Dell reimagines Microsoft’s Surface into a more practical business tool
Ever since Microsoft launched its Surface hardware, PC makers have been trying to copy the concept, even if it was an unmitigated commercial disaster.
These days it’s widely reported that the Surface Pro 3 is a success, though oddly for a runaway best seller Microsoft is oddly coy about how many it’s sold.
Whatever the reality, Dell is one of those companies attempting to steal whatever thunder Microsoft has going, with its Dell Latitude 7350.
Latitude systems by definition are aimed at business which, considering this is a Windows 8.1 system, seems a tough sell right from the get-go.
Its latest design is the Latitude 13 7000 series, which unlike the overly bendy Inspiron 15 reviewed recently, on first inspection appears very well made and beautifully engineered.
Inside its metal surface chassis is an Intel dual-core M-5Y10 processor (0.8GHz, 4M cache, 4.5W), 4GB of DDR3L at 1600MHz and a 256GB SSD drive. The 13″ Gorilla Glass protected display is full 1080p resolution, and there are cameras front and back, NFC and networking via 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi.
Along with all the things you’d reasonably expect, there are also some business specific features, including a fingerprint reader, SSD encryption and a smart card reader.
But the stand-out aspect is that you can detach the display entirely from the keyboard part of the 7350, where it becomes a touch-driven Windows 8.1
Doing that, however, does introduce a number of sacrifices, and I’m not just talking about having to type on a screen. The first of these I noticed when I decided to plug a USB key in: Dell put all the USB ports on the docking portion of the system. Once in tablet mode you’ve got no USB ports, no SD card slot and no access to a second screen.
But you also disconnect from a portion of your battery power, reducing the operating life of the computer – one of its more compelling aspects.
On some designs you’d flip the keyboard underneath, but the hinge doesn’t allow that angle or for it to be connected flipped over.
The message, if you’re not getting it loud and clear, is that the Latitude 7350 is best with the backlit keyboard attached, and you’re encouraged to leave it that way.
If you do that and ignore the like-a-Surface party trick, then you are rewarded with a truly excellent keyboard, fantastic battery life and great usability, even if it flies logically in the face of the whole concept.
For those who like to upgrade their systems, the 7350 is surprisingly featured for a Dell computer. The internal memory can be bumped to 8GB, the M.2 SSD can be swapped, and the battery even looks easily replaceable.
Performance is fine for office application use, though nothing that would excite mobile gamers. Intel’s M-5Y10 is built to deliver passively cooled computing for a working day, although it can turbo boost from 800MHz up to 2GHz in a pinch.
Intel’s video is the HD Graphics 5300 standard, which in testing scored almost identically to the modest HD Graphics 4200 it’s derived from.
Cynical people might consider this the specification of an expensive netbook, but it’s built to operate on battery for a full eight-hour working day and not just half of it.
Owners will enjoy the excellent 13″ IPS panel, a responsive keyboard and excellent build quality. But what I’d contend is that after a very short amount of time they’d entirely forget undocking it and using the tablet mode.
The problem Dell has here isn’t the hardware design, because that’s mostly fine; it’s the concept of a Windows 8.x tablet that it has a hard time pushing. Because however you slice and dice things, the Microsoft’s app store is a pale and limp shadow of what both Android and Apple are offering in their respective marketplaces.
Unless that radically changes in the next six months, and I see no progress, then the Latitude 7350 has been engineered to perform a trick that most people won’t need.
That’s a shame really, because those people at Dell who designed this system did some excellent work in packaging the technology in it.
If you want a mobile system that is truly portable and you can convince your company to purchase a system that comes with Windows 8, then you won’t be disappointed by what the Latitude 7250 does well. Mark Pickavance
A hybrid clamshell/tablet that is much better as a laptop.
• CPU: Intel Core M-5Y10 processor (dual-core, 0.80GHz, 4M Cache, 4.5W).
• OS: Windows 8.1 Pro (64-bit) multi-language English, French, German, Dutch, Italian.
• Memory: 4GB1 DDR3L at 1600MHz.
• Storage: 256GB Mobility solid-state drive.
• Support: Three-year ProSupport and next business day on-site service.
• Security features: Fingerprint reader, drive encryption, smart card slot.
• Weight: 3.67 lbs.