Dell Latitude X1 First Thoughts Review (pics)

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by Brian Beeler, Ohio USA

Dell Latitude X1 (on the left) alongside competing ultraportable Fujitsu P7000 Series (view larger image)

The Dell Latitude X1 is squarely targeted at business users who need to carry a notebook that is highly mobile and has the durability to withstand the daily grind. The X1 is loaded with features for a machine of such small size and a weight of only 2.5 pounds. The highlights include a 12.1″ widescreen, WiFi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth, ExpressCharge, sealed keyboard, Secure Digital slot, CompactFlash slot and FireWire. The Latitude X1 is fully customizable as well, with prices starting around $1600.

I love ultraportable notebooks and a few months ago when I found out Dell was going to launch a derivative of the Samsung Q30 in the US, I got excited. The Q30 is a very popular machine in many parts of the world, it’s a shame it never made it here, until now. Dell has adapted the Q30 for their needs, making a few changes, most for the better, such as built-in Bluetooth.

The most striking thing about the X1 is its size and weight. With the standard battery, the unit is just 2.5 pounds and less than an inch thick. It’s remarkably small and the weight makes it one of the lightest notebooks on the market, certainly tops for laptops with a 12.1″ display. However, there are some sacrifices made to achieve this weight; there is no optical drive and the battery is only a 3 cell type. There is a 6-cell battery option that will get you up to 6 hours of charge, but it also tacks on a little more weight. The space and weight savings also extend to the AC adaptor, which is the smallest I’ve ever seen for a notebook. On the charging front, Dell has included a technology called ExpressCharge. ExpressCharge will yield an 80% battery charge in an hour. This is huge, especially for those who travel a good deal. I know I’ve often been in a rush to the airport after a day of meetings, only to find a near dead battery before boarding. With ExpressCharge owners will be able to get enough battery life to likely make it through the flight so they can remain productive. One more note on the batteries, they offer a button that can be pressed to give a quick battery level reading without having to boot the notebook. This is a great way to tell how badly you need to charge without having to power up the notebook (thereby draining more power!).

The X1 is driven by Intel’s ultra low voltage (ULV) Pentium M processor. Dell opted to use the 1.1 GHz model though, when 1.2 GHz is the most current chip and is what Fujitsu and other ultra portable manufacturers are migrating to. Intel has had yield problems with their ULV chips in the past, so it may be a supply issue. But to many every bit of performance gain in notebooks like this is important, so hopefully Dell will offer a 1.2 GHz option soon.

The machine is by no means underpowered for what its buyers will use it for. As an owner of ultra portables for nearly three years, aside from gaming, I haven’t found an office/productivity task these machines can’t handle. The same is true with the X1. The X1 comes with a base of 256MB RAM, with one open memory slot that can accommodate a 1GB chip. Our test unit has 512MB, which is acceptable for Windows XP operation and should be the baseline for any notebook, especially for this category.

Any time you go to such a small body for a notebook, sacrifices have to be made. Dell didn’t make many with the X1, but the hard drive is one of them. Instead of the standard 2.5″ notebook drive, they had to use a smaller 1.8″ model available in 30GB and 60GB sizes. The drive size isn’t really much of an issue; most mobile professionals really don’t need more than 60GB of space. The hard drive rotation speed is the larger concern, these drives are only rated at 4200 RPM and there’s nothing the user can do about it since these size drives don’t come in faster speeds. I don’t think this will end up bothering many people, but if you’re trying to find a high performance small notebook, this probably isn’t the best fit. One nice thing regarding the hard drive is it is mounted with a shock absorber to help protect the drive from the jostling associated with traveling.

An area where Dell has been knocked quite a bit of late, especially with the Inspiron series notebooks, is keyboard quality. I’ve been impressed with the X1’s keyboard so far, it’s firm and responsive. The keys are all sized well and in the locations you would expect. Dell has included dedicated page up and page down, insert, delete, home and end buttons. The keyboard is also sealed to protect the X1 from spills. I think we all know someone who’s put a coffee in their notebook, so this feature should provide a nice insurance policy against those mistakes.

Latitude X1 front (view larger image)

Latitude X1 left side (view larger image)

Latitude X1 right side (view larger image)

Latitude X1 back (view larger image)

Keyboard and Touchpad (view larger image)

Click here to view more pictures of the Latitude X1

Below the keyboard is the X1’s touch pad. It’s quite small in both surface area and click buttons. The touchpad is 1.5″ x 2″ in comparison to the Fujitsu P7000 which is 2 3/8″ x 1 3/4″.  The mouse buttons are in inch wide, but just over 1/4″ tall, making them a little tough to get used to. It is well positioned though, both right handed people and lefties should find the central placement easy to reach.

Already noted, the X1 comes with WiFi (802.11 b/g) and Bluetooth. The latter is a mild coup, since most notebooks of this size don’t include that feature. The issue is one of size for all the antennas. In using the X1 I had good wireless reception with a Netgear router. I also easily paired Bluetooth devices using the wizard on the X1. As a mobile person, I appreciate the Bluetooth integration so I can use my phone as a modem to get online in places that don’t have WiFi or other connections. The Bluetooth is actually even more critical since the machine does not have a PCMCIA slot, which is often used for AirCards to get online.

While the X1 doesn’t offer a PCMCIA card slot, it does have other expansion slots worth noting. They’ve included both a Secure Digital and CompactFlash slots. Both are ideal for pulling off photos from a digital camera and accessing data from other peripherals like PDAs and MP3 players. The CF slot is especially uncommon for notebooks of this size, and both slots add a great deal of flexibility to this notebook.

Since it’s a business oriented machine, the Latitude X1 ships with Windows XP Pro. All of the other software is business oriented and associated to a device on the machine. That is, there isn’t a bunch of junk software included. Dell has also bundled a few useful utilities in what they call QuickSet. QuickSet includes power management tools, presentation mode, display meters for volume and brightness and seamless display switching. It’s a nice set of functions, especially the presentation mode which automatically detects the best resolution for the projector it’s connected to and adjusts power settings so you’re not interrupted with things like the display going to sleep.

After only a week with the Latitude X1, I’m impressed. For mobile professionals who want a serious work machine, the X1 is right on target. The unit we have is not a production unit, so we can’t post benchmarks at the moment, but we’ll be back in a few weeks with our full review. In the interim please post any questions you have and I’ll be happy to answer them.

Full Image Gallery and Specs

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