Review: Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250)

Review: Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250)

Introduction and design

The Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series E7250 ($1,079, £702, AU$1,452) is a compact business Ultrabook. If you can get over the understated appearance Dell has packed a bevy of ports, an array of wired and wireless connectivity options and enterprise-class security features into the compact frame of this 12.5-inch laptop.

Its closest rivals in the business market include the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 ($1,249, £820, AU$1,640) and Lenovo ThinkPad X250 ($836, £544, AU$1,124), both equipped with 12.5-inch displays. Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display ($1,299, £846, AU$1,747) comes with a higher resolution display on a slightly larger screen, but sacrifices the touchscreen and enterprise-focused features.

Design

With largely unchanged aesthetics from last generation’s E7240 model, this year’s Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250) design is inoffensive, and may even appear slightly unremarkable at first blush. Comprised of a carbon fiber lid, metal chassis and black aluminum trim, the Latitude has a solid heft to it, giving it a sturdy and balanced feel when you pick it up.

Measuring 12.2 x 0.79 x 8.3 inches (310.5 x 20 x 211mm) and weighing just under 3 pounds (1.36kg), the Latitude isn’t the lightest nor slimmest 12-inch notebook. It weighs more than the 2.68-pound (1.22kg) HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 and 2.9-pound (1.32kg) Lenovo ThinkPad X250. The Latitude also has a slightly larger body than these 12-inch rivals. For comparison, the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 has a 12.2 x 0.62 x 8.27-inch (31.04 x 1.57 x 21.01cm) footprint.

Latitude 12 E7250

What may appear as boring is actually the result of blending pragmatic design with modern aesthetics. Unlike slimmer consumer Ultrabook rivals, Dell chose to keep the rear profile of the Latitude boxy to accommodate a wide array of ports, negating the need for costly adapters that could become lost when traveling, as in the case of the uni-port MacBook.

The front portion of the laptop, unlike the completely rectangular Lenovo ThinkPad X250, is tapered, making the Latitude feel more modern. Despite this tapering, the black finish makes the Latitude 12 appear less "airy" than the aluminum-clad XPS 13 and MacBook Air.

Side profile

On top, the lid is covered in a woven black and gray carbon fiber design, giving the laptop a soft, inviting feel and an interesting texture compared to Lenovo’s implementation. The woven pattern is broken by a 3/4-inch black strip at the front where you lift the lid open. This is where the radio antennas are located. Dell design engineers informed me that because carbon fiber, like metal, blocks radio waves, this strip allows the laptop to receive Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular and GPS signals.

Carbon fiber lid

The 12.5-inch full HD touchscreen is held securely to the body with two, upward-facing hinges. This design is similar to what is found on the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s, creating a sturdy hinge that allows the screen to articulate 180 degrees, far wider than the concealed hinge of the MacBook or EliteBook. On the lid near the right hinge, you’ll find three LED indicator lights to quickly alert you to power, hard drive and battery states even if the laptop is closed. The LED lights are repeated again on the keyboard deck for quick access when the Latitude is open.

LED indicator lights

Designed to operate under harsh conditions, the Latitude 12 7000 is advertised as having passed MIL-STD-810G testing, allowing it to be used in a variety of environments, including low and high altitudes, extreme temperatures, drops and shocks, exposure to acid and saline, sand and dust, humidity and more. For users needing an even more rugged laptop, the Dell Latitude 12 Rugged Extreme ($3,649, £2,377, AU$4,909) should be able to survive most situations short of a nuclear explosion, but at the cost of price, size and weight compared to the non-rugged counterpart.

The Latitude 12 7000 (E7250) comes with a full-sized, backlit keyboard that’s spill resistant. Accidentally spilled water will empty out through a small drainage hole on the bottom of the Latitude, helping to prevent damage to the laptop for butterfinger-proned business executives. There are two levels of brightness to the backlight, which helps to illuminate the keyboard for easy typing when working in dimmer environments.

