Dell's website tells us that the Latitude 3340 is 'built for school', and its sturdy design and strong battery life are certainly well suited to that role.
The laptop is actually found within the Business section of Dell's site, and its on-site support and choice of operating systems mean that the Latitude 3340 may appeal to some business users that want a budget laptop for office work.
It's not the most elegant laptop that we've seen lately. The dark-grey plastic casing looks distinctly old-fashioned, as does the chunky plastic bezel that runs around the 13.3-inch screen. The laptop also measures a full 34 mm thick along the rear edge, so it's certainly no Ultrabook, although a weight of 1.8 kg is slight enough to carry around in a backpack without much trouble.
It's sturdy too, thanks to the shock-absorbing rubber trim that runs around the edges of the keyboard and screen panels, and the keyboard and trackpad are sealed in order to protect against spills. The keys have a nice, firm spring action, so the Latitude 3340 should cope with a bit of keyboard battering.
Just two USB 3.0 ports seems a little sparse and there's no built-in DVD drive, but there's ethernet for wired networks, along with HDMI and Mini DisplayPort for connecting to a larger monitor.
That will come in handy, as the screen of the Latitude 3340 may be adequate for personal use, but is not great for showing off work to colleagues. The low 1366 x 768 resolution and lack of touch-sensitive panel are acceptable at this price, and the image is bright and colourful enough to handle web browsing and streaming video. It has a non-reflective matte finish that provided good visibility outdoors in bright daylight. The screen hinge lets you lay the screen completely flat so that a group of students can gather around and work together.
Unfortunately, the poor viewing angles don't help here – the vertical viewing angle is particularly limited, with brightness dropping sharply as soon as you push the screen back to just a 45-degree angle.
The Latitude performs well in other areas. Our review unit was priced at £590 and included Windows 8.1 Pro, a Haswell-generation Intel Core i5-4200U processor running at 1.6 GHz and 4 GB of memory. Users and school IT managers will be pleased to see that you can opt for Windows 7, or the standard version of Windows 8.1 – saving £23 in the process too – and that the price includes one year's next-day, on-site support. There's also a model with an Intel Core i3 processor available for £480 if you're on a tighter budget.
The Core i5-4200U processor is widely used in less expensive laptops such as this, but Dell wisely backs it up with a hybrid storage system that combines a 500 GB hard drive with 8 GB of solid-state storage. This hybrid drive provided a useful boost to overall performance. The Dell Latitude 3340 scored 3640 points in the general-purpose PCMark 7 benchmark. It also scored 2220 points and 2840 points respectively in the Home and Work suites in PCMark 8, which put it amongst the highest scorers we've seen in the sub-£600 category.
Gaming performance isn't up to much, only managing 24 fps when running our Stalker: Call of Pripyat gaming test at 1280 x 720 resolution.
The Latitude 3440 comes up trumps with its long-lasting battery. The thickness of the laptop is primarily due to a large 65 Wh battery that bulges out at the back of the keyboard panel, and this gave us a full 10.5 hours of streaming video in our tests.
It may not be the most stylish laptop around, and the viewing angles of its screen have room for improvement, but the Latitude 3340 provides good value for money. Its application performance and battery life are as good as you'll get for less than £600, and Dell's on-site support should provide peace of mind for small businesses that require kit at a competitive price.