- Good selection of device and expansion ports
- Excellent keyboard and trackpad
- Battery sticks out from back of chassis
- Thin, tinny sound from built-in speakers
The E4300 is a solid business or general-purpose laptop with some sweet extra touches.
At first glance, you might mistake the Dell Latitude E4300 for an earlier-vintage laptop: Its sharp lines and subtle finish stick out in today’s world of glossy gadgets with rounded corners. That’s not to say the E4300 isn’t a handsome portable, however–it did grow on me. Even better, the matte finish isn’t a magnet for fingerprints, dust, and smudges like every iPhone-inspired design on the market. If you don’t care about hip style trends that come and go, the vaguely retro E4300 is a pretty sweet all-purpose laptop that can serve you well for general office computing.
Underneath the magnesium-alloy chassis, you’ll find a lot of nuances that make the E4300 a well-thought-out piece of equipment. For one thing, the keyboard is a dream to type on. The keys have a pretty long travel, but it’s coupled with just the right amount of click at the end. You’ll also appreciate the smart key layout. Half-size F1-F12 keys open up room for generous Enter, Shift, Alt, and Ctrl keys. The arrow keys are also arranged in their logical order right next to PgUp and PgDn for easy navigation through documents, spreadsheets, forms, and Web pages. In addition, the key backlighting is just right, not too dim or too bright.
The keyboard isn’t the only thing to like here, as the E4300 sports an excellent trackpad with five buttons, scroll margins, and detailed customization software. And if you want an alternative way to move the mouse pointer, Dell has you covered: The low-profile “track stick” centered in the keyboard is easily manipulated by an index finger. It has good feel and response, but no clicking capability.
A few other buttons on the E4300 are worth noting. One, the slick “Latitude On” button, triggers Dell’s branded version of the DeviceVM Splashtop technology, which lets you quickly check e-mail, contact, and calendar info without fully booting up the computer; it’s an extremely handy feature for the business traveler. On the downside, the keys for volume control and muting are small, awkwardly placed, and very stiff.
The problematic audio controls aren’t a dealbreaker if you’re uninterested in multimedia, especially since the E4300 has surprisingly thin sound. In our tests the E4300 produced a lot of clipping on low bass, which is typical for small laptop speakers, but that shortcoming combined with distortion in the mids and highs makes the E3400 barely passable for even basic presentation audio. Listening to CDs and movie soundtracks through the built-in speakers was more pain than pleasure.
You want expansion? You got it. A good selection of ports for peripherals and expansion slots rounds out the E4300. You’ll find all the usual suspects, including one USB port, ethernet, VGA-out, headphone and microphone ports, and a combo e-SATA/USB connection. A FireWire mini-port is also included for convenience, but it’s probably the only port that you won’t use often. On the plus side, the E4300 also has slots for SD Card, ExpressCard, and smart cards.
In today’s widescreen world, the E4300’s traditional 4:3 screen ratio is less than ideal for watching movies, which is okay considering that this system is more of a workhorse computer. Even so, juggling multiple windows when you’re multitasking would work slightly better with a 16:9 widescreen. Thankfully, the LED-backlit 13.3-inch screen has very even lighting from dim to bright settings, and in our tests the default color settings were nearly perfect. Blacks weren’t quite as deep as those of some of the better laptop screens we’ve seen, but overall the E4300’s video was quite good: Balanced, accurate colors made watching movies fun, while document and Web text looked quite sharp.
As for raw computing power, the E4300’s got guts. Our review unit came with an Intel Core Duo P9400 processor running at 2.4GHz, backed by 3GB of dual-channel DDR3 memory and Windows Vista Home Basic (you can opt for other OSs; prices for the system start at $1299, as of February 3, 2010). The E4300 posted a solid WorldBench 6 score of 98, easily landing in the front half among the all-purpose laptops we’ve recently reviewed. On the other hand, don’t count on the Intel 4500MHD graphics chipset to take you far on most games–it just isn’t robust enough. Travelers will appreciate the battery’s longevity: In our tests, the E4300 managed to last for 5 hours, 27 minutes with its upgraded six-cell lithium ion battery. Keep in mind that the larger battery sticks out from the back of the chassis, adding extra bulk; fortunately, the arrangement isn’t as awkward as that on some other laptops with beefed-up batteries.
Dell offers straightforward documentation that covers basic features and setup along with some fairly detailed troubleshooting sections, but it provides no information about the bundled software. The good but slim software collection includes PowerDVD DX for movie watching, the excellent Roxio Creator for disc burning and backup, and a handful of Dell ControlPoint utilities for setting up security, power management, and data connections.
Dell has been in the laptop game for a long time, and the company’s experience shows with the E4300. This model strikes a good balance between portability, expandability, computing power, and battery life. If you’re in the market for a well-built laptop that will work nicely on your desk or on a road trip, the Dell Latitude E4300 might be perfect for you.