The Latitude’s boxy rear design is pragmatic considering the number of ports Dell managed to cram onto the 0.79-inch thick frame.

Ports

The notebook comes with HDMI, power connector, Ethernet and two USB 3.0 ports on the rear. On the right side of the Latitude, you’ll find a third USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, audio and SD memory card reader. The side ports make it convenient to connect headphones and a wired mouse or flash drive, while the rear situated ports make cable management easy when you’re using the laptop on a desk. A VGA port isn’t included, but you can regain the port if you need to connect the Latitude to an older projector with an optional Mini DisplayPort to VGA dongle.

On the bottom, the matte black powder-coated paint is simply wonderful. It conceals the metal so that it doesn’t feel cold to touch when the device is powered off, and the paint adds a nice grippy feel so that the laptop doesn’t feel slippery when you’re carrying it around the office. Compared to the soft-touch coating that rival Lenovo uses on the ThinkPad W550s, the powder-coating gives the laptop a nice matte finish but without attracting oils, dust or fingerprints.

Bottom

The Latitude 12 7000 is a highly serviceable laptop with a removable battery and removable back plate. To get to the internals of the laptop, you’ll need to remove the battery, unscrew two screws and slide out the metal backplate. Once I did that, I was able to upgrade a few key components of the laptop, including adding a Dell Wireless 4G LTE WWAN module, another 8GB of RAM to the second memory slot and the 256GB solid state drive to a 1TB mSATA SSD.

Specifications, security and performance

Pricing for the Latitude 12 7000 Series (E750) start at $1,079 (£703, AU$1,451). At that price, users will get an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB RAM and a 128GB solid state drive. The price quickly rises when you’re upgrading to a more powerful processor, adding RAM and boosting the storage during configuration.

The Latitude 12 7000 Series can also be configured with optional WiGig support. This enables support for the Dell Wireless Dock ($269, £175, AU$361). With the wireless dock, you can connect your peripherals – like a keyboard, mouse, display, hard drives and printers – without requiring a hard connection to the dock. You can also place the wireless dock off your desk and free up space.

Here’s how the Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250) sent to TechRadar Pro was configured:

Specifications

  • Processor: 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-5300U (dual-core, up to 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5500
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Memory: 8GB RAM
  • Display: 12.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 10-point touchscreen, 360-nit anti-fingerprint (16:9) WLED
  • Camera: 720p HD webcam for WiGig
  • Connectivity: Intel tri-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, WiGig, Bluetooth 4.0; 4G LTE WWAN optional
  • Operating system: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
  • Ports: HDMI, Ethernet, three USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, headphone, TPM, Smart Card reader. Optional NFC Smart Card reader and fingerprint scanner.
  • Weight: 2.99 pounds (1.36kg)
  • Dimensions: 12.2 x 0.79 x 8.3 inches

The cost dramatically jumps to $2,573 (£1,676, AU$3,457) when the Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series is configured with the highest specifications – Intel Core i7 Broadwell processor, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. Neither this top-shelf configuration nor the one we received for review come with premium Dell software add-ons.

Performance

The dual-core Intel Core i5 Broadwell processor on the Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250) performs as expected. Applications and files open quickly, and even multitasking with multiple Chrome tabs open didn’t slow the system down.

Latitude 12 E7250

Lacking a dedicated graphics processor, the integrated Intel HD 5500 graphics will feel anemic to creative professionals working with large video and photo files. Business users who want to play fast action games with high frame rates on their downtime may also want to steer clear of this compact Ultrabook, but the Latitude can handle most computing tasks with ease. For more graphics-heavy tasks, you’ll want to look at heavier mobile workstations instead.

