The average PC laptop sells for just over $500, but for that price, you usually have to settle for a mediocre build quality, weak battery life and a poor typing / navigation experience. Even when you're willing to pay more for your laptop, many of today's high-end notebooks trade ergonomic comfort for good looks with their shallow keyboards and jumpy, buttonless touchpads. A throwback to an earlier era when usability mattered most, the 13-inch Dell Latitude 3330 pairs an accurate touchpad and wide viewing angle screen with one of the best keyboards we've ever tested and the multitasking-friendly Windows 7 operating system. With a price of just $539, $419 to start, both students and professionals will get a lot of productivity from this affordable, lightweight laptop.
At 13 x 9.4 x 0.8 and 4 pounds, the Latitude 3330 fit easily in our bag without weighing us down, even though it isn't quite as light as Ultrabooks like the Inspiron 13z (13.07 x 9.05 x 0.82 inches, 3.2 pounds). The base configuration is 0.5 pounds lighter because of its lower-capacity 4-cell battery, but we wouldn't recommend skimping on battery life to save that amount of weight.
The laptop sports a functional but not unattractive design that we've seen before on other low-cost Dell business laptops, like the Vostro V131. The Latitude 3330's lid doesn't cover the entire top surface of the chassis, leaving a small end section that elegantly hides the hinges. The aluminum matte silver surface on the lid isn't fashion forward, but completely resists fingerprints. The all-black interior and matte silver sides look neat and professional even if they're not particularly exhilarating.
Display and Audio
The Dell Latitude 3330's 13.3-inch, 1366 x 768 matte display provided accurate colors and wide viewing angles in our tests. When we played a 1080p trailer for "The Avengers," colors like the red in Iron Man's armor and the blue in Captain America's shield stood out. However, dark patches like a night sky or the halo around the Avengers logo had a little visual noise. The 720p trailer for "Skyfall" had no noticeable visual noise and shades like the blue in Daniel Craig's eyes or the red in a British flag looked true to life, if not overly rich.
On both clips most images did not wash out even at 90-degree viewing angles, though extremely dark scenes showed a little inversion at the widest angles. The Latitude 3330's screen measured 213 lux on our light meter, which is about on a par with the 209 lux thin-and-light category average and significantly brighter than the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 (176 lux).
While not rich enough to replace your stereo, the Latitude 3330's front-mounted speakers were loud enough to fill a small room and reasonably accurate. When we played the bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots," the music was pleasant, if not overly textured. However, the hard-rock "Rainbow in the Dark" sounded just a bit distorted. Considering that the 3330 is a budget laptop, we were pleased with its audio output.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Dell Latitude 3330's island-style keyboard is one of the best we've used on any laptop, providing large comfortable keys with plenty of vertical travel and strong tactile feedback. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, we managed 86 words per minute with a 2 percent error rate, which is near our average (86 wpm / 1 percent error rate), but typing felt much more pleasant than most laptops we've tested. Unfortunately, there's no backlight option.
It's rare to find a new notebook touchpad that doesn't have its buttons built in. Unfortunately, many of these so-called "clickpads" jerk your mouse pointer around because you're using the same surface for moving and clicking. Sticking with what works, Dell has given the Latitude 3330 a 3 x 1.75 inch touchpad that provides nearly flawless navigation around the desktop and two discrete buttons that offer just the right amount of feedback. Though we had to enable them in Dell's Touchpad software before testing, multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, rotate, three-finger flick and three-finger press worked every time. The pad does not support four-finger flick.
The Dell Latitude 3330's keyboard and touchpad stayed cool throughout our testing, registering just 91 and 89 degrees Fahrenheit after streaming a video at full screen for 15 minutes. However, the left palmrest occasionally felt just a bit warm, reaching 94.5 degrees on our thermometer. The bottom topped out at 97 degrees. We consider temperatures above 95 degrees uncomfortable and those under 90 degrees optimal.
Ports and Webcam
Dell has packed the notebook with plenty of ports, including a couple that you won't find everywhere else. On its right side, the Latitude 3330 has a single audio jack, two USB 3.0 ports, a VGA out and an Ethernet port for connecting to wireless Internet, something many recent notebooks have jettisoned. The left side houses an HDMI out port, a powered USB 2.0 USB port and an SD card reader.
