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 layers that tablets need over the actual display panel, most look hazy or cloudy compared to a standard notebook screen. The 1280 x 800 display on the XT2 looks slightly off 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 viewing angles, but still suffers from some distortion viewing the screen in landscape mode and pushing the screen back. With the notebook in a slate configuration Dell makes it difficult to view the screen in that flipped position, since it wouldn’t be very useful. In other positions the viewing angles are very good, with very little color shift at steeper angles.
Backlight levels on this screen are about average with other business notebook, 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, which I describe as sliding 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 second mouse click and erase functions. I found them to both work well but the second mouse button is slightly too sensitive … activating with a slight touch.
The multi-touch capabilities of the XT2 seemed laggy compared to the pen input and took very deliberate strokes to get the computer to recognize the movement. On an Apple notebook the multi-touch features work immediately and work in a very fluid manner. On the XT2 they felt jerky and were delayed. If you lifted your fingers up from a scrolling motion, and started to scroll again, it might lag for a second before it moved again. The zoom features were just as bad, causing you to zoom in or out to the max accidentally. Overall, I think it is a limitation of the software and driver support, which might improve with Windows 7.
The audio system on the XT2 consists of a single mono speaker located on the left side of the chassis. It worked well enough for listening to the occasional song or movie, but being so far off to one side it sounded really off-center. Peak volume was pretty loud, but it also distorted when it tried 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, 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 moving across the keyboard.
The touchpad is an ALPS model running proprietary Dell software. Compared to the average Snypatics model it did have show some minor lag, but still felt 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, moving the buttons more towards the lower edge of the palmrest. Dell also includes a pointing stick, which worked, but didn’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.