The ASUS Eee PC versus the Dell Mini 12
I have an ASUS Eee PC (one of the original small ones) and I've recently been playing around with a loaner Dell Mini 12. Since it has to go back, now seems like a good time to do a short comparative review.
From my perspective, the Mini 12 has only three real advantages over the Eee PC: it has a significantly larger screen, it suspends to disk because it has a hard drive instead of a small SSD, and it runs a more or less standard Ubuntu. Of these, the screen is the most important change. The Eee's too-small screen was my only serious issue with it; the Mini 12's screen is large enough to be unapologetically usable.
The advantage of suspend to disk over the Eee's suspend to RAM is that suspend to disk draws no power, so I can just leave the Mini 12 suspended as long as I want to and then bring it back to action within seconds. With the Eee, I only suspend for short duration things; longer duration things force me to power it down. In practice, this is a significant convenience gain for the Mini 12.
(The Mini 12 probably has a better keyboard, although I still had some issues, and certainly it has a noticeably bigger one, but I don't find the Eee's keyboard particularly objectionable.)
The Mini 12's standard Ubuntu install is both an advantage and a drawback. In my experience, the Eee's software is generally better but more bizarre while the Mini 12's Ubuntu setup has various rough edges (and it inexplicably omits a PPTP VPN client in the default software install). I can see why ASUS did the Eee software the way they did, but the result is that the Mini 12's setup is more comfortable for me (despite the rough edges).
(Also, the process of handling the Mini 12's software fills me with more confidence than the handling of the Eee's. ASUS thinks that they are selling an appliance, while I am reasonably confidant that Dell gets that they are selling something with Linux on it.)
The result of all of this is that the Eee is a small thing that I carry places in order to access other machines, but the Mini 12 is a light laptop that I carry places in order to get real work done. Whether this difference is an advantage or a drawback depends on what you want.
My personal reaction is that after having an Eee I had no temptation to spend my own money on one, while after playing with the Mini 12 I have at least some temptation.
(It is not a very large temptation because I would like a netbook that has hardware with open source drivers so I could run whatever Linux I wanted on it; like the Eee PC, the Mini 12 requires some proprietary drivers, I believe for the wireless and for the graphics. Unfortunately I don't know if there is any 12" netbook that qualifies.)
Hardware wise I think it's about a wash between the two, with the Mini 12 ahead in some areas and the Eee ahead in others (eg the Eee has a better mouse pad (although worse mouse buttons), better audio, and more useful LEDs). They weigh about the same; the Mini 12 is probably heavier but it doesn't feel as dense. The Mini 12 has no fan and does not appear to get particularly hot, and draws somewhat less power than the Eee (but, in the small battery configuration, has no better battery life).
(It is hard to tell relative performance between the two, but for what it is worth the Eee actually feels snappier. This may in part be the price for having an actual hard drive in the Mini 12.)