A s consumer laptops have become ever more exotic, business laptops have remained defiantly monochrome, fashion-free zones. That’s no bad thing, but the trend for hybrid devices such as the Surface Pro 3 – half-tablet, half-laptop – is blurring the lines between work and play. Now, Dell has stepped into the fray with the Latitude 13 7000 Series. Combining a Core M-powered 13.3in tablet with a docking keyboard, this is a cutting-edge hybrid in sensible shoes.
From the outside, the Latitude 13 7000 looks every inch the business portable. Open the Latitude up and flick the latch beneath the screen bezel and the two parts separate: the 13.3in tablet weighs 922g alone, and the keyboard dock adds another 762g thanks to the presence of a modestly sized internal battery. Slot the tablet home and the strong latches and wide hinge make a reassuringly solid connection. The simple mechanism feels noticeably more robust than that of the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix.
If there’s a downside, it’s a familiar one: with all its core components in the tablet, the Dell is top-heavy – the screen doesn’t tilt as far back as a traditional laptop – and it topples back if you so much as nudge it.
Look around the tablet’s edges and there isn’t much in the way of connectivity. It’s not a dead loss, however. The tablet has a separate connector for the supplied power supply, so it can be charged independently of the dock. Security is bolstered by a TPM 2 chip, and while 4G is an optional extra, Intel 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4 are included as standard. There’s also a competent pairing of a front-facing 2-megapixel camera and a rear-facing 8-megapixel shooter – neither is brilliant, but they dredge up enough detail for quick snaps and videoconferencing duties.
You’ll need to slot the tablet into the dock to access the two USB 3 ports, full-sized SD slot and the mini-DisplayPort output. Thankfully, Dell’s retained its standard tablet-docking connector – the same used for its Latitude 10 and Venue 11 Pro tablets – so the Latitude 13 7000 is compatible with the firm’s existing docking stations and a good few accessories, including Dell’s Active Stylus.
Start using the Dell in anger, and it’s easy to forget about any connectivity gripes. The 13.3in Full HD IPS display is a delight, and welcome proof that the days of business laptops being saddled with poor-quality TN displays are coming to an end. The LED backlight cranks right up to a bright 393cd/m2, and the IPS panel delivers a superb contrast ratio of 1,136:1. Colour accuracy is nigh-on perfect, and the panel covers 94.3% of the sRGB colour gamut with an average Delta E of 1.37. This isn’t merely good by the standards of business laptops – it’s exemplary for a laptop of any type.
ro 3, the Dell’s design makes it a convincing laptop. The dock’s well-spaced, slightly concave keys grip the finger nicely, and although typing doesn’t feel as crisp as on Dell’s best Latitude laptops, it’s still perfectly pleasant.
As we’ve come to expect, Intel’s Core M makes its presence felt. It doesn’t deliver enough raw power to compete with the last generation of Core i5 and Core i7 chips, but the combination of an 800MHz Core M-5Y10c and a 256GB Samsung PM851 SSD make it impossible to tell the difference in everyday use. Bootup and application-load times are speedy, and Windows feels just as responsive as we’d hope for in a premium business machine.
Indeed, the Core M only really lags behind its counterparts under heavy extended load conditions, where the lack of a fan prevents it from maintaining its maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 2GHz for any length of time. This is reflected in our benchmarks: the Dell eked out a solid Overall result of 0.5, but as expected, it dropped off the pace in the multitasking benchmarks.
The flipside is that the Core M is astonishingly efficient. With a TDP of only 4.5W, little more than an Atom CPU, the Core M helped the Dell last 14hrs 3mins in our light-use battery test with the aid of the secondary battery in the keyboard dock. Even without the dock, the tablet ran for 10hrs 18mins.
The Dell’s design will also keep the IT department happy. Carefully peel off the tablet’s backplate – a job requiring a thin, flathead screwdriver and a steady hand – and it’s possible to get access to the BIOS battery, M.2 SSD, Wi-Fi module, empty 4G modem slot and 30Wh battery.
There’s much to like about the Latitude 13 7000, but we can’t help wishing Dell had squeezed in a USB port. The power, battery life and features mean that the Latitude makes a competent standalone tablet, but it’s annoying to have to reach for the dock every time you need a USB connection.
Still, such is the quality elsewhere that this isn’t a deal-breaker. And if you already have a fleet of Dell tablets, and a good supply of docking stations in place, the lack of connectivity may not prove such a glaring issue.
If your business is looking for a long-lasting, high-quality hybrid, the Dell Latitude 13 7000 Series is packed with potential. Factor in the variety of extended support and warranty options, and it’s a very tempting package indeed.