The 12-inch Dell Latitude 5280 is a great choice for frequent business travelers. Not only does it fit in smaller luggage, but it also has fantastic battery life, which allows you to leave the power cord at home. The Latitude 5280's speedy 7th Gen Kaby Lake CPU enables solid performance, and its comfortable keyboard allows for tons of typing. A dim default display and warm skin temperatures keep Dell's laptop from a higher rating, but if you're looking for a durable, reliable machine, the Latitude 5280 should definitely be on your list.
Dell kept things simple with the 5280's design. The notebook's matte-black, carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer shell looks and feels sturdy, and its polycarbonate keyboard deck provides a comfortable area for your wrists to rest while you're typing.
The Latitude's first USB 3.0 port, USB Type-C port and HDMI port are all located on the machine's left side, while the headphone jack, second USB 3.0 port, VGA port and Ethernet port sit on the right. You'll find an SD card reader at the rear of the device.
The laptop has a number of ports that its competitors do not. The AsusPro for example, doesn't offer HDMI, VGA or Ethernet, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has no VGA and requires a dongle for its micro-Ethernet port.
Weighing 3.2 pounds and measuring 0.8 inches thick, the 12.5-inch Latitude 5280 is heavier and thicker than the 14-inch AsusPro B9440 (2.4 pounds; 0.6 inches) and the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2.5 pounds; 0.6 inches).
Durability and Security
Mobile professionals will appreciate the Latitude 5280's ruggedness, as Dell built the notebook to survive the dangers of everyday use and accidental abuse. Having passed 15 MIL-SPEC standard tests, it can work in the most grueling conditions, including extreme temperatures (from 140 degrees to -20.2 degrees Fahrenheit), drops, shocks and blasts of dust.
Provided that they don't mind spending a little extra, your IT managers will appreciate all of Dell's security options. The system comes standard with a FIPS 140-2-certified TPM 2.0 chip for secure data. Intel's vPro technology for remote management costs an extra $21, as does a smart card reader. If you want an IR webcam for Windows Hello login, one is available for $35. Unfortunately, there's no fingerprint reader option.
MORE: What is vPro?
When configuring the Latitude 5280, pay $70 extra for the 1080p screen or go home. Our review model had the base-level, 1366 x 768 display, which was weighed down by poor color, low resolution and dimness. We don't know how much better the 1080p screen would have performed on our tests, but at least it would be sharper and fit more content on the screen.
Watching the Thor: Ragnarok teaser trailer on the base screen, I noticed that Asgard's normally copper hue had faded to a light gray, while normally verdant trees looked sickly and what little life there was in Cate Blanchett's face was drained away.
According to our colorimeter, the Latitude 5280's 1366p screen produces 71 percent of the sRGB color spectrum. That's below the readings from the AsusPro B9440 (103 percent) and ThinkPad X1 (104 percent), and the 96-percent category average.
The Latitude's panel emits up to 243 nits (a measurement of brightness). That's notably less than the 299-nit category average, as well as the results from the AsusPro B9440 (291 nits) and the ThinkPad X1 (275 nits). This dimness leads to a poor range of viewing angles, with color darkening at 45 degrees when viewed from the left or right.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Typists will enjoy click-clacking away on the Latitude 5280, as its comfy, backlit keyboard enabled fast input during my testing. I reached 82 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, beating my 80-wpm personal average. While the 1.2 millimeters of travel in the keys is lower than the 1.5-2.0mm we hope to see, the 65 grams of actuation force makes up for that, sitting well above our minimum 60g comfort level.
The Latitude's 3.9 x 2.1-inch touchpad tracks input accurately and supports Windows 10's app-switching gestures. Dell's Touchpad utility offers an easy way to disable tap-to-click and enable other gestures. The pair of left- and right-click buttons beneath the touchpad offers a solid feel to each click.
The Latitude 5280's speakers filled our largest conference room with strong sound. Listening to Rick Ross' "Trap Trap Trap" on the notebook, I noted its sturdy bass, accurate-sounding synths and clear vocals.
Dell preloads the Waves MaxxAudio Pro sound-adjustment utility, but the default settings seem to be the best for clarity and strength. If you like to play with settings for sound-space width, audio details and bass, you'll have fun with this app.
