a 6-in-1 media card reader.

High-speed wireless network connectivity is provided by 802.11n Wi-Fi. Bluetooth is also included for wirelessly sharing files and synchronising data with external devices.

A webcam is built into the screen panel and Microsoft Works software provides basic office tools.

The Inspiron 11z is an intriguing proposition. By providing more power, mobility and features than a netbook for a similar price, it represents better value for money and makes a more attractive choice for the frequent traveller.

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