Back in 2008, Dell made waves when it released the Latitude XT, the first laptop with a capacitive touchscreen. The second generation of this tablet looks the same, but this time it has multitouch baked in, so you can make iPhone-esque gestures with multiple fingers, such as rotating and zooming, instead of just, say, swiping with a single finger. In fact, the Latitude XT2 ($2,363 as configured) is tailor-made for Windows 7, which has multitouch support baked into the operating system. While the display offers more functionality than ever, other convertibles offer longer endurance and better performance for less money.
Although it boasts multitouch and stronger performance than its predecessor, the XT2 doesn’t look any different. Identical in size (11.7 x 8.6 x 1.0 inches) and weight (3.8 pounds), the XT2 keeps its sturdy, brushed aluminum lid and palm rest, as well as its matte black keyboard and bezel. Dell’s convertible is sleeker and more compact than the Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet with multitouch, which measures 11.6 x 10.1 x 1.3 inches. The X200 Tablet we reviewed was also heavier, at 4.2 pounds, but that includes an eight-cell battery that offers double the endurance.
The convertible display on the XT2 still has four buttons in the lower right corner: a power button, one for changing the orientation, a settings button, and one that does the same thing as pressing Ctrl + Alt + Delete (opening Task Manager, logging out, etc.). Out of the box, the screen automatically rotates when you turn the notebook. Although it was easy to get the screen to change its orientation, you’ll find that the display goes dark for a second or less before the resized picture reappears.
A fingerprint reader remains in the lower right corner, alongside LED lights for AC/battery power and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Tucked beneath the bezel is a rocker for scrolling through pages, which we often preferred to touching the display with our fingers (more on that later). A square stylus is tucked neatly into the back left side, and pops out when you apply pressure.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The XT2’s keys have a flat, matte finish, as befitting a business notebook. The sturdy panel was comfortable enough for us to score 88 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, matching our all-time high score on any desktop or notebook keyboard.
At the center of the keyboard is a blue track stick. Its bumpy, concave surface felt a bit too small beneath our finger, but it was easy to move around, and we always felt like we had firm control over where the cursor moved on-screen. Beneath the space bar are two touch buttons that you can use if you’re navigating with the track stick.
The XT2’s touchpad feels unnecessarily short and narrow. At the very least, we would have made it wider. The buttons, also small, are quiet, but feel a bit mushy. However, the touchpad’s smooth, frictionless finish is perfect.
Click to enlarge
Click to enlargeWhile the original XT shipped with a capacitive touch display that allowed users to use one finger at a time (think scrolling and swiping), the XT2 has a multitouch panel, which means you can make gestures with multiple fingers at the same time. In addition to single-finger scrolling, you can rotate objects, tap with two fingers to launch applications, and pinch and zoom documents and Web pages. By default, the display will recognize both finger and stylus input, but you can go into the N-trig Pen and Touch Settings to opt for either touch or pen input only.
While we’ve criticized other multitouch tablets, such as the HP TouchSmart tx2z, for not being responsive enough, the XT2’s display was, at times, too sensitive. When pinching and zooming Web pages, for instance, it was easy to accidentally tap and open a link with one of our fingers. However, the motions—pinching, zooming, and rotating—were easy to master, and on-screen images resized themselves in a fluid, non-jerky way. If you want to fine tune the sensitivity, as we did, you can do so in the settings.
Although we came away with a positive first impression when we loaded both Windows 7 and the accompanying Touch Pack onto the XT2, we’ll be curious to test a configuration that ships with Windows 7 when it becomes available.
Although its multitouch technology is impressive, users can also interact with the XT2 the old-fashioned way: using a pen stylus. The display responded well to our pen taps, and we were especially impressed by the handwriting recognition software; when we scribbled URLs and wrote search queries in the Start menu search bar, it accurately converted both this writer’s and another LAPTOP staffer’s messy handwriting into text.
Display and Sound
Click to enlargeThe 12.1-inch (1280 x 800) display on the Latitude XT2 is quite vivid (our unit had a standard brightness of 400 nits). Thanks to the matte finish, we enjoyed good viewing angles while watching a Simpsons clip on Hulu, even with the lid pushed down. We had no problem making out the picture, and colors remained vibrant; it wasn’t until we had dipped the screen to a sharp 45-degree angle that the image degraded significantly. Although we were easily able to watch from oblique side angles, colors appeared less rich from these vantage points.
As a bonus, the XT2 has an ambient light sensor, which automatically adjusts brightness depending on the surrounding light. When we altered the light (say, by turning overhead lamps off or putting the tablet on our lap so that it was overshadowed by our desk) the brightness immediately changed. If you have the display settings open, you can even the see the brightness lever move up and down.
The small speaker, built into the left side of the XT2, produces surprisingly loud sound; while watching a Hulu clip we kept it on the median setting, and even then the volume was loud. As for quality, songs (such as R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”) sounded slightly tinny, but no worse than other small machines we’ve tested that are simply not meant for heavy multimedia use.
