Dell Latitude 13 7000 Series review
As consumer laptops have become ever more exotic, business laptops have, by and large, 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 one that’s equally at home as it is in the office. 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.
Dell Latitude 13 7000 Series review: design
From the outside, the Latitude 13 7000 looks every inch the business portable. The body is cast in a dark charcoal grey, and there’s only the tiniest hint of glamour once you look closely: the grey exterior is shot through with a subtle silver sparkle, and a delicate chrome trim skirts around the tablet and the keyboard dock’s edges.
It’s a rather handsome, understated hybrid, but it will struggle to win any awards for slenderness or light weight. Chunky strips of rubber stretching the width of the keyboard dock’s underside mean that it measures 23mm thick, and the combined weight of both parts of the device tips the scales at 1.7kg.
Open up the Latitude 13 7000, flick the latch beneath the screen bezel and the two parts separate: the 13.3in tablet weighs 922g on its own, 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. There’s no flop or wallow, and 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 the weight in the tablet, the Dell is rather top-heavy – the screen doesn’t tilt as far back as a traditional laptop as a result – and it topples back if you so much as nudge it.
Dell Latitude 13 7000 Series review: connectivity and display
Look around the tablet’s edges, and there isn’t much in the way of connectivity. It isn’t a dead loss, however. The tablet itself has a connector for the supplied power supply, so it can be charged independently of the dock. There’s a 3.5mm headset jack, a Kensington lock slot, and our review unit came with the optional SmartCard and Fingerprint reader backplate, which adds an extra £30 to the price.
Dell has packed in other features, too. Security is bolstered by a TPM 2 chip, and while 4G comes 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 snapper – neither are brilliant, but they dredge up enough detail to make them useful for quick snaps and video-conferencing duties.
You’ll need to slot the tablet into the dock to access the two USB 3 ports, full-sized SD card reader and a mini-DisplayPort output. Thankfully, though, Dell has retained its standard tablet docking connector – the same used for its Latitude 10 and Venue 11 Pro tablets – so the Latitude 13 7000 is backwards compatible with the firm’s existing range of docking stations and a good few of the accessories, including Dell’s Active Stylus.
Start using the Dell in anger, however, and it’s easy to forget about such practical gripes. The 13.3in Full HD IPS display is quite the distraction, and welcome proof that the days of business laptops being saddled with poor-quality TN displays are coming to an end. Instead, the LED backlight cranks right up to a super-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 only good by the standards of business laptops, either – it’s exemplary, full stop.
Dell Latitude 13 7000 Series review: keyboard, touchpad and performance
In contrast with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, the Dell’s design allows it to perform a far more convincing impression of a 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 to use. And it’s backlit, too.
Annoyingly, we encountered some issues with the buttonless touchpad on our early production sample, with an overly light clicking action and a tendency for the touchpad to occasionally get stuck down. We’ll be pestering Dell for a replacement to see if those issues persist on final production models.
As we’ve come to expect, Intel’s Core M makes its presence felt. It doesn’t deliver enough raw computing power to compete with the last generation of Core i5 and Core i7 chips, but the combination of an 800MHz Core M 5Y10 and a 256GB Samsung PM851 SSD means that it’s impossible to tell the difference in everyday use. Boot-up and application-load times are speedy, and Windows feels just as responsive as we’d hope for in a premium business machine.
In practice, 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, where the Dell eked out a solid result of 0.5. As expected, it dropped off the pace in the multitasking section of the 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, an empty 4G modem slot and the 30Wh battery.
Dell Latitude 13 7000 Series review: verdict
There’s much to like about the Latitude 13 7000, but we can’t help wondering why Dell couldn’t have squeezed a USB port into the tablet itself. The power, battery life and features mean that the Latitude 13 7000 does make a very competent standalone tablet, but it’s annoying to have to reach for the keyboard dock every time you need a USB connection.
Still, such is the quality elsewhere that this isn’t a complete deal-breaker. And if you already have a fleet of Dell tablets, and a good supply of docking stations, the lack of connectivity may not prove to be such a glaring issue.
That leaves only one major concern – the touchpad. We’re keen to make sure that the issues we encountered are down to a pre-production sample rather than an out-and-out flaw (indeed, we note that other reviewers haven’t encountered the same issue), so we’ll update the review once we get our hands on a final sample of the keyboard.
If your business is looking for a long-lasting, high-quality hybrid, though, 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.