Durable design; Screen viewable outdoors; Fast performance and SSD; Solid keyboard; Great sound
Very expensive; Heavy; Tiny touchpad; Uncomfortable pointing stick
The Dell Latitude XT3 is a fast and tough 13-inch convertible that offers both touch and pen input, but the cost of admission is quite high.
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?
DesignE6220 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.
Keyboard and Touchpad
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
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
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.
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.
Software and Warranty
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.
VerdictDell XPS 13 Ultrabook.
|CPU||2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2520m|
|Operating System||MS Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Optical Drive||External DVD /-RW|
|Optical Drive Speed||8X|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 802.11 a/b/g/n|
|Touchpad Size||3.1 x 1.6 inches|
|Warranty/Support||3 year basic hardware service with limited onsite service|
|Weight||5.2 pounds / 6.6 pounds (with second battery)|