Look out, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL)! Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) -- yes, that Dell -- is about to make a big splash in tablets.

I'm not talking about the Streak, a tweener that's too big to be a smartphone, yet too small to be a serviceable tablet.

Dell's real head turner may be its Inspiron Duo, which will reportedly begin shipping early next month -- just in time for the telltale holiday shopping season.

The Inspiron Duo is yet another tweener, but this time Dell is bridging the gap between netbook and tablet. It is essentially a netbook with a 10.1-inch touchscreen, running Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows Home 7. However, the screen itself can be flipped over, so when the laptop is closed it becomes a chunky tablet running Dell's own tablet platform.

Priced as low as $549 for the base model, this could be a serious contender if shoppers learn to live with its shortcomings.

  • It weighs twice as much as a tablet.
  • It doesn't fire up as quickly as a tablet.
  • As a netbook at heart, its battery life is also a far cry from standalone tablets.

On the other hand, going with a hard drive over flash memory gives it substantially more storage capacity than even the priciest Apple iPad. The Inspiron Duo also has a slightly larger screen than the iPad, potent ammo after Steve Jobs ridiculed the smaller screen sizes of the Streak, Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE: HPQ) Zeen, and Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM) PlayBook.

The chunky form factor isn't going to help, but isn't this what folks straddling the fence in deciding to buy a laptop or a tablet need? This may not be the best of both worlds, but it's definitely a taste of both worlds.

After years of being unfashionably late or out of touch, Dell may finally have a game changer on its hands.

Let's see whether it can flip this opportunity into success the way users will be able to flip the Inspiron Duo itself.

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