Dell Latitude XT2

March 3, 2009

First Tablet PC with multi-touch gets update

On February 10, 2009, Dell announced and released the Latitude XT2, an update to what Dell considers the industry’s first Tablet PC with multi-touch screen capabilities. Dell’s goal with the XT2 was to enhance security, increase performance, and extend battery life.

The original Dell Latitude XT, introduced in early 2008, was fairly well received and there was no need for fundamental changes. One of the few unique features of the XT was its N-trig capacitive touch technology. Unlike standard resistive touch screens, the use of N-trig allowed Dell to add multi-touch features to the XT as a download in mid-2008 (see Dell blog on that). This meant providing the kind of pinching, scrolling and tapping popularized by the Apple iPhone. The XT2 comes with N-trig’s DuoSense technology that combines pen and capacitive touch, and also with an enhanced suite of multi-touch functionality that now includes two-finger rotating. Windows XP and Vista, of course, weren’t designed for multi-touch, but it can be used in such apps as Google Earth, Outlook and Microsoft Office, web browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer 7, XP’s Windows Picture viewer and the Vista’s Windows Photo Gallery.

On the technology side, there’s an update from the 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo U7600 to either the 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo SU9300 or the 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo SU9400. That means a significant performance boost, especially in the SU9400 models. The new chips also support Intel’s vPro technology that facilitate improved security and remote management (see Intel white paper on vPro). Further, even though the Thermal Design Power of the new chips remains at 10 watts, Dell promises better battery life than before. Memory can be exanded up to 5GB of DDR3 SDRAM. Drive options include an 80 or 120GB 5400RPM SATA hard disk or a 64GB SSD. There is no internal optical drive but Dell ships the XT2 with an “E-Module” that comes with at least a DVD drive and can be upgraded to CD-RW/DVD or DVD writer.

The Latitude XT2 is a handy machine. It measures 11.7 x 8.7 inches and is just over an inch thick. It weighs 3.6 pounds with the basic 4-cell battery and still under four pounds with the more powerful 6-cell battery. The large battery adds an hour of running time and costs just US$19 more. A costly 45 watt-hour “slice” battery is also available, boosting overall battery life to well over ten hours.

The display measures 12.1 inches diagonally and uses the popular 1280 x 800 pixel wide format. A special daylight-viewable version is avalable. Both displays have LED backlights and wide viewing angles. A scroll wheel and back button are integrated into the side of the LCD case.

On the communication side, there are, in typical Dell fashion, various options for just about everything. For WiFi you can get Dell’s own Dell Wireless 1397 802.11g module, but also the Dell Wireless 1510 that supports draft-n, or you can spring for the Intel WiFi Link 5100 or 5300. For mobile broadband you can get the Dell Wireless 5720 that supports EV-DO eev. A or the 5530 if you need HSUPA/HSDPA. There’s also a Bluetooth module and the XT2 supports Gigabit Ethernet.

The price is an issue. We’ve been taught over the years that ultra-lights cost extra, but with netbooks now costing 300 bucks and pretty decent notebooks under a thousand, a starting price of US$2,399 is a whopper. That’s for the “Base Package.” The “Productivity Package” adds storage and goes for US$2,596, and the US$3,184 “Protection Package” throws in things like accident coverage, but still doesn’t even have the faster processor or Bluetooth. Start with the “Protection Package,” add the faster processor, Vista Ultimate, Microsoft Office, the full 5GB of RAM, the Mediabase DVD writer, WiFi Link 5100, Bluetooth, Broadband and a slice battery, and you’re looking at a US$4,577 notebook convertible. Ouch.

Overall, the Dell Latitude XT2 is a sleek, elegant, competent and full-featured Tablet PC convertible that has a lot to offer in a light and handy package. The N-trig dual mode digitizer with its multi-touch apability is interesting, and the XT2 is technologically as up-to-date as it gets. But it all comes at an almost prohibitive price, and that alone will likely relegate the XT2 into a low-volume existence.


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