"That's a Latitude?" This is the first thought that popped into my head when I saw the new Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1, which looks and feels like a laptop from the future.
XPS 13-like slim bezels, up to 24 hours of claimed battery life, cooling that adapts to how you're holding the unit and the ability to sense when you're walking up to the system for instant logins: Those are just some of the features that make this premium aluminum convertible stand out. It goes on sale in March for $1,599.
As the Latitude line celebrates its 25th anniversary, it's also clear what Dell considers to be its biggest target: the mighty ThinkPad.
"If I just look at the X1 Yoga 14 inch, we're sitting at about [a] 20 to 25 percent smaller footprint than that product and offering features that are going to be much more competitive," said Rahul Tikoo, vice president of commercial mobility products at Dell. "We're pretty much ahead in every vector that our customers care about."
An anti-Latitude design
Dell's aim was to create the world's smallest commercial, 14-inch 2-in-1, and I immediately noticed the difference when I laid the laptop on top of the ThinkPad X1 Yoga. This new Dell system is 25 percent smaller than the previous generation.
According to Allen McKittrick, a lead engineer at Dell, this is the first 2-in-1 in the industry with a four-sided, narrow-border display, which forced the team to come up with a new drop hinge and new mounting design. Dell also had to relocate the LTE antennas, which are typically placed around the border of the display.
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"We even had to upgrade our board construction to a high-density interface to allow us to do a tighter component placement," said McKittrick.
The result is a striking laptop that's not only amazingly compact but also decidedly un-business looking. The machined-aluminum chassis has a premium brushed finish, and the diamond-cut edges are a nice touch. I also like the soft-touch bottom, which makes the system more comfortable to carry.
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 Specs
|CPU||8th-Generation Core i5 (Whiskey Lake)|
|RAM||8GB, up to 16GB|
|SSD||128GB PCIe/NVMe up to 2TB (summer)|
|Display||14 inches (1920 x 1080)|
|Ports||Two USB 3.1, Two Thunderbolt, HDMI, SIM, microSD card|
|Battery||4-cell 52 WHr, 6-cell 78 WHr|
|Size||12.6 x 7.9 x 0.34-0.59 inches|
Express sign-in with proximity sensing
One of those key vectors that Tikoo mentioned came in speeding up how long it takes to simply start working. Thanks to a sensor that detects your physical presence (powered by Intel's Context Sensing technology), the Latitude 7400 2-in-1 can automatically wake up your system, then instantly log you in via the IR camera and Windows Hello.
When you walk away, the system locks within 5 seconds to keep your data safe.
According to McKittrick, the proximity sensor is very low-power, at sub-1 milliwatts, so it's always on, and it emits IR light off the user and back to a receiver.
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"As soon as you walk up to the system, instantaneously, it's going to detect that you are there," McKittrick said. “It's similar to where [if] you hold up your smartphone to your ear when you get a phone call, it instantly turns off that display."
24 hours of battery life?!
Dell claims that the Latitude 7400 2-in-1 can last up to 24 hours on a charge, which is based on the MobileMark 2014 test. This evaluation is less demanding than our own web-surfing test, on which we would expect 15 hours based on Dell's numbers. Regardless, the huge, 78-watt-hour battery should provide very impressive endurance.
And it wasn't easy for Dell to squeeze this much capacity into such a small frame. In fact, the battery takes up to about three-quarters of this Latitude's footprint, which Dell showed off with an exploded view of the laptop's components.
"We had to design the pack in a way so that we would take the cells, stagger them and rotate them," said McKittrick. This was done to enable the battery to reach down to the bottom of the system and also to ensure that Dell didn't sacrifice the ergonomics of the keyboard.
Because the biggest power hog in a laptop tends to be the screen, Dell also opted for super-low-power displays that are custom-built and use about 1.8 watts.
When the battery finally does conk out, the ExpressCharge technology will get you to 80 percent in only an hour, Dell says.
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Cooling on the cutting edge
Dell opted for a beefy Whiskey Lake U-series processor — and not the weaker and lower-power Y-series chip found in laptops like the MacBook Air. So, the company needed to innovate on the cooling front. And the 7400 2-in-1 does that in two important ways.
First, the new Latitude used polymer fans, which are made up of Kevlar-like materials. No, this laptop isn't bulletproof, but this material allowed Dell to get more fan blade into a fixed amount of space and generate more airflow.
Second, Dell opted to use Gore aerogel as a thermal material; this is the same material that NASA used in the Stardust probe. "It's essentially the best insulator known to man," said Tikoo, "and it's about half the thickness of standard aluminum foil."
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Dell took cooling on this Latitude to the next level by making the cooling adaptive — based on how you're holding the unit and its orientation. So, when you're holding the machine in your hand, the Latitude 7400 2-in-1 knows you're in tablet mode and strives for cooler skin temperatures.
The Latitude 7400 2-in-1 should be one of the most powerful business laptops when it launches in March, as it packs an 8th-Generation quad-core Whiskey Lake processor from Intel, up to 16GB of RAM and SSD options that range from a 128GB PCIe/NVMe drive all the way up to a 2TB model (coming this summer).
Other key specs include the full-HD 1920 x 1080 display (300 nits), gigabit LTE connectivity and a full array of ports, such as two USB 3.1 ports, two ThunderBolt 3 ports, HDMI and a microSD card reader. There's also a USIM card slot for LTE.
Dell makes some of the sleekest consumer laptops, but its business laptops have taken a back seat to those from Lenovo and HP — especially when it comes to design. But the Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is the first Dell business machine that workers may actually covet.
For Dell, the svelte design is table stakes for what is an increasingly millennial workforce. However, the experiences like Express sign-in and adaptive thermal control will set this and future Latitude laptops apart from the crowd.
"That's really where the future is, right?" said Tikoo. "I mean, form factor is great, but our investments are in experiences and really getting an emotional connection with our systems, where people just love how they work. And that's where we're gonna beat the competition."
Stay tuned for our full review and in-depth test results.
Credit: Laptop Mag and Dell