Great Moments in Non-Greatness: No Dell netbook until 'later this summer' because of the keyboard

Some reporters (not me) met in Austin, Texas at Dell’s headquarters to hear about a bunch of stuff that’s going to be happening over the coming months. Most notably were some scant details about Dell’s netbook that’s supposed to be released this year. APC is reporting that members of Dell’s staff “refused to elaborate on the hardware specs, target price or even the product’s name,” although we now know that we can expect the product sometime “later this summer.”

Okay, couple of things here, Dell. First, if “later this summer” means "by September 21st," you’re gonna have some major problems with your potential customers. I’m not saying you’re going to pull something like that, but let’s set a date just in case.

Second, you realize there are about a million of these things hitting the market this month, right? June! Maybe at least lighten up on the whole secrecy thing. Consumers have no hard specs, no release date, and your mini notebook appears to be just like every other mini notebook except that it’s red and it’s not coming out this month.

Dell’s Alex Gruzen, senior VP of the company’s Consumer Product Group, told reporters that it won’t be available until later this summer because Dell’s “been working on getting the right keyboard,” something that’s “unique to Dell.”

“The keypad design accommodates as best as possible the best user experience for this class of products.” Man, I have GOT to see this keyboard!!!

APC has more details, since they have, in fact, seen this magical keyboard…

It’s true that the alpha keys are all of a good size, although others are noticeably slim, and the function keys have been dropped altogether: the Fn modifier activates hardware-related shortcuts mapped onto the keyboard, with no facility to call up the usual F1-F12 keys. “This was a trade off so the rest of the keys could be bigger”, Gruzen says.

The model we saw has several subtle differences from the unit which Michael Dell was seen carrying it around during last week’s D6 conference. The labelling on the keyboard was more subdued, which we preferred, although the shortcuts activated by the ‘fn’ key were littered around the keyboard rather than being logically arranged along the top row of numeric keys as they were on Michael Dell’s own machine.

These shortcuts included dropping the unit into standby mode, adjusting volume and screen brightness, media playback, turning wireless on and off, toggling between the mini-note’s screen and an external screen (which connects to the device’s VGA output port) and calling up a display of remaining battery life.

So, it’s a keyboard with extra “functions" that can be accessed by hitting a special "function modifier" labeled "Fn" and the F-key row has been removed to make room for the regular keys? That’s why it won’t be here until later this summer? Because Dell removed the row of function keys and put little icons everywhere else?

The machine will have a 9-inch screen, three USB ports, VGA-out, and will be manufactured by Compal, which manufactures the MSI Wind and the HP Mini-note 2133. It’s expected that it’ll use an Intel Atom processor, too. If you’re looking for a netbook, I see absolutely no reason (yet) to wait all summer for this thing to come out. It’d be different if Dell was the only company releasing one of these, but it’s already way behind a whole bunch of other worthy options.

The keyboard is important, yes, but the HP unit apparently has a great keyboard, as does the MSI Wind. Let’s hope Dell has something much better than a keyboard absent the row of function keys up its sleeve.

via Boing Boing Gadgets