For many businesses in vertical markets like health care or shipping, a simple iPad or Android tablet just won't do. To run all their custom Windows software on a touch-friendly device, these companies prefer convertibles with screens that swivel 180 degrees and flip over to transform them from laptops that sit on the desk to slates that employees can use while standing. Dell's latest entry to this market is the 13.3-inch Latitude XT3, which adds a dose of durability, solid viewing angles, strong sound and a smattering of style to its pen-friendly swiveling touch screen. But is this versatile convertible really worth more than $3,000?
The Latitude XT3 has the now-familiar Tri-Metal design found on members of Dell's Latitude E Series, including the E6220 and E6420. The system's gunmetal-gray aluminum lid and angular chrome sides make the XT3 look more like a model space cruiser than a staid business notebook.
When you push the lid closed, a sliding latch locks into place. When open, the lid swivels 180 degrees to the left or right and folds over the keyboard and deck to bring the XT3 into slate mode. At that point, the latch locks into place to firmly affix the lid to the deck and keep it from flopping around. However, we found that, in either clamshell or slate mode, the latch required multiple strong pushes to lock into place and it lacked a satisfying "snap" sound that would assure us it was affixed.
Because the Latitude XT3 is designed to work in slate mode, it has a number of physical buttons in its bezel, including those for power, volume, orientation and system settings. The fingerprint reader and status lights also sit below the display.
Wherever we carried the XT3, it felt extremely bulky, both in our bag and in our hands. Dell says the XT3 starts at 4.46 pounds with the default battery, but our review unit and its 9-cell battery weighed in at a zaftig 5.2 pounds, much heftier than the 12.5-inch ThinkPad X220 Tablet, which weighs 3.97 pounds with its 6-cell battery, or the last-generation Dell Latitude XT2 that weighed only 3.8 pounds. Add in an optional battery slice that attaches to the bottom of the chassis and the XT3's weight balloons to an unmanageable 6.6 pounds. At 12.7 x 8.7 x 1.2 inches, the Latitude XT3 is only a little longer than the 12.5-inch ThinkPad X220 Tablet.
Like the members of Dell's Latitude E series, the XT3 is designed to be durable, with four magnesium corners, a strong powder-coated base and a spill-resistant keyboard. Dell says the notebook will withstand "defense-grade" MIL-STD-810G testing, which involves surviving extreme temperatures, shock and dust. However, the company does not cover damage in its standard warranty.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Latitude XT3's traditional backlit keyboard offered sound tactile feedback, good key placement and a pleasant rubberized surface on the concave keys. The soft-touch deck was an extremely comfortable place to rest our wrists. On the 10-thumbs typing test, we scored 84 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate, about 5 percent faster than our 80 word-per-minute average.
The 3.1 x 1.6-inch touchpad provides smooth, accurate navigation around the desktop while its two discrete buttons offer just the right amount of feedback. In our testing multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and three-finger flick worked smoothly, but the three-finger upward swipe that's designed to minimize all apps was difficult to perform because the pad is so narrow.
For those who prefer an alternative form of navigation, the Latitude XT3 also has a pointing stick located between the G and H keys and buttons for left click, right click and scroll below the spacebar. Though we like pointing sticks in general, we found the XT3's uncomfortable to use because its cap sits too low relative to the keys.
Display and Audio
The Latitude XT3's 13.3-inch, 1366 x 768 touch screen was bright enough to be visible outdoors, measuring 267 lux on our light meter, far better than the 175 lux thin-and-light notebook category average. Dell claims this display is designed for daylight viewing and, when we took the XT outdoors with the brightness turned up all the way, we were able to make out the content on the screen in an area with mild afternoon shadows.
When we watched a streaming 1080p trailer for "The Avengers," colors like Iron Man's red armor appeared muted and images were not as crisp as on the Dell Latitude E6220. Viewing angles were solid up to 45 degrees to the left or right but began to wash out at wider perspectives.
As with other Dell Latitude notebooks, the XT3 provides impressive audio quality. When we tried playing both the bass-laden R&B tune "Forget Me Nots" and the guitar-heavy rock tune "When Doves Cry," the music was not only accurate but rich as we could hear a clear separation of sound between left and right speakers. At maximum volume, the speakers were more than loud enough to fill a room.
Touch and Pen Input
Powered by N-Trig's DuoSense technology, the Latitude XT3's touch screen supports input from both fingers and the bundled active stylus. Unfortunately, the notebook doesn't come with any touch-friendly applications. Windows 7's interface wasn't designed for touch, either. Businesses hoping to deploy the XT3 will need to bring their own applications.
Using just the default OS, we were able to pinch-to-zoom on Web pages, type on Windows 7's touch keyboard, and navigate the Start Menu. Using the preloaded Windows Paint application, we were able to draw with two fingers at once in opposite directions. However, targeting small items like the close and minimize buttons in the upper right corner of Windows was sometimes a challenge.
The active stylus provides a more accurate touch experience than fingers. Using the pen made tapping small icons and buttons on the desktop a breeze. Even better, the pen provided an accurate reproduction of our handwriting, though Windows 7's handwriting interpreter had trouble translating our scribbles into text. For example, when we wrote the word "Avram," Windows 7 interpreted it as "scream."
