When you want to buy a good looking business notebook you are typically limited to industrial designs which are rugged and durable but not really stylish. Usually the only attractive option was the Apple MacBook Pro up until recently. Dell hopes to change that with the new Latitude Z ... a super thin, high-end, 16-inch notebook aimed directly at business professionals.
Build and Design
It has been a long time since I have opened box containing a new notebook where I had to step back and just say "Wow." The Latitude Z makes that sort of impression on you from the moment you start to take it out of the box. The quality of everything down to the packing materials is a step above anything else I have seen. The next thing you realize is how huge the footprint of the notebook is when compared to the thickness of the chassis. Most thin and light notebooks are based on the 13.3" form-factor, whereas the Dell Latitude Z is 16". The Z is razor thin for a notebook of this size making it stand out even when compared to a MacBook Pro.
The looks are nothing short of amazing. Dell has given the Z a perfect mix of stylish brushed metal, clean side panels, and industrial rubbery surfaces. It is almost as if Apple and Lenovo collaborated to make a high-end business notebook. The screen cover has a rubbery metallic-paint trimmed with chrome-plated screen hinges. The side panels walk a fine line between function and form with ports sparsely scattered around the edges ... keeping just above the bare minimum to keep users happy. Apple crossed this line with the MacBook Air and its infamous single USB port. Opening up the notebook we see the clean design continued with a wide brushed-metal bezel surrounding the rubbery keyboard tray and touchpad. If you hadn't already picked up on it I really like the looks of this notebook.
The Dell Latitude Z is built almost as good as it looks. Some limits are pushed with the thin chassis which can be seen with some mild chassis flex when you try to carry the notebook by the corner of the palmrest. I think if the design was slimmed down to 13 or 14-inches this wouldn't be as much of a problem. With the notebook lying flat on a desk the body has almost no flex whatsoever, including key areas like the screen cover, palmrest, and keyboard tray. Two items that really made a good impression on me out of the box were the screen hinges. They were very solid and had absolutely no wobble to them when the screen fully opened. If Dell put the same attention to detail into their other notebooks as they did with the Latitude Z we would have far fewer complaints with most Dell notebooks.
Screen and Speakers
The Latitude Z offers a spacious 16-inch display with a resolution of 1600x900. Compared to most thin and light notebooks the Z offers more screen real estate and is much easier on the eyes after a long day of typing. The panel offers LED-backlighting and rates above average compared to other similarly sized displays. On completely dark screens like those seen while booting the computer we noticed some mild backlight bleed but it was only apparent with the screen brightness turned up. Even with its matte finish display the screen still offered good color reproduction and nice contrast. The matte finish also helped reduced glare and when paired with the higher brightness backlighting it was still usable outdoors. Vertical viewing angles were better than average with colors staying accurate until tilting the screen 20-degrees forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles were good to nearly 90-degrees but some color dimming was noticed at the 45-degree mark.
Dell mounted the speakers on the Latitude Z on the bottom edge of the notebook which muffles the sound if you have it resting on your lap. Compared to other similarly-sized notebooks the Z sounds above average with a hint of midrange and plenty of volume. It might not hold a candle to systems that include a subwoofer, but it sounds very good for a notebook so thin. For the discreet professional on the road headphones are still the preferred choice.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Dell designed a great keyboard for the Latitude Z. It has the visual qualities of an island-style keyboard with the concave keys of a standard keyboard. The typing surface was responsive and offered excellent support. Even with heavy typing the keyboard didn't flex under pressure. I had no problems typing for hours at the keyboard, including typing most of this review on the Z itself. For low-visibility conditions Dell includes a LED-lighting for the keyboard which can be set in on, off, or auto positions. In auto the light will activate when you start typing and turn off after a short delay to save power.
The Z includes a spacious multitouch-enabled ALPS touchpad. I found it offered good sensitivity and no noticeable lag. In testing I did find its tap-to-select feature would hold onto objects without releasing but some software adjustment helped fix that. The touchpad buttons were large and easy to trigger with the edge of your finger. They offered a soft clicking action with a medium throw distance. Overall the touchpad when paired with the EdgeTouch screen bezel really made using the notebook an enjoyable experience.
