Dell isn't exactly renowned for producing laptops with exciting designs, so the 13.3-inch Latitude 13's slim dimensions and sexy appearance come as a surprise. That's particularly the case since the standard Windows version of this ultra-portable machine starts at an affordable £520. Our configuration came in at just £630.
Thin on the ground
At a mere 16mm thick, the Latitude 13 is one of the slimmest ultra-portables around at the moment. But it's not just the slimness of the chassis that impresses: the laptop also looks the business, thanks to its twin-tone brushed-aluminium and matte black finish. It's surprisingly sturdy too -- despite its petite dimensions, there's very little give in the chassis and lid. It's not the lightest ultra-portable you can find, but, tipping the scales at 1.5kg, it's hardly going to weigh you down when you're on your travels.
The slimness of the design has led to some design compromises. For example, the battery is totally integrated into the chassis and can't be removed. Also, the range of ports on offer is pretty limited. There are only two USB ports, for example, although one of these does at least double up as an eSATA port.
The only other sockets are a VGA connector and an Ethernet port, although there is an ExpressCard slot on the right-hand side. It's perhaps unsurprising that there's no room for a DVD drive, but at least Dell has managed to squeeze in a reasonably roomy 320GB hard drive, so you shouldn't be stuck for storage space.
As its name would suggest, the laptop uses a 13.3-inch screen. This has a resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which isn't bad for a screen of this size, and its LED backlighting means it looks very bright as well. The vertical viewing angle is rather narrow, though, so you do sometimes find yourself moving the screen back and forth on the hinge to find the sweet spot where colours and brightness remain consistent across the surface of the display. As the laptop is aimed primarily at business users, Dell has sensibly used a matte, anti-glare finish on the screen, helping to keep reflections to a minimum.
The screen may have its issues, but we've got no complaints about the keyboard. As it fills practically the whole width of the laptop, the keys are pleasingly large. There's almost no flex in the middle and this, combined with the springy nature of the keys, makes it easy to quickly get up to a decent typing speed. There's no room to fit in a numerical keyboard, but, other than this, the layout is excellent, with the only slight compromise being half-height 'F' keys across the top.
Our configuration of the Latitude 13 didn't offer performance that lived up to its good looks. Despite running the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Professional, Dell only equipped our configuration with a measly 1GB of RAM (2GB will cost you an extra £30, and 4GB will cost you £109).
Our supplied processor wasn't exactly speedy either -- and it was the high-end option. Our laptop was built around an ultra-low-voltage, dual-core Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor that ticked over at a relatively lowly 1.3GHz. It's unsurprising that it turned in a score of just 3,053 in the PCMark05 benchmark test. That indicates it's not a suitable machine for serious number-crunching or multitasking duties.
Given the limited space available, we didn't expect Dell to fit the laptop with discreet graphics, so it's no shock to find that it relies on integrated Intel GMA HD graphics. More mundane tasks, such as smooth video playback, are within the laptop's capabilities, but 3D gaming certainly isn't its forte. In 3DMark06, it returned a lowly score of 607. This score is only slightly better than that achieved by most netbooks.
One benefit of the machine's relatively lacklustre CPU and graphics capability, however, is that its battery life is pretty impressive. In the intensive Battery Eater Classic test, it managed to keep running for 1 hour and 51 minutes before it ran out of puff. You're likely to get much longer life from the battery when it's working under normal day-to-day conditions.
There have been times when Dell should have been imprisoned for crimes against tasteful design, but the Latitude 13 shows that the company can produce a great-looking -- and sturdy -- ultra-portable laptop when it wants to. Our laptop's performance wasn't wonderful, however. The Latitude 13 is a machine best suited to light office work, rather than tasks that require serious number-crunching capability.
Edited by Charles Kloet