Most of the touch points on the Dell Latitude XT3 stayed cool throughout our testing. The keyboard, touchpad and middle bottom registered at 75, 82 and 85 degrees after 15 minutes of playing video at full screen. However, we noticed that, after only a couple of minutes of Web surfing, the left vent belched out air that registered 114 degrees Fahrenheit. With the notebook on our lap, we could really feel the heat on the underside of that vent.
As an enterprise-friendly business system, the Latitude XT3 has more connectivity options than the average laptop. On the right side sit two USB ports (one of which doubles as an eSATA connection) and a SmartCard reader. The back houses an HDMI port, VGA and Ethernet connections, while the left side contains a third USB port, a3.5mm audio jack, an SD card reader, a FireWire port and an ExpressCard 34 slot, the latter two of which are rare these days.
The 720p webcam provided images that were sharp, but not particularly colorful. When we shot a still under the fluorescent lights of our office, fine details of our face such as wrinkles in our skin were visible, but colors were washed out. When we took a photo in a sunny room, our face was covered in shadow. The camera shot smooth video at 1280 x 720, but under office lights colors were washed out and we noticed a lot of visual noise.
With its 2.5-GHz Core i5-2520M CPU, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, the Dell Latitude XT3 has enough speed to handle high-definition media consumption and a wealth of demanding productivity tasks. On PCMark 07, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the Latitude XT3 scored a strong 3,949, nearly double the 2,141 thin-and-light notebook category average.
The 128GB SSD booted Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) in just 34 seconds, nearly half the category average of 61 seconds and just behind the 31 seconds offered by the Dell Latitude E6220. It took the Folio 13 26 seconds to start.
Because of its speedy SSD, the Dell Latitude XT3 took just 1 minute and 1 second to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 83.4 MBps, more than triple the 27.5 MBps category average and significantly faster than the HP Folio's 64.4 MBps speed.
The XT3's 2.5-GHz Core i5 processor allowed it to complete our spreadsheet test, in which we match 20,000 names with their addresses, in just 5 minutes and 17 seconds, significantly faster than the 6:05 category average. The Latitude XT3 was also able to transcode a 5-minute HD video to iPod Touch format in a mere 26 seconds using Cyberlink Media Espresso, more than twice as fast as the 1:28 category average.
The Latitude XT3's integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip is good enough for office tasks, but forget about serious gaming. On 3DMark06, a synthetic test that measures overall graphics prowess, the XT3 scored a reasonable 5,282, comfortably above the 4,917 category average.
When we fired up "World of Warcraft," the XT3 provided a reasonable 39 frames per second at the game's default settings. However, when we turned the settings up to maximum, that number dropped to an unplayable 17 fps.
With its extended 9-cell battery, the Dell XT3 lasted 6 hours and 47 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness, a bit longer than the 6-hour and 10-minute thin-and-light category average. An optional 9-cell battery slice attaches to the docking station on the bottom and promises significantly longer battery life, though it costs $249 and adds 1.4 pounds of weight and significant bulk to the system.
Software and Warranty
Dell keeps the software preload on the XT3 very light, including just a few basic utilities such as Dell Webcam Central for shooting photos and video with the camera, Dell System and Devices Manager for controlling the keyboard backlight and display, Dell Access for configuring the fingerprint reader and Dell Backup and Recovery Manager. CyberLink PowerDVD 9.5 and Roxio Creator Starter allow you to burn DVDs and CDs using the external optical drive.
The Latitude XT3 comes with a standard three-year warranty on parts and labor, three times as long as the standard one-year warranty that Lenovo and HP provide with their convertible notebooks. Customers can buy higher levels of support and extend that warranty to four or five years at additional cost. The standard warranty does not cover the kind of accidental damage that might occur if the durable XT3 did not survive a fall, spill or other mishap.
Our review unit of the Dell XT3 carries a lofty $3,003 MSRP. For that price, you get the "daylight-viewing" display, a 2.5-GHz Core i5 CPU, a 128GB SSD, 4GB of RAM, a 9-cell battery, a 9-cell battery slice, an external DVD drive, a backlit keyboard, Bluetooth and a fingerprint reader.
The base configuration starts at $2,108 and comes with the same Core i5 CPU, external optical drive and 4GB of RAM, but only a single 6-cell battery, a 250GB 5,400 rpm hard drive, no keyboard backlight and a dimmer screen. Users can configure the system with different CPU, RAM, battery, Wi-Fi and keyboard (backlit or not) options. We highly recommend the 9-cell battery ($79) over the 6-cell default.
With a responsive touch screen, an accurate pen, a comfortable keyboard and an attractive design, the Dell Latitude XT3 provides a strong option for those users who require a convertible Windows 7 notebook. However, with a starting price of more than $2,100 ($3,003 as configured) and a bulky chassis, the XT3 is both more expensive and heavier than 12-inch competitors like the HP EliteBook 2760p ($1,039 starting price, 3.97-pound weight) and the Lenovo ThinkPad X220 Tablet ($798, 3.6-pounds with 9-cell battery). For that additional money, the XT3 provides an added dose of durability and a larger screen, but at a price that would allow you to buy two convertible notebooks from another vendor or 3 iPads and a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook.