Dell Latitude Z 16" thin-and-light revealed; Lamborghini angles hide boardroom muscle

Summary:It's the first Latitude with attitude. Dell on Tuesday pulled back the curtain on the rumored Latitude Z thin-and-light laptop, a 16-inch slab of angular portability packed with an array of business-centric features.

It's the first Latitude with attitude.

Dell on Tuesday pulled back the curtain on the rumored Latitude Z thin-and-light laptop, a 16-inch slab of angular portability packed with an array of business-centric features.

First mentioned just 10 days ago as a high-horsepower executive power system, the Latitude Z makes quite an impression in person. I had a chance to take a sneak peek and manhandle the laptop last week, and it's an impressive piece of kit.

Dell reps said that the Latitude Z is intended to be an executive laptop to be coveted and bragged about -- "executive bling," they said -- somewhere in the same space that the MacBook Air or Sony Vaio Z currently occupies.

Clearly, the Latitude Z is certainly unlike anything on the market right now.

[Image Gallery: Dell Latitude Z]

[Image Gallery: Hands-on with Dell Latitude Z]

As you can see in the images, Dell continues to distinguish its offerings on the basis of style. The Latitude Z has been designed to evoke a strong reaction, but backs the visual claim up with a bevy of business features that the other laptops don't offer.

First, the outside: with hard angles all around and a demure black cherry "soft-touch" finish that appears black from certain angles, the Z is the world's thinnest and lightest 16-inch laptop: it's just over an inch thick and weights 4.5 lbs. -- the same specs as my 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Open the Latitude Z up and you'll notice a redesigned Dell-style backlit keyboard (slightly scalloped, but with isolated keys) and a bigger, gesture-enabled touchpad. The interior of the clamshell is trimmed in a real aluminum border, and you'll notice a fingerprint reader and a contactless RFID card scanner (yes, that's right: security via your company ID) where your palms rest.

The 16-inch HD (1600x900) LCD WLED backlit matte display is topped off with an optional 2-megapixel autofocus webcam and microphone for videoconferencing. In a nod to business types, the Latitude Z comes with Dell Capture Business Card Reader and Document Scanner software, which allows you to hold up a business card or document to the built-in webcam and it will literally pull the information off the photographed document and put it in usable text form, no extra equipment needed.

(I tried this myself in person, and while it takes a little practice lining up a business card appropriately with a "target" that appears on the screen, it's pretty neat to have someone's business card info completely typed up and organized, ready to go.)

The built-in webcam also works with Dell FaceAware, which locks out others when you step away from the system.

The other real news is Dell EdgeTouch, an almost-hidden capacitive strip along the right side of the display's bezel that's activated by a finger touch on a small outlined sensor at the bottom-right corner. When activated, a taskbar-like touch menu appears on the right edge of the display, allowing for shortcut access to useful items.

Around the edge, you'll find two USB 2.0 ports (one doubles as an eSATA port), 1 DisplayPort and an audio in/out port. All of these ports are on the right side -- the left edge is purely for ventilation. On the 45-degree zinc hinges that flank the color-matched battery, you'll find an RJ-45 Ethernet port and Dell's barrel-shaped power port.

Speaking of that battery, by the way: in typical Dell fashion, the Latitude Z comes with a 4-cell (four hour) battery that sits flush with the hinges; an 8-cell (eight hour) version adds a bumper-like hump to the system.

The final new business feature is Dell's Always ON technology, an instant-on, no-boot miniature operating system that allows for Web browsing, e-mail, calendar and contact access. (Dell reps said they're working on incorporating instant messages into the environment; for now, no dice.) Believe it or not, this environment uses an entirely different, secondary mini ARM processor that sits beneath your palms, saving battery life.

Inside you'll find a choice of Intel Core 2 Duo processors: the 1.4GHz SU9400 or the 1.6GHz SU9600, which come with 2GB and 4GB of dual-channel 1066MHz DDR3 memory, respectively. (This doesn't include the mini CPU for the Always ON environment.)

Storage is solid-state only, and supports up to two drives in your choice of 64GB non-encrypted, 128GB encrypted or 256GB encrypted capacities apiece.

Graphics are provided by Intel's GMA 4500MHD, and connectivity comes by way of Bluetooth, mobile broadband (EVDO; HSUPA) and WLAN 802.11a/g/n. (WiMax is an option.)

For the green-minded, the system is Energy Star 5.0 compliant, achieves an EPEAT Gold rating, and is made from mercury- and arsenic-free glass and halogen-free components.

The power adapter is a slim, redesigned model that might eventually replace current options on the rest of the Latitude line.

Not content with all this, Dell's also got a Latitude Z-specific wireless charging station in the pipeline that doubles as a monitor stand, as well as a small wireless dock station (DVI, USB). Both can be seen in the image gallery.

The Dell Latitude Z600 is available today in the U.S., Canada and select countries in Europe and Asia, starting at $1,999. The wireless charging stand and the dock will be available in late October.

My impression: After seeing and playing with the Latitude Z in person, it's a formidable machine. I don't think the style is for everyone, but the array of business-friendly features means it's not just eye candy. Above all, the Z is an immensely useful system that means business. I wonder, though, if users would really drag a 16-inch machine around, despite the light weight and thin profile. (If you're worried about flex on such a thin, large system, fear not -- it felt pretty sturdy when I held it by one hand.) I also wonder about the decision to release the system ahead of the Windows 7 launch.

More impressions from around the web:

  • Engadget: "A pretty tight design from Dell, and oozes quality."
  • Gizmodo: "Chock-full of some kick ass tech."
  • LAPTOP: "A premium business machine that’s worth the splurge."
  • Ars Technica: "Not every aspect of the Z600 is an obvious win, but it represents a step in the right direction."
  • Computerworld: "The question is whether corporations have lifted themselves enough out of the recession doldrums to purchase what is, in essence, a luxury item."

Love it or hate it? Tell me what you think of Dell's new Latitude Z in TalkBack.

Topics: Laptops, Dell, Hardware, Mobility

About

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

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