Dell felt it was time to shake up the tablet market with its first ever convertible, the Latitude XT. And shake it up it does: The system is the first convertible to employ capacitive touch technology for its display, which means you can manipulate the screen better than ever before with your fingers. The capacitive touch also helps future-proof your purchase, in that it will support multi-touch applications when those become available. We also like that you can configure this convertible with a solid state drive and mobile broadband. The lightweight and secure Dell Latitude XT is one of a kind, but for a whopping $3,321, we wish it offered longer endurance without having to splurge for the nine-cell battery.
Dell Latitude XT Design and Ergonomics
There is no doubt that the XT belongs in Dell’s Latitude business line. It features a sturdy magnesium-alloy chassis, which is covered in a brushed black aluminum. The 11.7 x 8.6 x 1.0-inch convertible is slim, and at just 3.8 pounds, it’s far lighter than it appears. Even better, it feels comfortable when held in the crook of your arm in tablet mode.
This ultraportable doesn’t compromise on features. The full-size keyboard is roomy and comfortable, although the keys produced loud clicks. We love that Dell includes a trackpoint and a touchpad; each has its own set of right- and left-click buttons, which take up some room on the palm rest.
Missing from the system is a webcam. However, a biometric fingerprint reader located on the screen is part of the package, and the system has a nice assortment of connectivity options, including three USB ports, FireWire, VGA, and Ethernet ports, and an SD Card slot. Though the system lacks an optical drive, Dell offers an external option with its MediaBase (included in our configuration), which includes an 8X DVD±RW drive, three additional USB ports, VGA, audio, FireWire, DVI, Serial, and an Ethernet port.
A convenient rocker switch for scrolling and a Back button reside on the screen’s edge for those who prefer not to use the pen or touch interface. The bezel also contains a Windows Security button, screen rotate button, e-mail shortcut button, and the QuickSet button, which lets you program options for the tablet and pen.
Bright, Crisp LED-Backlit Display
The Latitude XT’s 12.1-inch WXGA display is impressive. Employing LED-backlight technology, rather than the CCFL backlight used on most notebooks, the screen is lighter, thinner, and also much brighter than most tablets.
The system’s durable hinge, which is supported by a rubber bank, easily rotates the screen 180 degrees, and two rubber cleats on the corners of the keyboard lock in the screen to keep it from wobbling. The display instantly switches from landscape to portrait mode—faster than most tablets we have tested.
The matte 1280 x 800-pixel panel was crisp, and colors looked clean without any grayness typical of other tablets. Watching There Will Be Blood on DVD, with the notebook locked into the optional MediaBase ($153), colors looked quite good; the image was bright and motion was smooth. Vertical and horizontal viewing angles were fine in both notebook and tablet mode. However, while playing a DVD on a table, we noticed that the Latitude XT became hot and the fan was noticeably loud.
When we sat outdoors in New York City’s Bryant Park, the sun’s reflection on the screen didn’t affect our Web surfing. The Latitude XT contains one speaker on its left edge; Daniel Day Lewis’ voice came through clearly, albeit a bit tinny.
First-Class Tablet Experience
What makes this convertible stand out is N-Trig’s proprietary dual-mode digitizer technology, which leverages a capacitive sensing system, rather than the resistive one found in all other tablets to date. Though resistive touch technology can recognize touch, capacitive technology senses the touch of a finger with little to no pressure and can sense concurrent pen and touch functions. This 12-inch panel also supports multi-touch technology, which can recognize multiple inputs simultaneously.
With N-Trig digitizer software set on Dual mode (it can also be set to pen-only or touch-only mode), the screen immediately recognized our gentle, pressureless finger glides. Microsoft Vista’s built-in Flicks function is a useful companion to the screen technology, since it allows for simple navigational and common functions, such as scrolling or copying text, with on-screen gestures. While reading a long news article at NYTimes.com, we were able to slide our finger down the screen softly to scroll. We were also able to select the Start menu easily with our index finger and select the Windows Photo Gallery application.
