We don't see too many convertible tablets these days, but Dell remains committed to the format. Its latest model, the Latitude XT3 Tablet PC is a functional unit, and although heavy for use in tablet mode it functions perfectly well as an ordinary notebook — albeit one lacking in star quality.
Dell has given the Latitude XT3 a somewhat consumer-grade look. With the lid down, the mostly black chassis has silver trim all the way around. Its curved corners are not unpleasing, but there's an unsightly bulge along the back. This bulge does have a role, though: it provides something for your fingers to grip when you're working in tablet mode with the system in the crook of an arm.
The Latitude XT3 is a 13.3in. convertible tablet weighing just over 2kg
Whether you'll want to work in tablet mode very often is a moot point, as the XT3 is relatively heavy to carry in one hand for any length of time. It weighs a minimum of 2.02kg, which is a fair bit to tote even for half an hour or so.
Considering the Latitude XT3 has a 13.3in. screen, it 's also quite bulky, measuring 32.3cm wide by 22.17cm deep by 3.09cm thick. This does mean the keyboard is far from cramped, but the screen looks rather lost inside a black-pixel bezel that's about 1cm wide all the way round.
Above and below the screen are further bezels, measuring another 1.4cm or so, containing controls and features for use in tablet mode. At the top there's a webcam (on some models) for which Dell provides software to capture stills and video at resolutions up to 1,280 by 720 and upload to YouTube and Photobucket.
The bottom 'outer' bezel houses the power on/off button, volume controls and a mute button, a screen rotation button, a button that takes you to the Windows log out/lockdown screen, and one that calls up a range of settings for audio, display brightness, power management and pen input.
The screen rotation button toggles (rather slowly) through three orientations — two in portrait mode that allow you to hold the tablet either left- or right-handed using the aforementioned chassis protrusion, and one in landscape mode.
There are also LEDs for wireless, hard drive activity and battery status, and a fingerprint sensor that alows you to log into the notebook without opening the screen to access the keyboard.
Two further controls are only accessible when working in tablet mode, as they're on the edge of the screen section that sits flush to the base of the notebook when it's in clamshell mode. One is a small button that toggles backwards through open windows and eventually closes them, offering a shut down option when you're back at the main Windows screen. The other is a scroll button that can be used to move through some menu options.
The screen itself delivers a bright and clear image, although viewing angles are not great on either horizontal or vertical planes. The resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels is par for the course, but its matte finish is welcome, making it usable in brightly lit conditions.
The screen is responsive to finger taps and stylus input. There's a stylus housing on the left of the chassis, whose spring mechanism is rather too responsive for our liking; there's also no lanyard to secure the stylus to the chassis, which means it could easily be lost.
The screen swivels to the left or right round a central pivot as is the norm with this style of notebook, and there is a solid clasp that keeps it locked in place when the screen is outermost. The clasp doesn't seem to want to function when the notebook is closed with the screen innermost though, which is odd.
The XT3's keyboard has an adjustable backlight, and is accompanied by a two-button touchpad and a three-button pointing stick
The keyboard uses contiguous rather than isolated, chiclet-style, keys. The keyboard is backlit and there's a handy toggle on the cursor keys at the bottom right of the screen that'll move you between 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% in neat increments. There is also a pair of more standard up and down controls for screen brightness.
The keys felt a little 'sticky' under our fingers, as if they were reluctant to rise once depressed, and the Y key clicked worryingly on the way back up. We assume it was poorly fitted and that this is a glitch with our review sample rather than a widespread issue.
A touchpad and a pointing stick are provided for navigation, and while they're both comfortable to use the touchpad is a little small. There's multitouch support on the touchpad and also on the screen — zooming into web pages, in particular, was just as easy using the screen as the touchpad.
There are three standard configurations of the Latitude XT3 Tablet PC which Dell calls Base, Essential and Advanced. Pricing for each model starts at £819, £1,119 and £1,349 (ex. VAT) respectively, and each of the standard configurations can be customised.
Our review sample was not one of the advertised models, but it closely matched the Advanced configuration — albeit with a 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-2620M processor instead of the 2.8GHz Core i7-2640M listed at Dell's UK web site.
The CPU is not one of the customisable features of the Latitude XT3: the Essential configuration has a 2.5GHz Core i5-2520M processor, while the Base model has a 2.2GHz Core i3-2330M.
Our review sample had 4GB of RAM, which is standard in the Advanced model, although up to 8GB can be accommodated. The two other models come with 2GB as standard. Graphics on all Latitude XT3 models are managed by Intel's CPU-integrated HD Graphics 3000.
Disappointingly all three models ship with Windows 7 Professional 32-bit as standard, although the upgrade to 64-bit seems to add nothing to the overall cost.
Hard drive configurations vary, with hard drive options up to 320GB spinning at 7,200rpm and solide-state drives up to 256GB in capacity. The hard disk capacity seems low to us — we'd prefer 500GB or even 750GB available. Our review sample had a 128GB SSD.
Despite its relatively chunky overall design and heavy weight we're disappointed that Dell has not found room for an optical drive. You can buy an optical drive as a base slab, which will add even more weight and bulk to the notebook, or as an external USB unit.
Connectivity runs to Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (3.0), with HSPA mobile broadband available as an £81 (ex. VAT) option.
Ports and connectors are ranged around three of the Latitude XT3's four edges, leaving the front edge free. The right-hand side has a smartcard reader, a hardware wireless on/off switch and two USB 2.0 ports — one of which is a USB/eSATA combo port. The left-hand side has a microphone/headset cpmbo jack, another USB 2.0 port, a FireWire connector, an SD card slot and a 34mm ExpressCard slot. At the back you'll find the Ethernet port, the power connector plus VGA and HDMI ports for attaching an external monitor.
The Latitude XT3's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 6.4 (out of 7.9) corresponds to the score for the lowest-performing subsystem — which in this case is a tie between Graphics (Desktop performance for Windows Aero) and Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance).
Impressive 7+ scores were recorded for Processor (calculations per second) at 7.1, RAM (Memory operations per second) at 7.5 and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) at 7.7.
Overall, this Latitude XT3 model is a good performer, with only a slight question mark against the integrated GPU if you're planning on running any graphically demanding workloads.
Although the back of the Latitude XT3 is occupied by some ports and connectors, the battery is still removable as its slot is on the front of the chassis. Dell provides a 6-cell, 44Wh battery as standard, with two 9-cell options — a 76Wh extended battery (£49 ex. VAT) or a 97Wh extended battery slice.
With no optical drive to run our DVD movie playback test, we resorted to playback from a USB stick. Using this method, and with Wi-Fi connected, we chose the Dell Power Plan and got 3 hours 6 minutes of continuous playback from a full battery charge. This doesn't bode well if you need all-day working away from mains power, and we suspect a charge during the day will be necessary unless you invest in an extended battery option.
The speakers are not especially loud, and there's the usual lack of bass. You could use this notebook for presentations to small groups at a pinch, but it's no multimedia powerhouse.
Dell's Latitude XT3 Tablet PC has some neat features, including the chassis protrusion that helps you hold the system in tablet mode, plus a good choice of configurations.
However, it lacks USB 3.0 and an optical drive, battery life is disappointing, sound quality is mediocre and it's relatively heavy for a 13.3in. notebook. As a result, we'd hesitate to recommend it for everyday use.