Oh joy. Another netbook. A further entry in the now absurdly overpopulated world of inwardly-identical half-baked laptops. Just what the world needs.

But wait! This one has a bigger screen! And it's actually quite different! Phew.

The essence of netbooks is usually portability, so it's a relief that Dell has done a truly magnificent job with the packaging of the Inspiron Mini 12.

Fantastically thin

That bigger screen doesn't hurt its road-warrior potential one bit. It's sumptuously thin, made even thinner by the addition of some clever MacBook Air style tapering to the lid, and incredibly light, easily beating an MSI Wind on both counts.

Everything from the gloss-finish lid -- a bit 2007 but acceptably swish for the prince point -- to the high-resolution 1280x800 twelve-point-one-incher -- sadly poorly lit, but otherwise stunning -- suggests that Dell is pushing its margins hard.

It's not perfect, though -- the trackpad is questionable, with odd behaviour and spongy buttons, and the keyboard isn't quite full size despite the room afforded by the screen.

Impressive performance

So what of the guts of this beast? This would be the point in the traditional netbook review where we'd taxi into our stock rant about the fair-to-middling last gen performance of the Atom N270. But neither Inspiron 12 model plumps for the N270; the £400 Vista model uses the infinitesimally different 1.6GHz Z530, and the Ubuntu-toting version on test here sports a 1.33GHz Z520.

The performance gap is actually barely noticeable. While the N270 could prance merrily around doing a favourable impersonation of a proper laptop processor, the Z520 -- coupled with only 1GB RAM -- does a passable imitation of a N270.

In conjunction with the fairly obscure (but highly touted) PowerVR-developed GMA500 graphics, the Mini 12 manages 576p easily, 720p with a few dropped frames, and then the battery runs out. This is not the lifestyle laptop it could have been, in that sense. But there are other benefits: it's stupendously cool and almost imperceptably silent.

Niche netbook

At least the Dell Inspiron Mini 12 has its niche. It's a netbook with a big screen, netbook being the operative word.

There's a chasm of performance between it and the proper laptops hovering at around the same price, and that's a trend that's set to continue as the netbook market eats further into that of its more established brethren.

You're an enthusiast – this is a fine machine, but you may as well save some money and grab an equally capable N270. You can thank us later.