The XT2 is still missing a webcam—that is, it’s not even offered as an option—which we find disappointing. As for ports, the XT2 has two USB ports, one of which doubles as an eSATA port, VGA output, a FireWire port, headphone and mic ports, an Ethernet jack, an SD Card slot, and an ExpressCard/54 slot, which can house an optional Smart Card reader (our unit did not have one). We would have liked to seen another output option—preferably HDMI, perhaps one more USB port, and a memory card reader that supports more formats.
Click to enlargeOur XT2’s 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 CPU, 3GB of RAM, and 32-bit Vista Business OS notched 2,887 on PCMark Vantage (a performance benchmark), which edges out the average ultraportable (2,737) by about 100 points. The Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet with multitouch, which costs $288 less, outperforms it with a score of 3,473. However, the X200 Tablet is equipped with a much faster 2.13-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9600 processor.
Thanks to a 128GB Intel SSD, the XT2’s drive transferred a 4.97GB mixed media folder at a blazing rate of 38.0 MBps, about double the average ultraportable’s pace of 19.5 MBps. The 7,200-rpm hard drive inside the ThinkPad X200 Tablet, by comparison, turned in a transfer rate of 26.4 MBps.
In our everyday use, we were able to switch between several open tabs in Internet Explorer without a hiccup, scrolling through blogs and clicking on links to breaking news. Moreover, the XT2 booted in a speedy 43 seconds, whereas the average Vista machine of any size boots in a minute, and perhaps even a few seconds longer. When we transcoded a 5-minute-and-5-second MPEG-4 clip to AVI, it took 11:05, which beats the ultraportable category average (15:18) by over four minutes. The ThinkPad X200 Tablet, however, needed only 7:32 for this task.
The XT2’s integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics card scored 641 on 3DMark06, below the category average by 200 points. Its Far Cry 2 frame rate of 3 frames per second (at 1024 x 768 resolution) is not playable, but neither is the category average (6 fps). Gaming is not what this 12-inch business tablet was designed for, anyway.
In addition to our standard frame rate tests, we played around in Google Earth, making stops at Disney World, Yankee Stadium, and the Louvre. These flyovers were fairly smooth, although we noticed some motion blur. While we got to our destinations quickly, it took a few seconds for the details in these maps to load. For instance, while we could make out New York’s terrain immediately, the tiny drawing of the crowds inside Yankee Stadium took a few extra seconds to render.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The XT2’s six-cell battery lasted 3 hours and 25 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. Although that’s a marked improvement over the last-generation XT, whose six-cell battery lasted 2:41 (albeit on a different battery test), it still falls well short of the category average of 5 hours. Meanwhile, the ThinkPad X200 Tablet with multitouch lasted 7 hours on the same test, though that configuration came with an extended battery. Hard averages aside, we’d say that any ultraportable worth its salt should last at least 4 hours.
On the other hand, the Dell wireless-n card delivered strong throughput of 19.6 and 17.9 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively, which either matches or slightly beats the category averages (19.4 and 16.7 Mbps). The XT2 also has Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, which you’ll appreciate if you like taking wireless mice on the road.
The XT2 earned an EPEAT rating of 21 out of 28, which is good for a machine this size. Other ultraportables we’ve tested have ranged from 17 (the Samsung X360) to 21 (the most recent MacBook Air). The XT2’s LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating (the total amount of watts it takes to charge divided by battery life) of 22.4 is about average (22.2).
Click to enlargeThe XT2 base configuration starts at $1,909 (after instant savings). In addition to our configuration’s 1.4-GHz CPU, there’s a 1.6-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9600 option for $100 more. 1GB of RAM comes standard with ; upgrading to 2GB costs $40, 3GB costs $189 and 5GB costs $459 (all RAM is DDR3). Hard drive options range from an 80GB or 120GB ($40) 5,400-rpm drive to a 128GB ($200) or 256GB ($550) SSD. A four-cell battery is included, the six-cell adds $19 to the price and 0.2 pounds to the system’s weight.
Upgrading from Dell’s 802.11g radio to its wireless-n radio costs $15; splurging for Intel’s WiFi Link5100 and 5300 802.11n radios costs $20 and $40, respectively. Adding Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR costs $19, and a mobile broadband module will set you back $125.
Software and Warranty
As befits a business laptop, the XT2 is almost devoid of trialware and bundled software. The only exceptions are CyberLink PowerDVD, Roxio Creator DE, and Windows Live Essentials.
In addition to standard 24/7, toll-free phone support, the XT2 comes with a generous three years of on-site service.
We like the XT2’s smooth multitouch display, durable design, and speedy solid state drive. Overall, we prefer the Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet with multitouch, because it offers faster performance and longer endurance for about $300 less. But if you’re a highly mobile worker looking for a design that’s easier to carry, the XT2 is worth a look. Just be sure to spring for the 6-cell battery.