For many years, durability was the defining point for business notebooks. Products were designed and built for constant use, to stand up to literal knocks and accidental drops, and to easily connect to networks and peripheral devices. That situation changed significantly in 2006 and, again, in 2008 when Apple introduced the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, respectively. The company’s design aesthetic helped breathe new life into Apple’s Mac business and, for a time, made it look like a serious challenger to mainstream PC vendors.
But that situation shifted at CES 2012 when Dell introduced its XPS 13, a notebook that fundamentally changed the company’s reputation as a maker of solid, if unsurprising, PCs. Along with stylish good looks, the XPS 13 utilized Dell-developed materials, including a light yet rigid and strong carbon fiber composite. Later XPS 13 iterations introduced other notable features and materials, including Dell’s near bezel-less InfinityEdge display, NASA’s Silicon Aerogel (for heat insulation), Dell Cinema for optimized multimedia performance and continually improving battery life.
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Over time, the XPS 13 became Dell’s most successful notebook product, so it’s not surprising that many of the XPS line’s features and innovations were seeded into the company’s other notebooks, including the new Latitude 7400 2-in-1 convertible. The company recently sent me a 7400 2-in-1 evaluation unit, so let me tell you about my hands-on experience with the product that occupies the high end of Dell’s commercial notebook portfolio.
Latitude 7400 2-in-1 by the Numbers
The system Dell provided is the topline Latitude 7400 2-in-1 model, featuring an 8th Generation (Whiskey Lake) Intel Core i7-8665U processor (with Intel vPro), 16GB of LPDDR3 memory and a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD. Other features include a 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) touch display, IR Camera and Proximity Sensor (more on that later). The unit includes an optional six-cell 78 WHR ExpressCharge capable battery (a four-cell, 52 WHR ExpressCharge battery is standard).
The MSRP of the evaluation unit is $2,802, but the starting price of the Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is $1,599.
Although the Latitude line doesn’t offer Dell’s InfinityEdge display, the 7400’s narrow bezel is 25% thinner than the previous generation 7390 2-in-1. It also highlights what Dell calls “the world’s smallest 14-inch commercial 2-in-1” with a modest footprint (12.59″ x 7.87″) and weight (2.99 lbs.) that is wider, shallower and lighter than the Latitude 7390’s 12” x 8.26” and 3.12 lbs.
How about connectivity? That’s one place where commercial notebooks stand well apart from consumer products, which are increasingly shifting toward USB-C as a standard for power and data. That’s great from a design perspective, enabling ever thinner and lighter products, but it also means dongles or other adapters for connecting with non-USB-C peripherals are a must.
Accordingly, the 7400 2-in-1 includes two USB 3, two USB Type-C (Thunderbolt3 with Power Delivery & Display Port), one HDMI 1.4 and one uSD 4.0 Memory card reader. Options include an external uSIM card tray (WWAN only), a contacted SmartCard reader and a Touch Fingerprint Reader built into the power button. Intel’s dual-band wireless (802.11 a/c) comes standard, but optional Cat 16 Gigabit LTE is also available.
Along with supporting touch and Dell and third-party mouse devices, the 7400 2-in-1 leverages Dell’s Active Stylus Pen (both edges of the case feature strong magnets for keeping the pen handy) for inputting data. A 360-degree drop hinge enables the system to be used in tent and tablet modes.
Using the Latitude 7400 2-in-1
So, what’s the user experience like? Overall, very good. The Latitude 7400 has the good looks and solid feel that you expect in a professional-grade laptop. The case is finely finished brushed aluminum (with a considerably different feel than the recycled carbon fiber used in the prior gen 7392). The trackpad, keyboard and scalloped keys work crisply and consistently—a point to appreciate, given the notable issues some competitors’ products (notably Apple’s MacBook Pro) have lately suffered.
A few reviews have dinged the Latitude 7400’s FHD (1,920 x 1,080) display in comparison to other premium commercial notebooks, including the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga’s HDR WQHD (2,560 x 1,440) and the MacBook Pro’s Retina (2,560 x 1,600). That’s a reasonable nit to pick, but its importance depends entirely on what tasks and applications the system will support. While some graphics professionals will prefer finer-grained images, paying a premium for higher resolution is a waste for the vast majority of business applications. Better to allocate your resources on more important features.
Like what? How about battery life? The 7400’s comparatively massive six-cell 78 WHR battery definitely delivers the goods, offering up to 12 hours of runtime for basic web surfing tasks. Not surprisingly, that smokes most comparable systems, which typically offer four-cell batteries. Plus, the 52 WHR ExpressCharge capable battery that comes standard in the Latitude 7400 delivers up to 8 hours per charge, which is good enough for most business-use cases.
If longer-than-average battery is a critical issue (as it is for me), the six-cell configuration is compelling. The same can be said for the system’s ExpressCharge capabilities, which enable the battery to be recharged up to 80% in one hour. The only drawback is that ExpressCharge is only supported by Dell’s 90W power adapter, which is a bit heavier than the standard 65W power adapter.
The IR Camera and Proximity Sensor mentioned in the previous section support Dell’s new Express Sign-in function. Used in concert with Windows Hello, Express Sign-in puts the system to sleep if it’s left for a few minutes, then wakes the system when the user returns. If the system doesn’t recognize the user, it requests a security PIN or password. I used Express Sign-in regularly and, after a few training runs, it worked seamlessly.
A minor issue I ran into was that Express Sign-in also engaged if I turned away from the system for a couple of minutes, which I tend to do if I’m reading, consulting a reference, on the phone, etc. But the system would snap back on when I turned around. Overall, Express Sign-in is a well-designed and executed feature, but it is one whose value depends on the user’s habits and work environment. Fortunately, it’s easily turned on/off in the system Power Settings.
Did I have any quibbles with the Latitude 7400? Just two, and both are minor. The first has to do with cooling the CPU, which resides below the left side palm rest. Since the system sports a Whiskey Lake Core i7 processor, heat issues in a slender notebook form factor are hardly surprising. When the CPU was under load, the left side palm rest became 5°F to 10°F warmer than the right. While I didn’t encounter the significant hot spots noted in a few 7400 2-in-1 reviews, it is warm enough to notice. That might concern some users, but I consider it an acceptable tradeoff for the Core i7 CPU.
The other issue is the unusually sharp edge of the 7400 2-in-1’s base, including the palm rest. It’s not a huge problem, but it’s one that’s noticeable if you’re using the system on a tabletop or an airline seat tray. It’s also an issue that didn’t affect the prior-gen Latitude 7392, mainly due to recycled carbon fiber used in that system that has rounder corners and a softer feel than the 7400’s brushed aluminum. While not significant, it came as a bit of a surprise in a premium notebook.
So, what’s the verdict? Dell’s Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is a terrific addition to the company’s venerable commercial notebook line that is worthy of admiration and respect. Along with the flexibility that’s native to convertible notebooks, the Latitude 7400 2-in-1 also includes compelling features and options that are particularly valuable for business users, including its impressive design, the exceptional six-cell ExpressCharge battery, full-blown PC performance and Dell’s Express Sign-in.
Overall, if you’re in the market for a topline business-class convertible notebook, Dell’s Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is a more than worthy candidate to consider.
Charles King is a principal analyst at PUND-IT and a regular contributor to eWEEK. © 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.