MORE: Best Bluetooth Speakers for Home or On-the-Go
With its Intel Core i7-7600U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, our review configuration of the Latitude 5280 packs enough punch for solid multitasking. I didn't experience any slowdown even after splitting my screen between a dozen Chrome tabs (including ones for TweetDeck, Slack and Google Docs) and a 1080p YouTube video. The system also maintained its performance as I ran a full-system scan in Windows Defender, edited a Microsoft Word document and played a round of Candy Crush Soda Saga.
The Latitude turned in a great score of 8,690 on the Geekbench 4 general performance test. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which also has a Core i7-7600 CPU, earned a slightly lower score of 8,571. That beats the 6,933 average for ultraportable notebooks and the 7,238 from the AsusPro B9440 (Core i5-7200U, 8GB).
The 256GB M.2 SATA SSD in the Latitude 5280 copied 4.97GB of multimedia files in 41 seconds, for a speed of 124.1MBps. That's behind the speeds from the SSD in the AsusPro B9440 (196MBps) and the PCIe SSD in the ThinkPad X1 (242MBps), as well as the 184.8MBps category average.
The Latitude 5280 gave a speedy performance on our OpenOffice productivity test, finishing in 3 minutes and 16 seconds. That's shorter than the times from the AsusPro B9440 (4:02) and ThinkPad X1 Carbon (3:22), as well as the 5:54 category average.
The integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 chip in the Latitude earned a solid 68,949 on the Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, beating the 54,231 category average. Similar scores came from the AsusPro B9440 (69,585) and ThinkPad X1 (68,082), both of which use Intel HD Graphics 620 cups.
The Latitude 5280 can play moderately demanding games, running Dirt 3 (at Medium settings) at a silky smooth 61 frames per second. That's faster than 34-fps category average, as well as the frame rates from the AsusPro B9440 (27 fps) and ThinkPad X1 (28 fps).
The Latitude 5280 can burn the midnight oil and then some. The system clocked 12 hours and 21 minutes on the Laptop Mag battery test (continuous web browsing). That's better than the 8:26 time from the AsusPro B9440 and the 8:19 category average. The ThinkPad X1 (12:21) lasted just as long as the Latitude.
Our test unit features a four-cell, 68-watt-hour battery that comes standard for Core i7 models but is an optional upgrade for the Core i3 ($49) and Core i5 ($28) models. Those come with three-cell batteries.
The 0.9-megapixel webcam is passable but unimpressive. In a photo of my torso, my skin tone and a green fern in the background looked pretty accurate, while digital noise obscured details such as my facial stubble and a diagonal pattern in my shirt.
This notebook can get plenty hot. After I streamed 15 minutes of HD video on the Latitude, its G and H keys spiked to a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit, and its underside got as hot as 107 degrees, issues I also noticed during general usage. Both measurements exceed our 95-degree comfort threshold, though the 89-degree reading from Latitude's touchpad stayed below the threshold.
Dell bequeathed the Latitude 5280 with the company's standard pack of preloaded utilities. Those include Command Power Manager (for optimizing battery life), SupportAssist (for reaching Dell tech support agents) and Touchpad Options (for enabling/disabling click, tap and gesture settings).
The $1,505 model we tested features a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 SATA SSD, an IR webcam and a 1366 x 768-pixel display. You'll have to choose between the 1080p display ($70) and an IR camera ($35).
The entry-level Latitude 5280 costs $849 and includes a Core i3-7100U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive. For $100 you can upgrade that notebook to a Core i5-7200U CPU. You can add LTE connectivity (with support for AT&T, Sprint or Verizon) for $139.
The Latitude 5280 is a great machine for taking care of business, thanks to its speedy CPU, comfy keyboard and fantastic battery life. But while the Latitude has solid power, its mediocre display makes it hard to enjoy all that brawn.
You can get a more colorful display with the thin, lightweight $2,122 ThinkPad X1 Carbon, but getting similar performance on that machine will cost an extra $617. Business travelers looking for a port-rich powerhouse notebook have a lot to like in the Latitude 5280, provided that they can take the heat and pay for the 1080p display.