Dude, this tablet really is a Dell

The first thing that struck me about the Dell Latitude XT, other than the lightness of Dell’s entry in the convertible tablet PC arena, was that it doesn’t really look like a Dell laptop at all.

And I mean that in a good way. My personal laptop is a three-year-old Dell Insprion model, and the strides Dell has made between then and now in design are striking. The Latitude XT features an attractive sleek black finish that, besides just looking good, feels more substantial, solid and, well, less cheap than the other Dells I’ve used.

Having also tested other vendor’s takes on the tablet pc experience I have to say Dell’s tablet design was my favourite, transitioning easily between tablet and notebook modes and offering a comfortable tablet experience. The screen did feel a little loose at times in notebook mode though. The pen fits into a handy slot but is also attached to the notebook by a string, making it harder to misplace.

The slim design includes an attractive 12.1” WXGA display that, combined with its weight of just three pounds (including a slimmed-down power-adapter) makes it an ideal travel companion. To go slim though Dell has not included an integrated optical drive, meaning no DVDs on the plane. The notebook does come with an external D-Bay 24X CD-ROM (upgradable to DVD for $5), and for $167 a MediaBase with an 8X DVD-RW can be purchased.

The XT does feature a physical WiFi on/off button, a feature I always appreciate. Ports include three USB ports, a 1394 Port connector, an SD slot, an Express Card slot, a VGA port, an RJ-45 and headphone and microphone ports. It also includes both a trackpoint and a touchpad for pointing, as well as of course the touchscreen, although I still prefer to plug-in a USB mouse when in notebook mode. And for security, a fingerprint scanner is also integrated below the display.

Underneath the hood, my demo model used Intel’s Core 2 Duo CPU 1.2 GHz ULV U7600 processor with Integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 1250 graphics, 1 GB RAM and a 120 GB hard drive running the 32-bit edition of Windows Vista Basic. Dell offers downgrade rights to Windows XP Tablet at no additional cost. The entry-level configuration includes a 40GB drive with 120 GB being the largest available, which could limit some people.

For my basic computing needs I found the performance of the XT to be acceptable, and the various levels of sleep mode were also helpful when needing to get back up and running quickly. Battery life was average, helped along by the absence of an optical drive, and was increased further when brightness was lowered and WiFi disabled. In a balanced mode, the 6-cell battery is good for about four hours.

One of the main selling points of the Dell XT is supposed to be its new multi-touch technology. I watched a Dell YouTube demo video of this capability, and they made it look pretty cool. Maybe I just needed more practice, but I didn’t have quite the same experience.

Multi-touch allows you to interact with the computer using your fingers. For example, placing two fingers on the screen and moving them apart can zoom-in on a web page or document; moving them apart zooms out. Sliding your fingers down the page lets you scroll through a document.

That’s the theory. In practice, I found it cumbersome, and requiring a certain degree of brute force to work. I was also left with a rather smudged display. I like the idea though, and perhaps with more practice I’d get better.

When it comes to tablet PCs you’re paying more for that tablet experience than you would for a non-tablet of comparable specifications and the XT is no exception, starting at $2518 and increasing depending on your configuration choices. It’s a solid tablet, but perhaps still a little pricy in today’s notebook market. If you really need a tablet though, this is a good one.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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