Dell pegs the Latitude 13 as an ultrathin business laptop. We think its understated slimline looks will in fact appeal to anyone looking for a well-made near-ultraportable weighing under 1.6kg. This Dell Latitude 13 notebook may dwell in the business pages of Dell's online shop, but it's not as pig ugly as many a business machine. Yes, it's finished in sober black and grey, but the clean lines and streamlined edges lend it a classic style that won't go out of fashion as fast as more gaily finished consumer laptops.
To keep the weight down and figure trim, the Dell Latitude 13 uses an integrated battery, and strips out the optical drive. The sides are bevelled such that there's nowhere to mount the usual ports along its flanks. Instead, Dell has ports ranged across the rear edge. Not that there's much here with which to interface. There's just two USB 2.0 ports, one doubling as eSATA, plus the power inlet and ethernet port.
Connection to an external monitor is possible, but only if you don't mind last century's murky analogue VGA. This isn't unusual on business-centric computers, which must be based on the premise that they'll only ever be connecting to projectors made over half a decade ago.
Overall performance is rather modest thanks to a low power Core 2 Duo processor clocked at a pedestrian 1.3GHz. This keeps power and cooling requirements down of course - we never heard the fan rev particularly loudly through the rear vent, nor feel the heat on our lap through the metal baseplate. In our real world speed test with WorldBench 6, the Dell Latitude 13 scored rather lowly too, just 65 points. That's a big step up from netbooks, but does suggest that more intensive work may tax the notebook.
We also noted that the version of Dell Latitude 13 with Intel SU7300 processor that Dell is currently advertising online comes with 4GB RAM, which will be a welcome spec for running Windows 7 Professional. Our review sample was bizarrely hamstrung with just 1GB of memory though. For graphics, there's a low power integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD controller – fine to enable Windows' Aero effects but too slow for any pretense of gaming. We saw just 4fps in our standard FEAR game test at Maximum detail settings, rising to a faster slideshow of 8fps at High settings.
Dell doesn't disclose the capacity of the Latitude's non-removable six-cell battery. And unlike many Windows laptops that have a plethora of hatches underneath so you can break in and upgrade RAM easily, here there's a single base plate that resisted our attempts to peek inside. We later discovered that access to the single RAM slot is via the LED cover in front of the display hinge.
In our battery life test using MobileMark 2007 Productivity, the Latitude 13 kept going for over five hours (308 mins), which isn't a bad runtime for such a relative lightweight, but it's well short of the eight-hours-plus we regularly see from lighter netbooks.
The keyboard has flat-topped low-travel keys with page up/down, delete and home/end keys filling an extra column on the right. We liked the pointer click keys which had only lightly sprung action, even if you have to raise your hand slightly to engage them in their recessed setting.
It may not be especially bright but we liked the Dell Latitude 13's matt screen, strangely hinged about one inch from the rear edge of the chassis. There's no fastening clips to keep the lid closed, unlike many business laptops which tend to get over-engineered here with stiff catches.
Dell Latitude 13 has an unusual but effective hinge system
Other options include an external Blu-ray drive, internal 3G modem and SSD storage. A TPM module and other proprietary security features such as Computrace and Broadcom TruManage are also offered for enterprise customers.
More performance and features can be found for the same money elsewhere. It's far from being a speed demon, but it's quick enough for regular admin work. The Dell Latitude 13 stands out more for its slim profile, low weight yet still sturdy build.