Dell Latitude 13: Thin and Sexy, but Range-Limited
By Loyd Case
At a Glance
Great keyboard for getting work done
Thin and light, with a sleek appearance
Could use more USB ports
Battery life severely limited
Dell’s Latitude 13 is an elegant-looking ultraportable with a great keyboard, but limited expandability and poor battery life are significant drawbacks.
The Dell Latitude 13 ultraportable laptop inspires technolust when you first pick it up. It’s sleek, it has a great keyboard, and it weighs less than 3.5 pounds without the power brick. The LED-backlit display looks pretty good for most desktop chores. And all of this laptop-PC goodness comes in a package just 0.65 inch thick.
Our Latitude 13 review unit shipped with an ultra-low-voltage Core 2 Duo SU7300 running at 1.3GHz; accompanying the processor is 4GB of RAM. The graphics hardware consists of Intel’s integrated GMA 4500 HD, built into the laptop’s chipset. That particular CPU-GPU mix precludes this Latitude from running all but the most casual games–but then again, this laptop is all business. Prices start at a reasonable $479 with a fairly low-end CPU and a lot less RAM; our test configuration is priced at $1044 (as of October 8, 2010).
As I dug deeper into the Latitude 13’s specs, one ugly secret became apparent: the Latitude’s integrated, nonreplaceable battery. Having an integrated battery isn’t bad by itself–Apple’s MacBook line has been doing that since the introduction of the unibody design. Somehow, though, Dell didn’t get the full memo about built-in batteries: If you’re going to have a fixed battery, make sure the laptop offers great battery life. Alas, the Latitude 13 posted low scores on our battery-life test, lasting 3 hours, 28 minutes. That mark is among the worst battery-life test results for ultraportable laptops we’ve seen, and it’s largely responsible for the machine’s very low overall performance score (battery-life tests are a significant part of our overall performance score for ultraportables). It limits this laptop’s utility for cross-country or overseas flights, unless you’re one of the lucky passengers who can access on-board power connectors.
Other than the battery life, the performance is about what you’d expect from a 1.3GHz SU7300. The Latitude 13 earned a WorldBench 6 score of 66–not an earthshaking score, but not a disappointing result for such a thin and light notebook. When running a Web browser with 30 tabs open, the laptop still seemed responsive. Opening up a few office applications didn’t seem to bog it down. Certainly the 4GB of system RAM helped; you’ll want to upgrade from the minimum 2GB if possible.
The Latitude 13 also disappoints due to its limited expansion ports. Only two USB ports are available on the rear; one is a combo eSATA port. Other than that, the laptop offers a five-in-one memory card reader and an ExpressCard 34 slot. As for connecting to a display, only a VGA port is present–no DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort connector is integrated. You’ll need to add a port replicator if you want digital output.
On the flip side, Dell’s svelte business laptop still offers a lot to like. The keyboard has an excellent feel and a great layout for a subcompact laptop. The display is bright and highly usable for business and Web applications. Audio is surprisingly robust for such a tiny package, too: The speakers won’t win awards for bass, but the overall tonal quality is neutral and pleasing.
Although the display is great for everyday apps, high-definition video (as played from WMV-HD files) demonstrated slight, though visible, motion artifacts. We found the viewing angles limited, as well. An integrated Webcam is built in, and works with Skype or most video-enabled conferencing tools.
At $1044 as configured, the Dell Latitude 13 is a pricey ultraportable. That price does buy you a 250GB, 7200-rpm hard drive, but a solid-state drive will cost you more. The network connectivity is great, and even 3G wireless broadband is an option. But for my thousand-plus dollars, I’d prefer to have all-day battery life.
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