Ports and Features
Port selection on the Latitude Z is limited compared to other 16" notebooks. Users are limited to one USB port, an eSATA/USB combo port, DisplayPort-out, LAN, and a headset jack. If you plan on hooking up a lot of peripherals at your desk the optional wireless docking station is highly recommended.
The Latitude Z packs quite a few surprising features inside its thin chassis. You can configure the Z with an inductive charging system that lets you power the notebook without connecting any wires. The Z also offers EdgeTouch which is a touch-sensitive strip built into the edge of the screen bezel. With the included software you can configure tap-zones to launch programs or use the strip as a huge scroll wheel. As someone who doesn't like multitouch-enabled screens for the hazy screen covering or fingerprints this is a great alternative. Another cool feature of the Latitude Z is the touch-sensitive volume controls. This in itself isn't a surprise to see on a notebook, but its haptic feedback when pressed is. Each tap is met with a soft beep and vibration that gives you a very noticeable indication that you pressed the button.
Performance and Benchmarks
When trying to come up with notebooks that might compete against the Latitude Z in performance we had to look past much of the thin and light competition since it was much more expensive and larger than the competition. If you move out of that category the new competition blows it out of the water. Notebooks like the Lenovo ThinkPad T400s offered as much as twice the overall system performance with less weight and even a lower price. With the Latitude Z you are really paying for looks and cool features, not high-end performance. Another odd thing we noticed is Dell won't allow you to configure the Z with a 64-bit operating system, only 32-bit for all of its options ranging from Windows XP to Windows 7.
In daily use we didn't have a problem with the performance of the Z since it still kept up with everything we threw its way. It could handle 720P and 1080P streaming flash off YouTube as well as decoding 1080P movie trailers and full-length movies. System load times were quick although it did have a considerable delay at the BIOS screen as it ran through its system checks. The SSD kept application load times to a minimum which helped offset any negative aspects of the slower 1.6GHz processor. 3D performance fell under other Intel X4500 equipped notebooks we tested but that didn't seem to affect its real-world performance. Considering the target market for this notebook - business professionals-the average user probably won't notice or care that the system might not be as fast as other notebooks in its price range.
Heat and Noise
Thermal performance of the Latitude Z is limited by the super thin chassis and cooling fans that stayed on at slower speeds as the system warmed up. While being stressed with 3DMark06 we saw a peak external temperature of 96 degrees Fahrenheit on the top of the notebook above the processor area but the touch-zones like the palmrest and touchpad still stayed in the high 70s to lower 80s. Fan noise was minimal with the notebook being rather conservative with its cooling system ... keeping the fans off or at a very slow speed during most conditions.
Power consumption on the Latitude Z is higher than we would like to see, drawing as much as 16 watts of power during out battery test. With the screen brightness set to 70%, Wi-Fi active, and Windows 7 set to the "Balanced" profile the Z stayed on for 3 hours and 43 minutes with the 8-cell battery. For such an engineering marvel it was a surprise to see so little tweaking done to improve battery life.
One of the more impressive features of the Latitude Z is that it supports wireless or inductive charging. With the supplied dock you just rest the notebook on the platform and it will start charging immediately. Compared to just using the regular power adapter you lose about half the efficiency and half the charging speed. Using our Kill-a-Watt meter with 66 watts drawn at the wall the charge rate through the inductive charging plate was 13 watts. Connecting the adapter directly to the notebook showed a 33 watt charge rate.
The Dell Latitude Z is a very impressive high-end business notebook with many tricks up its sleeve. This notebook offers EdgeTouch technology, inductive charging, and haptic feedback for the volume controls all inside a chassis that is no thicker than about ¾ of an inch. Compared to other thin and light notebooks the Z offers a 16-inch screen with plenty of real estate and one of the best keyboards we have seen to date. Besides the price our only complaint about the system is that it lacks the performance of other notebooks in its price range and size, but for its intended market that might not be a huge problem. Overall if you can't be seen with anything less than the best looking notebook on the market sitting in front of you, look no further than the Latitude Z.