The Latitude 3330's 720p webcam provided strong low-light performance and even better image quality under better conditions. Under the fluorescent lights of our office, our face was colorful and detailed, though there was just a little noise if we looked at the images up close. The camera even managed to capture a relatively bright image in our dark living room with a light source behind us, conditions under which many webcams completely wash out. Dell's included Webcam Central software makes adjusting settings and capturing video or stills a breeze.
With its older, second-generation 1.5-GHz Core i3-2375M CPU, 4GB of RAM and a slow-moving 5,400 rpm 320GB hard drive, our configuration of the Dell Latitude 3330 was good enough for basic productivity tasks and HD video playback but lagged behind competitors with better specs. On PCMark 7, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the Latitude 3330 scored just 1,465, less than half the 3,032 thin-and-light laptop category average and well behind the Core i5-powered Dell Inspiron 13z (2,474) and ThinkPad Edge E430 (2,337).
The Latitude 3330's 5,400 rpm 320GB Samsung Spinpoint hard drive is its biggest weakness, providing significantly weaker load and copy times than we normally see on notebooks with similar drives. The sluggish drive took a full minute to boot the system into Windows 7, 19 seconds more than the thin-and-light category average. Much worse, it took a full 6 minutes and 8 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File transfer test. That's a rate of just 13.8 MBps, less than a third of the 45.4 MBps category average and way behind the ThinkPad Edge E430 with 7,200 rpm hard drive (29.4 MBps) and the Dell Inspiron 13z with 5,400 rpm drive (29.2 MBps).
The older 1.5-GHz Core i3-2375M CPU caused the Dell Latitude 3330 to take 10 minutes and 29 seconds to complete the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which matches 20,000 names with their addresses. That time is nearly double the thin-and-light laptop average (5:44) and way slower than the Core i5-powered Dell Inspiron 13z (6:16) and Thinkpad Edge E430 (5:04).
Though the Latitude 3330 was fast enough to play 1080p videos, its graphics performance left something to be desired. When we opened a 4K clip, the laggy playback was more like a slideshow than a movie. The 3DMark11 benchmark we typically use to measure graphics performance would not run on this system, but we were able to play "World of Warcraft" at a reasonable 44 fps when using its recommended settings. With the special effects turned up, this rate dropped to just 10 fps. These rates are below the 50.6 / 24.6 fps category average.
With its 6-cell battery installed, the Dell Latitude 3330 lasted 6 hours and 14 minutes on a charge, which is on a par with the 6-hour and 19-minute thin-and-light notebook category average. However, 14-inch screened competitors like the 4.6 pound Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 (6:53) and the 5.4-pound Dell Latitude E6430 with 9-cell battery (10:37) lasted longer on a charge. The 3330 is also available with a smaller, 4-cell battery, which we were unable to test.
Dell claims that the Latitude 3330 will be configurable with processors up to a third-generation Core i5, storage drives that include 7,200 rpm hard drives or SSD options and your choice of Windows 7 or 8. However, as of this writing, the company offers only three configurations. Our $539 review configuration has a second-generation 1.5-GHz Core i3-2375M CPU, 6-cell battery, 4GB of RAM and Windows 7 Professional.
The base $419 configuration has a slower 1.5-GHz Intel Celeron 1007U processor, just 2GB of RAM, a smaller battery and Windows 7 Home Premium. A $449 configuration has the Celeron processor and Windows 7 Home Premium, but includes 4GB of RAM and the same 6-cell battery as our unit. All three configurations have the same, sluggish 5,400 rpm hard drive. We hope that Dell will make faster storage options and better CPUs available on its site soon.
Software and Warranty
The Latitude 3330 comes with a handful of helpful utilities. Dell Data Protection allows you to create a pre-Windows password for added security. Dell Backup and Recovery Manager allows you to back up individual files or the entire system. Dell Webcam central captures photos and videos while adjusting the camera's settings. The system also comes with just one piece of unnecessary crapware, a 30-day trial of McAfee anti-virus.
Dell backs the Latitude 3330 with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor. However, as with all Dell laptops, you can purchase extended warranties and accidental damage protection for up to five years.
Though it's not the fastest budget laptop on the market, the Dell Latitude 3330 offers a compelling user experience for the money because of its light weight, best-in-class keyboard, accurate touchpad and colorful screen. If you want better performance and are willing to carry a larger laptop, consider the 14-inch ThinkPad Edge E431, a slightly updated version of the ThinkPad Edge E430 we tested last year. However, if you want a lightweight, low-cost laptop that's great for basic productivity tasks and just feels really good in your lap, the Latitude 3330 is an excellent choice.