Dell Latitude E4300 Review

by Greg Ross Reads (150,408)

Overview

  • Pros

    • Above average, lightweight build
    • Best keyboard, useful touchpad
    • Extremely long battery life
  • Cons

    • Subpar speaker
    • Twitchy touchpad
    • High priced upgrades

The Dell Latitude E4300 is Dell’s most powerful ultraportable machine released to date.  This 13.3″ notebook is powered by low voltage Intel Core 2 Duo processors and boasts an incredible battery life with no compromises in performance.

Dell Latitude E4300 Specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo SP9600 (2.53GHz, 6MB L2 Cache, 1066MHz FSB)
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Business SP2, with downgrade rights for Windows XP SP3 and upgrade rights to Windows 7 Professional
  • 13.3″ LED WXGA LCD Screen (1280×800)
  • 1GB DDR3 1066MHz RAM (upgraded to 4GB)
  • 80GB 7200RPM Western Digital 2.5″ Hard Drive
  • Intel X4500MHD video card
  • Internal Fixed DVD+/-RW Optical Drive
  • Intel WiFi Link 5300 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Intel Gigabit Ethernet, WWAN Capable
  • Backlit Keyboard
  • 6-Cell 60WHr Battery, with 6-Cell 48WHr Battery Slice
  • 3-Year Warranty with On-Site Technical Support
  • Dell E-Port Docking Station, with Dell Flat Panel Monitor Stand
  • Dimensions: 12.2″ x 8.6″ x 1.1″
  • Measured Weight: ~ 3.7lbs

The Latitude E4300 starts at $1,349, which is fairly average for an ultraportable business machine.  However, we all know that the extra options and features always cost more – this notebook as configured will set you back by a staggering $2,054 before taxes.

Build and Design
Our first impressions of the Dell Latitude E4300 were quite positive.  The notebook itself has a small LCD bezel and a tightly integrated chassis design, so not only is the notebook rather thin it also presents the smallest footprint that is possible for a 13.3″ notebook.  Dell also adopted a much more modern looking design featuring sharp lines and a black finish with the new series.  The back of the LCD housing has a brushed aluminum appearance to it, which adds a nice bit of flair to an otherwise safe professional design.  While the finish is designed to impress, it is a fingerprint magnet.  The black matte finish on the rest of the notebook looks equally sharp, but wears down on and around the edges of the notebook.

Build quality is above average, and quite frankly the construction feels ver solid.  The base of the chassis is built from magnesium alloy and packed with parts, resulting in a design that protects its internals well.  The right palmrest has a little bit too much flex, but there is little to no flex to be found anywhere else on the base of the chassis.  Magnesium alloy is also used in the LCD housing, and the screen housing does a really good job of protecting the screen from impacts.  We were never able to produce distortions on the LCD screen.  The extra bulge at the top of the LCD lid is for the WWAN antenna.  While it sticks out only a little bit, that top bulge had just a little bit of give to it.

The screen hinges are well built, as the display never wiggles yet provides a comfortable level of resistance to movement.  When closing the notebook there is no latch for the LCD, it is held shut by magnetic force.  The design provides enough resistance that the notebook is not going to open accidentally, but it is not difficult to open the computer up either.

The keyboard is well supported on the Latitude E4300, and there is very little flex to be found so even violent typers should find themselves at ease with how sturdy the keyboard feels.  While other Dell Latitude notebooks have a modular bay design to accomodate an optical drive or hard drive or a weight saver module, Dell choose to build in a fixed optical drive so the E4300 will not support two hard drives.  Because upgrading the optical drive is more difficult than it would be with other Latitude notebooks, the E4300 starts with a DVD+/-RW optical drive that is capable of everything a consumer needs except perhaps Blu-Ray capability.  Fortunately, a fixed Blu-Ray optical drive is available for a not so low price when ordering the computer.

Perhaps the only shortcoming in the design of the Latitude E4300 is the battery.  Dell appears to have dropped the 3-cell battery option from their ordering system, leaving only the 6-cell battery which sticks out from the back of the notebook by about half an inch.  While I do not mind the extrusion, others may take issue with it.  However, we have a difficult time imagining that the 3-cell battery could have provided adaquate battery life so we think the 6-cell is worth it.

The Latitude E4300 also has a wide range of expansion options, available via the docking connector at the bottom.  If you need legacy ports not found on the computer, Dell has a legacy port extender for Latitude notebooks.  The notebook can be docked to one of two different Latitude series docking stations, and each dock supports up to two external monitors.  If the 6-cell battery does not provide enough longevity, a battery slice can also be purchased ($199) that will work in tandem with the standard battery to provide a much longer battery life.  The hard drive can be upgraded easily by removing two screws and pulling the drive out, and by removing the middle access panel on the bottom of the notebook both the RAM and Latitude ON cards can be upgraded.  WiFi cards and WWAN cards can be installed by removing the corner panel as well.