By comparison, the Toshiba Portege M700-S7002’s resistive touchscreen forced us to grab the stylus to complete the same program launch test. The HP Pavilion tx2000, though more responsive to finger commands with its dual-mode touchscreen/digitizer display, still requires a more firm press on the screen and lacks the finger precision of the XT.
The advanced pen-size stylus produced accurate text when we wrote with it. Dell includes two types of tips: hard (ballpoint pen) and soft (felt-tip pen) and also contains one button for erasing and another for right-clicking. The Dell Latitude XT responded well to our messy handwriting and barely required us to exert any pressure on the screen.
Multi-touch Update (7/15/08)
On July 15, Dell released new firmware for the Dell XT’s touchscreen, which enables the tablet to recognize two fingers on the screen at the same time. Similar to the iPhone and the MacBook Air’s touchpad, this update allows XT users to use multi-touch gestures such as zooming, rotating, and panning.
In Windows Photo Gallery, we found multi-touch gestures to be very responsive: We were able to zoom in and out of an image of the Greek island of Santorni by spreading or pinching our fingers on the screen, and then pan by dragging one finger across the image.
The most useful multi-touch controls were in the XT's Internet Explorer 8 browser. We could zoom in on pictures on NYTimes.com to get a closer view, enlarge the font size and could scroll down long articles by swiping two fingers down the screen. We felt completely comfortable manipulating the browser with the system in tablet mode; we used the on-screen keyboard to input Web sites and our fingers to do the rest.
Latitude XT Productivity and Wireless Performance
The 1.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo ULV U7600 processor and 5,400-rpm 120GB hard drive mustered only 1,561 on PCMark Vantage, which is more than 700 points below average for its class. On the other hand, it had no trouble handling Vista’s Aero interface, surfing the Web, watching streaming videos on Hulu.com, and managing a handful of open windows simultaneously. The integrated Radeon Xpress 1250 graphics served up a 3DMark03 score of 1,297, which isn’t impressive but is close to what we’d expect for an ultraportable with integrated graphics.
The 802.11a/g/n radio pushed data along at a brisk 16.6 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point and 11.6 Mbps at 50 feet. Web surfing was smooth using an 802.11n connection; Web sites loaded quickly, and streaming video zipped along without any buffering. One nice perk is the included Wi-Fi Catcher (activated by toggling the Wi-Fi switch on the right side of the system), which lets users see the available Wi-Fi networks in their vicinity, even if the notebook is off. The system is also available with built-in EV-DO Rev. A Mobile broadband connectivity through either Sprint or Verizon Wireless (a $134 option).
Nine-Cell Battery a Must
We were disappointed by the Latitude XT’s short battery life, especially given the ultra-low-voltage processor and LED-backlit display. With the brightness at 50 percent, we used the system to perform everyday tasks, including word processing in Open Office, surfing the Web, listening to audio in Windows Media Player, and saving to a flash drive. Unfortunately, the Latitude XT lasted only 2 hours and 41 minutes.
When we added the optional $224 nine-cell slice battery to our system with the six-cell battery still attached, the Latitude XT lasted closer to 7 hours. However, this slice brings the total weight to 5.2 pounds, making the system more difficult to tote and hold for longer stretches.
The Latitude XT also comes with a compact 45W power adapter, which took a relatively lengthy 1.5 hours to charge the six-cell battery. We did appreciate the LCD indicator on the outside of each battery, which let us know how much life it had left without having to turn on the computer.
Light on Software, Strong Warranty
The Latitude XT, thanks to Dell’s anti-crapware option, comes relatively clutter-free. However, some key programs are included for system and tablet productivity, including Google Desktop and Microsoft Office OneNote 2007. Dell covers the system with a three-year limited warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support. Our configuration came with additional three-year, on-site, next-business-day service for an extra $160.
The Dell Latitude XT’s unique capacitive touchscreen puts it at the head of the class in terms of tablet functionality. But is it worth the three-grand premium? Yes, but only if you pick up the nine-cell battery and you don’t mind the extra bulk it adds.