Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hybrid Throw Down: Dell Inspiron Duo vs Asus T101MT

For whatever reason tablets are all the craze this year. The tiny laptops known as "netbooks" that had dominated the couple of years prior are forgotten by many. Those of us that do real work on our computers know the value of having a physical keyboard. At the same time some of us have use for a touch screen, but don't want to carry two physical devices.

Enter the tablet/netbook hybrid. A number of different companies make such devices and I have personally owned ones made by Dell and Asus. Asus actually makes two such devices, you can see them compared here.

Today I would like to compare two 10" netbook/tablet convertables: the Dell Inspiron Duo and the Asus T101MT.

Size and Weight:
The Dell Duo is slightly larger and heavier than the Asus model with dimensions of:

11.22" x 7.66" x 1.03" and weighing 3.39 pounds.

The T101MT comes in at:

10.39" x 7.13" x 1.22" and only 2.86 pounds.

Both netbooks have chiclet keyboards so typing on both is a pleasant experience. Because the Duo is physically larger though it's keyboard is just a bit bigger. Because of this it has an over all better layout. Even after a full year of usage I still miss hitting the right shift key on the T101MT every now and then because of the keyboard layout.

T101MT Keyboard:

Duo Keyboard:

This is the first part we see a large difference between the two devices. The screen on the Asus is a resistive, multi-touch screen with a maximum of 1024x600 resolution. The Dell on the other hand has a capacitive, multi-touch screen which has a slick 1366x768 max resolution. Whether you prefer capacitive to resistive may be the deciding factor on these two devices for you.

Keep this in mind though. I personally use the touch screen largely for taking written notes. A resistive screen is much better suited for this purpose. 40$ and three capacitive stylus's later I have yet to find one that is as accurate/as good as using generic resistive stylus for such a task.

External ports is the one area where hands down the T101MT crushes the Duo. The Duo only has three ports: 2 USB and an audio out. The T101MT on the other hand has pretty much what you would expect from a netbook. 3 USB, audio out, microphone in, SD card reader and VGA.

Thats right - they couldn't even squeeze an HDMI mini onto the Duo.

AC Adapter:
This may seem like an odd thing to mention, but the T101MT does have a much better AC adapter. The Duo power brick comes with a short cord by default and does not have a light on the brick letting you know it is on. The T101MT also comes with Velcro ties by default for packing up the adapter neatly.

Over All Design:
Dell and Asus both make pretty solid hardware. I haven't owned the Duo for quite as long yet, but I can say is built at least as solid as the T101MT is. While the Duo is a bit larger, there is no doubting it has a certain "sleek" factor to it with the clamshell design and the screen that flips back instead of spinning around.

Dell Duo
Asus T101MT
The current versions of the T101MT ship with the exact same Intel Atom N570 that the Duo has. The N570 is a 1.66ghz dual core with hyper threading. Take note if you are buying a used T101MT that some of the first wave of these units had the older N450 atom chip in them.

The Duo has one RAM slot and by default comes with a 2gig stick of DDR3 800mhz. The T101mt comes in two different revisions currently. The higher end T101MT comes with 2gigs DDR3 1066mhz (two 1gig sticks). The lower end T101MT comes with 1gig DDR2 by default (that can be upgraded to two).

Hard Drive:
By default both laptops make the choice of coming with a platter hard drive. The Duo comes with a 320gig 7200rpm drive. The higher end T101MT comes with a 320gig 5400rpm drive and the lower end model comes with a 250gig.

As someone who firmly believes hard drives with moving parts are a piss poor idea in both tablets and netbook I have replaced the drives in both units. In this respect, both units are poorly designed. With the T101MT you need to tear apart almost the entire unit to get to the drive. The Duo requires, not quite as much, but still a good deal of work to get at it's drive. If you are not someone that works on mobile hardware on a regular basis I would not recommend doing this upgrade yourself.

If you care about your webcam quality the Duo might be the right pick for you. The Duo sports a 1.3 mega-pixel camera, while the T101MT has a piddly 0.3 mega-pixel.

The Duo has an internal bluetooth module while the T101MT does not.

The battery life of the two systems is fairly close. With the stock drive right under three hours of normal use is about average on both units. If you pop a solid state drive into either machine it increase to almost four hours. Also worth noting is that the T101MT has a removable/replaceable battery while the Duo needs to be torn apart to replace the battery.

Operating System:   
Both these units come with copies of Windows 7 by default. You are not stuck with this OS though. Linux works equally well on both the Duo and the T101MT. 

The Dell Duo is right around 600$ (depending on where you purchase it from) and the higher end T101MT is close to this, right around 550$. If you are looking to pay a bit less than this the lower end T101MT comes in 100$ less around 450$. 

Final Thoughts: 
I'm not going to say here which unit is better. As with many things the answer to this question is "it depends". It depends on what you are looking for, it depends on what you need and it depends on what you are looking to spend. Hopefully my summary here will help you choose which of these two units is right for you though!

~Jeff Hoogland 


  1. Thanks! Useful article and my feeling is that your comments and findings are 'solid', grounded as they are in your prolonged use of both devices.

  2. Im just getting used to touchscreens... I would still rather get a netbook at half the price and skip the whole tablet craze... But m not the average buyer I guess

  3. thank you! I have been searching for a "current" objective view about the Duo because I really want to have the keyboard and Windows OS as an alternate device for completing school assignments and accessing functions not available on Android devices. I had an HP Mini but found it a bit smaller than I was hoping for. Asus was a product that I was unfamiliar with until seeing ads for their eee 121 Slate. After reading your review, I feel comfortable making a decision to purchase the Duo.

  4. asus is a best pc , laptop in the world and much cheaper that dell

  5. Have you looked the Fujitsu Lifebook "P" series (P1510,1610/1620/1630)? I have had the P1610, and moved up to the p1620 a couple years ago. Their 8.9" convertible resistive touch screen is similar to what you describe with your machines. One really distinctive feature I love is that it uses a trackpoint instead of a touchpad. The advantage of this (besides being "natural" for a Thinkpad veteran) is that more space is dedicated to keys instead of "wasting" it on the thouchpad and the empty space on either side. The P Lifebooks probably the biggest little keyboards available because of this design.

    I keep trying alternatives like Android tablets and even a Droid Bionic with Lapdock for traveling, but keep falling back to the more usable Lifebook. I have been running Zorin 6 lately, but I am looking to break away from that after *buntu 14.04 settles down, maybe giving Bodhi 3.x a chance when it comes out - the UNlearning curve from Ununtu with Gnome2/XFCE to Enlightenment keeps wearing me down - sorry. I have played around a bit with ARM Bodhi on my Samsung ARM Chromebook, and intend to try it some more there. Does the X86 version for the Acer support the more complete Debian repositories for that architecture?

    Also, I was interested to see your reference to Xournal for note taking on your netbooks, but from what I saw with a quick glance at the docs (mainly the Text tool), it does not seem to support handwriting-to-text like Palm Graffiti, Windows Mobile 5/6 handwriting input, or current Samsung Galaxy Notes - correct? That would make it more interesting to me.