Review Update: Dell Latitude XT2 with Windows 7

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The Latitude XT2 is Dell’s multitouch-enabled business convertible-notebook that now includes Windows 7. The XT2 starts at $1,909 and offers a very thin and lightweight business-rugged chassis with an attractive brushed-metal finish. In this review we find out if the XT2’s system performance or multitouch support has improved under Windows 7.

Our Dell Latitude XT2 features the following specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 1.4GHz (800MHz FSB, 3MB L2 Cache)
  • Microsoft Windows 7 (64-bit)
  • 12.1″ Premium WXGA (1280 x 800) LED-Backlight Display with 2-finger Multi-touch
  • Intel X4500MHD Integrated Graphics
  • 3GB DDR3 1066MHz RAM (2GB + 1GB)
  • 120GB Toshiba 1.8″ 5400RPM HDD
  • 8X CD / DVD Burner (Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive) through docking station
  • Dell Wireless 1510 A/G/N, Bluetooth, and 1Gb Ethernet
  • 6-Cell 42WHr Battery
  • Limited 3-year standard parts and labor warranty with on-site service
  • Dimensions: 11.7 x 8.7 x 1.1″
  • Weight: 3lbs 13.6oz
  • Price as configured: $2,830 ($2,262 Street)

Build and Design
The Dell Latitude XT2 has a very professional or industrial appearance with an all dark-grey design, sharp lines and edges, and even exposed screws. This notebook is definitely not targeted towards those looking for the next designer laptop. Instead, it is aimed squarely at those who just want to get down to business. The brushed metal surfaces are actually specially painted covers that give the look of metal but with the ease of maintenance that paint gives. The finish resists smudges and is much easier to wipe clean than most brushed metal exteriors. If it was painted matte black and had a Lenovo logo printed on it, you would swear it was a ThinkPad.

I personally love the side profile of the Latitude XT2, which is almost perfectly square at all corners. It has no sloped surfaces, no rounded sides, and sits very low to the desk surface. If you are carrying the tablet around in one arm it takes up such a small amount of space that you really don’t mind holding it.

Build quality is excellent, and probably the best construction I have ever seen on a Dell notebook. Panels feel solid with very little creaking or squeaking plastic, and fit and finish are impeccable. Surfaces meet with clean lines and nothing feels out of place. Paint quality is great on every part of the body, with no specs of dust, unpainted edges, or any type of imperfection. The screen hinge is tough and rugged … giving you the sense that it should hold up well over time. The chassis feels very durable with barely a hint of flex if you squeeze the palmrest or put heavy pressure on the keyboard. The screen lid has some minor wiggle, but the screen doesn’t show any signs of color distortion unless you really try to twist the panel

Access to user-serviceable components is easy through two areas. The hard drive is located underneath the battery and has four screws and a frame holding it in place. The RAM, Wi-Fi card, and WWAN card are located under a single access panel held in with two screws. Most upgrade needs can be taken care of in less than five minutes or however long it takes you to swap out a component. One interesting feature that Dell puts front and center under the access panel is a user removable BIOS chip (with a handy pull tab). This lets companies replace it in the event of a failed BIOS update, instead of sending the entire machine in for repair.

Screen and Speakers
The 12.1″ screen on the Dell Latitude XT2 looks great and is one of the better tablet screens I have seen in person. With the multiple touchscreen and pen input layers that tablets need over the actual display panel, most tablet screens look very hazy or cloudy compared to a standard notebook screen. The 1280 x 800 display on the XT2 looks slightly hazy compared to a normal display, but much nicer than the average tablet screen. One important feature of a tablet or slate screen is wide viewing angles for using the screen from multiple positions without having lots of color distortion. The display on the XT2 is above average in terms of horizontal viewing angles, but still suffers from some distortion when viewing the screen in landscape mode and pushing the screen back.

Backlight levels on this screen are about average with other business notebooks, but not as good as “sunlight readable” displays. Dell does offer a brighter panel for daylight use … which should hopefully be bright enough to not be washed out in direct sunlight.

The Dell XT2 includes a capacitive touch-screen with a built-in digitizer for pen input. The pen gives excellent traction and feedback on the screen similar to a ball-point pen over a glossy hard cover book. The texture allows precise movement, and it stays consistent across the entire screen. Oils from my fingers touching the screen didn’t seem to affect the pen traction too much, although for the best writing surface possible I would suggest taking a microfiber cloth to the screen first. The pen includes two side-mounted buttons for the second mouse click and erase functions. I found them to both work well but the second mouse button is slightly too sensitive … activating with the slightest touch.

The XT2 supports two-finger multitouch with its capacitive touch display. We didn’t see much improvement between the multitouch environment in Windows Vista compared to Windows 7. Scrolling and zooming in Internet Explorer 8 still feels choppy, which makes it very easy to overshoot your intended mark. Switching to other web browsers didn’t seem to help much and Google’s Chrome only interacted with the zoom feature. I feel when it comes to multitouch Apple’s hardware and software support is by far the best. Dell also didn’t include any OEM-specific touch software on our Latitude XT2 besides ControlPoint which felt out-dated and redundant compared to Windows 7’s own controls.

The audio system on the XT2 consists of a single mono speaker located on the left side of the chassis. It works well enough for listening to the occasional song or movie, but it sounds really off-center because the single speaker is located on one side. Peak volume is pretty loud, but it also distorts when it tries to produce bass or midrange audio. Headphones are a must.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The XT2 keyboard looks and feels great with slim keys and high visibility labeling. The layout is easy to follow with full-size primary keys and appropriately sized function keys. Compared to other notebooks the keys have a shallower throw, which is a side effect of the thin chassis. I actually found the keyboard to be quicker to type on compared to the ThinkPad X200, since the shorter throw means less travel before a key activates. The individual keys have no wiggle when you try to move the top of the key side to side.

The touchpad is an ALPS model running proprietary Dell software. Compared to the average Snypatics model it does show some minor lag, but it still feels responsive and easy to use. I think Dell could have gone with a larger touchpad surface, since the XT2 has enough space to incorporate it if you move the buttons more towards the lower edge of the palmrest. Dell also includes a pointing stick, which worked, but doesn’t feel as fluid or responsive as other alternatives I have used.

Ports and Features
Port selection is excellent … even when compared to larger notebooks. The Latitude XT2 offers two USB ports, one eSATA/USB combo, audio in/out, FireWire, VGA, LAN, and a proprietary power socket for some Dell accessories. If you need more ports or an optical drive, the docking station gives you four USB ports, serial, DVI, VGA, LAN, headphone out, and of course an optical drive. The docking station feels extremely well built, and has one of the nicest latching mechanisms I have seen. It has a sturdy metal latch arm, which when extended and released has a delayed motion where everything slowly clicks into place.


Front: Lower edge of battery


Rear: AC Power, VGA, LAN, one USB + power jack, tablet controls on display lid


Left: Pen holder, one USB, FireWire, speaker


Right: Wireless On/Off, Wi-Fi Catcher, USB/eSATA combo, SD-card slot, ExpressCard/54, headphone/mic, Kensington lock slot



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