Introduction, Design Features
With the latest iteration of its business ultrabook, Dell has shrunk the case a bit, moved to Intel “Kaby Lake”/7th Generation core silicon, and added an optional IR Webcam that lets you log in to the machine using your face. “Ultrabook,” though, would suggest to you that this is a trim, slim business slice that’ll barely plump your laptop bag. Not quite.
Despite the fact that the dimensions and weight are a bit reduced from the previous-generation Dell Latitude E7250, the Latitude 12 7000 (7280) isn’t an ultrabook that exudes sleekness. It is, after all, a business machine, and one that packs lots of ports. Plus, this 12.5-inch ultrabook boasts stellar build quality and ruggedness to stand up to the wear and tear that road warriors are sure to heap upon it. Its battery will also get you through the longest of work days on a single charge.
The Latitude 7280 line starts at $1,029 but quickly scales up from there. (Our test configuration rang up at $1,850 at this writing.) Dell offers four baseline models of the Latitude 7280, which you can customize on Dell’s Web site.
The entry-level $1,029 model is a light hitter, featuring a Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), and a three-cell (42-watt-hour) battery. The next model up costs $1,169 and steps you up to a Core i5 CPU. The $1,349 model bumps you up to a slightly faster Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a four-cell (60-watt-hour) battery. The default configuration for the high-end model costs $1,619 and features a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and the same four-cell battery.
All models, by default, feature a 12.5-inch display with a 1,366×768 native resolution and integrated Intel graphics. It’s not a touch screen. You can upgrade the display to an full-HD panel (1,920×1,080 resolution) and add touch support. The other areas where you might upgrade include adding more memory (up to 16GB), increasing the capacity of the SSD, and upgrading the Serial ATA SSD inside to a faster one using PCI Express and the NVMe protocol.
Our $1,850 test configuration takes the Core i7 baseline model and adds three upgrades: a 256GB SATA SSD, a 1,920×1,080 display that also includes an IR Webcam, and a what Dell calls a “palmrest upgrade,” which brings in a fingerprint reader, a Smart Card slot, support for contact-less Smart Card, and Thunderbolt 3. (All that, clearly, extends well beyond the palmrest.)
Now, make no mistake: A price approaching $2,000 is a princely sum to pay for a 12.5-inch ultrabook, particularly one that isn’t all that sleek or thin and lacks a touch screen. It’s not built to turn heads, as much as it’s built to survive drops. The rugged, magnesium-alloy case should hold up to life on the road. Your data is kept safe, too, by a number of security features; TPM file encryption is standard, and vPro for remote management is offered on the two higher-end configurations. Dell also backs the Latitude 7280 with a standard three-year warranty with onsite service after remote diagnostics; Lenovo, for example, skimps on the ThinkPad X260 with only a one-year warranty of carry-in or depot service.
We’ve got good battery news and bad battery news. Let’s start with the bad: the battery is sealed into the case and, thus, not easily replaceable. The good news is it runs and runs and runs. Battery life is key for any ultrabook, and the Latitude 7280 delivers; it topped 15 hours on our battery-life test, which is wildly good.
The Dell Latitude 7280’s chief competitor among business ultrabooks is the ThinkPad X270. (We looked at the previous-generation Lenovo ThinkPad X260, which earned an Editors’ Choice and a rare 5-star rating; we just got in the X270 for testing and review.) The Latitude 7280 and ThinkPad X260 are nearly identical in terms of size and weight and offer many of the same features, though we favor the ThinkPad X260’s keyboard and touch pad. (It also has a pointing stick, if you are into that kind of thing.) Its battery is also user-replaceable.
Where some ultrabooks ditch the ubiquitous USB Type-A ports to cut a thin profile, the Latitude 7280 is built more like a little slab, with both types of USB port onboard. It features a magnesium-alloy enclosure that offers a solid, rugged feel. We noted little to no flex in the lid or the keyboard deck. The chassis provides a reassuring toughness to survive daily commutes and long road trips.
It measures 12 inches wide by 8.2 inches deep and 0.7 inch thick. It weighs 2.9 pounds, the same weight as the ThinkPad X260. It’s looks a bit thicker than it is because it perks up at a bit of an angle on two long, rubber feet that run nearly the width of the laptop…
These extra-long feet provide a good grip on your desk or airplane tray table, while also doubling as a comfortable grip for your fingertips when carrying the laptop with the lid closed. Soft-touch paint on the lid and keyboard deck lends a luxurious feel, as well.
The 12.5-inch display is LED-backlit and, in our test unit, featured a 1,920×1,080 resolution and an anti-glare surface. The default resolution on Latitude 7280 models is only 1,366×768; we recommend upgrading to one of the 1,920×1,080 options for a crisper image and larger effective workspace on the smallish screen.
The display upgrade on our test system also included an IR Webcam. Along with Windows Hello, Windows 10’s facial-recognition feature, the IR cam lets you simply place your face in front of the system to log in. In testing, we found it easy to set up Windows Hello and subsequently quicker and easier than typing a password. But we think most users will use the fingerprint reader on the right edge of the laptop’s wide wrist rest. As we mentioned earlier, the fingerprint-reader upgrade also adds a Smart Card reader and a contactless Smart Card reader (via NFC). So, depending on the security needs of your office or organization, one of these may be a handy (or with some government agencies, mandated) addition.
Depending on the configuation you opt for, you can get a Smart Card reader compliant with FIPS 201, and an NFC module with FIPS 140-2 Level 3 encryption. (FIPS stands for Federal Information Processing Standards.) FIPS 140 is a cryptography standard employed by the U.S. government for protection of sensitive data; federal agencies that make use of products employing cryptography must use gear that complies with FIPS 140. FIPS 201 is its equivalent for identity verification. If you’re dealing with the need for these kinds of compliances, we suspect your IT department is on top of the purchasing game, or you have defined guidelines for what to buy.
The full-size keyboard features keys with good travel and backlighting. Dell didn’t have to abbreviate any of the keys on this 12.5-inch laptop (well, barring the trimmed-down arrow cluster, common in laptops this size), and the keys are whisper-quiet to type on. The touch pad is a tad undersize, measuring 4 inches wide by 2 inches deep. Had Dell incorporated the mouse buttons into the surface of the touch pad as virtual buttons, there would have been room to make the touch pad larger.
A major reason why the Latitude 7280 isn’t as thin as some other ultrabooks is that it holds on to the older USB Type-A port, while some of the slimmest have ditched that partly or wholly in favor of thinner, more versatile Type-C ports. (They’re versatile in the sense that you can plug them in in either direction, and some of them support system charging; less so, from the point of view of compatible devices.) You get both kinds on this system. You’ll find a USB 3.1 Type-A port on either side of the system and, in our test unit, a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 on the left edge.
Thunderbolt 3 delivers transfer speeds up to 40Gbps; USB 3.1 tops out at 5Gbps. That said, this isn’t a charging port, so it’s mainly useful for USB Type C devices and any Thunderbolt docking or high-speed external storage you may want to connect. Also on the left edge is an HDMI port (full-size!), the power drum connector, and the Smart Card slot…
On the right edge, you’ll find an Ethernet jack, the audio jack, a MicroSD card slot, and security lockdown slot…
The lock slot is the square notch near the rear. It works with the Wedge locks from Noble Locks. This is a different animal than the much more common Kensington-style cable lock.
On the whole, this is a very complete set of connectivity for any ultrabook, and especially for one with a relatively small screen, like this one.