Dell Latitude X1 review
Dell's aggressive pricing makes this a great-value ultraportable notebook, with a fine keyboard, an attractive design and a decent bundle of extras too.
The 12.1in widescreen format is proving popular with notebook makers, with Samsung's Q30, Acer's TravelMate 3004WTMi and now Dell's Latitude X1 being launched in quick succession. And that's hardly surprising, since it leads to a notebook that's small and light but doesn't feel too cramped.
Although the keyboard is smaller than the full desktop variety, most people will find there's enough room to spread their fingers and feel comfortable typing for long periods. Unlike the TravelMate 3004WTMi, which uses small punctuation keys to give the alphabet more space, this board keeps key sizes consistent. It's also helped by firm backing behind the board, giving a feeling of quality. The layout is sensible with Control and Delete in opposite corners, the only niggle being an undersized left Shift key.
Another benefit of the X1's size is the 1,280 x 768-pixel widescreen display: there's more Desktop space than standard-aspect 12.1in diagonal 1,024 x 768 panels, but it's smaller vertically, which is a great help when working on the tray table of an aircraft or train.
High brightness is an asset of the X1 and, although it has a slightly grainy appearance, the bright image gives a sharp and pleasing result. Adjustment covers a wide range, so you can compensate for sunny or dark conditions, but the vertical viewing angle is poor. This makes little difference in dim lighting, but sunny days accentuate the steep fall in contrast away from perpendicular, leaving a shadow at the top or bottom of the screen unless it's viewed dead-on. Horizontal angles give more leeway, although not a great deal more.
One thing you particularly want in an ultraportable is protection behind the display: it must be able to withstand pressure on the lid without damaging the LCD. In the centre of the display, the protection is excellent, but our sample suffered from localised pressure points at the top of the screen and some bezel pinching at the side. Nevertheless, it should stand up well enough to regular travel.
Like the Samsung Q30, the X1 has a 1.1GHz Ultra Low Voltage Pentium M 733 processor, and the 5W chip is a smart choice for this chassis. Although it's the same CPU, here it's paired with Intel's 915GMS chipset rather than the 855GM. This boosts memory support to 400MHz DDR2 and uses Intel's newer integrated graphics product: the Graphics Media Accelerator 900. The performance difference is slight, with the overall benchmark of 1.15 being just a touch over the Samsung's 1.10. It's disappointing the X1's technology advantage didn't open up a bigger margin, especially since it had more than double the RAM. Still, there's enough grunt to give snappy performance with all office applications. Standard memory allocation is 256MB fixed to the motherboard, with one socket available for additions: the price above includes a 1GB stick.
Past tests with the 915 chipset indicate that battery life is a touch shy of 855 systems, and the X1 lasted two hours, five minutes under light use to the Samsung's two hours, 24 minutes. Battery life is critical in this form factor, and even though the X1's figure is impressive for the three-cell battery the Samsung's extra 20 minutes from the same battery will be handy. As standard, the X1 doesn't include the optional six-cell battery, but we strongly recommend that you choose this, as the X1 lasted for four-and-a-half hours with it in place (note that the £1,199 price does include the extra battery). However, if battery life is all-important to you, Samsung's Q30 lasted for five hours and 43 minutes with the six-cell battery in place.