Screen and Speaker

The Dell Latitude E4300 comes with an LED backlit screen with a native resolution of 1280×800 (WXGA).  The screen resolution is a perfect fit for a 13.3″ notebook, and the panel looks nice when viewing documents, videos, and other content.  The notebook has fifteen distinct levels of screen brightness adjustable by using the Fn+Up or Fn+Down key combinations.  The dimmest screen levels are great for indoor viewing and low light conditions, and it was amazing to see that the screen was quite readable in bright outdoor environments when the screen was set to maximum brightness.  It gets so bright, in fact, that colors start to wash out a bit on the highest settings.

We normally expect vertical viewing angles to be quite poor on notebook displays (because of the type of LCD technology they use).  The E4300 defined a new level of poor.  When viewing the screen from above colors quickly wash out and become unreadable, and when viewing the screen from below the screen fades away ever so quickly. Horizontal viewing angles were fortunately fairly good.  Viewing the screen from almost any position to the left and right of the notebook still produced a very readable display even though colors would start to wash out.

This section was called “Screen and Speaker” for a reason.  The Dell Latitude E4300 comes with one lowly speaker at the front of the notebook.  It sounds tinny, there is absolutely no bass, and at the higher ends of the volume range it sounds muddled.  It works for business use, it works for those to are listening to audio on the road, but do not expect premium sound out of this notebook.

Keyboard and Touchpad
While there are certainly a lot of reasons to praise the Dell Latitude E4300, the high quality keyboard one of the most prominent reasons.  While the layout of the keyboard is slightly different than what can be found in the rest of the Latitude E series, the Dell Latitude E4300 offers the same high quality typing experience as any other Latitude E series notebook with a backlit keyboard.  While some Latitude E series notebooks have an option for a non-backlit keyboard, after comparing the backlit versus non-backlit keyboards we can say with confidence that the backlit keyboard offers a superior typing experience.  One of the unique features found on the keyboard is, of course, the LED backlights that serve to illuminate the keyboard in dark environments.  This backlighting is user adjustable and it can be tied in with the Ambient Light Sensor for automatic backlight adjustments.

Like the previous generation of Latitude notebooks, the keyboard provides just the right amount of tactile feedback and firmness while never flexing under stress.  The new keyboard design raises the quality bar – it looks and feels like each key has its own distinctive personal space to it and it is almost impossible to accidentally hit multiple keys.  Over time, it actually felt like my typing accuracy and speed was improving.

Perhaps the only drawback of this keyboard is the layout of some of the keys.  The half height function keys, and the location of the Home/End/Insert/Delete keys (upper half height row) and the Page Up/Down keys (next to the arrow keys) take a little getting used to.  Once we got used to the locations of the Page Up/Down keys it was actually easier to navigate through webpages, documents, and tabbed interfaces.

When comparing this keyboard to the keyboard of other Latitude E series notebooks, they all provide about the same typing experience but it just feels like the E4300′s keyboard is a little more firm.  If it seems like we cannot stop praising the keyboard, you are right.  Best. Keyboard. Ever.

While the touchpad is not bad, it does not provide as stellar as an experience as the keyboard does.  The touchpad itself is quite smooth, but it felt like there was just a little input lag on the touchpad.  When using the touchpad, occasionally the touchpad would randomly stop working for a moment or two.  It does not happen often enough to be a serious issue, and the problem always corrects itself, but I have to be a tough grader on a machine with this high a cost.

The touchpad redeems itself with a few extra features.  Having two sets of mouse buttons is a plus, as is the third mouse button found on the upper row of touchpad buttons.  Dell also includs a pointer stick in the middle of the keyboard.  Perhaps the best feature about the touchpad is what Dell calls ‘circular scrolling.’  When moving your finger up or down the scrolling area on the touchpad, if you keep moving your finger in a circular fashion the touchpad will continue to scroll through the active window on your desktop.  The direction of the scroll can be changed just by alternating the direction of circular movement as well.  The touchpad supports both horizontal and vertical scrolling, which means that in combination with circular scrolling any document is going to be easily navigable.

Ports and Features
Despite not having a lot of real estate to work with, Dell managed to include a surprisingly useful array of ports though we wished a third USB port could have been included.  One USB port, one combination USB/eSATA port, VGA out, SmartCard reader, SD card reader, ExpressCard/34, audio in and out, Firewire-400, 10/100/1000 (Gigabit) Ethernet LAN, and a Kensington lock slot are available on the machine.  It would have been nice to have had a DisplayPort or DVI output instead of a VGA output, but we suppose VGA out is still an important feature for business notebooks.


Left: VGA, USB/eSATA, fan vent, and SmartCard Reader


Front: SD card reader


Right: ExpressCard/34, DVD+/-RW, audio out, audio in, Firewire-400, and USB


Back: Gigabit Ethernet, Battery, AC Power Input, Kensington Lock Slot

Dell also has two docking station solutions for the new Latitude E series notebooks, one of which is the E-Port Replicator that was included with our unit.  With the docking station, the E4300 can be transformed into a full desktop workstation that supports up to two digitally connected monitors.


Left: 3x USB, audio in, audio out


Front: Dell Docking Connector


Right: Kensington Lock Slot, Laptop Locking Mechanism


Back: Connector for additional Dell docking products, eSATA/USB, Gigabit Ethernet, 2x USB, VGA, DVI, DisplayPort, AC Power Input


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