When Dell released their netbook called Inspiron mini, a lot of review sites and blogs online quickly favor it over the previous heartthrob Asus eeePC. I have the eeePC 1000H model, a 10" eeePC with regular hard-drive (not SSD) and XP. It's okay, but I find it still a bit large for on-the-go use, plus it has a fragile hard-drive. I managed to score a refurbished Dell inspiron mini 9 for cheap ($300) with 16GB SSD and XP. Let's compare them.
Obviously the Dell is smaller and a bit lighter. Build quality wise, both are made from cheap plastic. However, the Asus feels to be higher quality plastic than the Dell. The hinges on the Asus feels solid, while there's an obvious large gap between the plastics on the Dell. First obvious downside on the Dell, no LED on the AC adapter. The Asus' AC adapter has a blue LED to show that it has current. On the unit itself, the Dell has no indication if it's being charged or not, while the Asus has an LED indicating charging just like a traditional laptop. There is an LED with a battery icon on the Dell, which logically should light up when the device is charging. It doesn't. I though my Dell is faulty, but looking at the manual, the LED will only light up to indicate low battery. That's not intuitive. Also, the Asus has a blue LED that lights up if wifi is on while the Dell has no such indicator. Asus +1. The Asus also has an LED indicator for hard-drive activity. The Dell uses an SSD, so I guess that doesn't matter. 1 annoying thing on the Asus though, once the battery reaches 70% or so, the battery LED light starts blinking. Can be annoying since 70% still has plenty of juice.
Ports wise, both seems to do a mirror image of each other. Ethernet, 1 USB port, headphone + mic port are found on the right side of the Dell, and on the left side of the Asus. 2 USB port, AC adapter port, and the SD card slot are on the left side of the Dell, and on the right side of the Asus. Both have the VGA port on the right side. The SD slot on the Dell seems to have poorer built quality. I find it pretty hard to push an SD card in, while the Asus' is pretty smooth.
Both screens have the same resolution, 1024x600. This is an issue with netbooks in general since the general UI on operating systems are designed for resolution of at least 1025x768. I find many programs have their dialog boxes being cut off. This can even make some programs or some programs' settings screens unusable. At least on the Asus, there is an option to set the screen res to 1024x768, and you can "scroll" the screen up/down. No such option on the Dell.
I find overall speed on the Asus to be pretty slow, especially when loading programs, presumably due to the slow hard-drive. I had high expectations on the Dell since it uses SSD. Boot time is definitely faster on the Dell, but the SSD on it is dog slow. Installing updates from Windows update took forever, significantly much longer than any hard-drive based PCs I've used. The same thing can be said to installing programs. On the other hand, it's solid state, meaning there's no moving part, so I can move the Dell around, even turning it upside down without having to worry that I might damange something. I even spin the Dell upside down while it is installing Windows update without any ill effects. Amazing. Another upside with SSD is no hard-drive clicking noise. With the Asus, sometimes I'm not even comfortable using it on my lap since I'm afraid I would make a sudden movement and killed the hard-drive. If I would buy a notebook, I would definitely get a solid state drive. It has a price premium, but it makes portable computing much more enjoyable without having to worry about a moving hard-drive.
As for keyboard, the Asus is a definite winner. The Dell's keyboard keys feel very tough to push while the Asus' keyboard feels just like a regular laptop keyboard. The Dell also doesn't have a separate function keys, obviously due to size restriction, while the Asus has the full complement of them.
Overall, I think Asus eeePC has better design and build quality. Price wise, they're quite comparable for the same configurations, although I think the eeePC can be usually found cheaper. Due to the fact that the Dell has SSD, I would probably use it more often, just because it's worry-free. I have not tested the webcam and audio. I do know that the Asus' speaker is quite low in volume.
Netbooks bring a new class of affordable portable computers to the market. My wishes for future models are to use higher performance SSDs and definitely better battery life. It will be more interesting when Windows 7 comes out.
Now I just have to find a case/sleeve for the Dell. Asus included a sleeve with the eeePC.