Benchmarks

3DMark: Fire Strike: 540, Sky Diver: 2234, Cloud Gate: 4154

Cinebench: CPU: 267; GPU: 20 fps

PCMark 8 Work: 3383; Battery life: 4:55:58

Even though benchmarked performance of the Latitude is within range of similarly equipped systems, Dell’s 2015 XPS 13 performed better on a graphics-heavy test with similar GPU, CPU and RAM configurations. The XPS 13 posted higher GPU and 3DMark scores than the Latitude, but slightly lower 258 CPU score using Cinebench.

Although the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s that we reviewed comes with an Intel Core i7 Broadwell chip, processing performance on the Latitude is stronger. The Lenovo delivered a CPU score of 249, but beats the Latitude on GPU performance with 24 fps. ThinkPad also fared better on the 3DMark tests, posting results of 731, 5305 and 2648 for Fire Strike, Cloud Gate and Sky Diver, respectively.

While I didn’t notice any slow downs during normal operations with the Latitude, I found that the system was slower to shut down than most other notebooks, including the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 and the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s. Since the Latitude ships with a relatively clean build of Windows 8.1, save for a few Dell apps, it’s unclear why the Latitude takes a few seconds longer to power down.

Dell

The Intel Core i5 processor on the Latitude generates a bit of heat. Most of that heat is felt on the top left corner of the laptop, but this doesn’t affect its "lapability," as the bottom of the notebook still runs cool. The main issue with heat is that when the fan kicks in, fan noise is louder than the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s.

Battery life

The Latitude 12 lives up to Dell’s claims of all-day computing. Despite packing in a more powerful Intel Core i5 processor compared to the MacBook’s Intel Core M, the Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250) is equipped with a 4-cell battery that lasted more than nine hours of daily use.

Removable battery

For users in the field and away from a power outlet, the Latitude comes with a removable battery, so you can swap a depleted battery for a fresh one if you need more power. Dell also offers an external battery pack in the form of the Dell Power Companion. These are similar to battery packs that charge cell phones on the go.

Even though you can swap out a dead battery for a new one, unlike the Lenovo ThinkPad X250, the Latitude doesn’t come with an internal bridge battery. This means that when you swap out your battery, you’ll have to save your work, power down, replace the battery, power up and re-open and reload all your application and data. This can be a nuisance if you’re a heavy multitasker with multiple windows and tabs that need to be re-opened.

Enterprise security and features

Dell also offers optional contactless NFC smart card reader, Smart Card reader, fingerprint scanner, TPM, FIPS-certified hardware crypto accelerator, Dell Control Vault, Computrace and Dell Data Protection Encryption. The Latitude 12 7000 Series comes with a one-year subscription to Dell Data Protection Security Tools and Protected Workspace.

DDP Encryption protects data across all endpoints, including external media and public cloud storage, while DDP Protected Workspace works to stop malware while the DDP Security Tools provides advanced authentication.

Dell also provides advanced BIOS management capabilities. This gives IT administrators the ability to manage the BIOS remotely. This feature competes with the SureStart self-healing BIOS technology on HP’s EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 notebook. The difference is that Dell allows remote BIOS management, whereas HP’s technology allows the BIOS to autonomously repair itself with a stored copy in the event of a malware attack.

To ensure that your company’s data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands if the laptop is lost or stolen, IT managers can also remotely wipe the laptop’s drive even if the Latitude is powered off.

The Latitude 12 comes with a three-year standard warranty. Dell also offers optional enhanced warranty services through ProSupport and ProSupport Plus packages. Both packages come with SupportAssist software that routinely scans your system for malfunction.

In the event of a system failure, a ProSupport agent will contact the customers proactively, a move that Dell claims will shorten your downtime as you don’t have to wait in line for service or send your laptop to a depot for diagnostics. The Plus option adds next business day on-site repair service, meaning that Dell will send a technician to wherever you’re located to diagnose and fix the problem. Additionally, ProSupport agents can handle technical questions, help you setup your home network and even assist in troubleshooting third-party hardware and software. For a small business owner, it’s like having an IT staff on call.

Display

It’s surprising to see that the maximum resolution available for the Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250) is a full HD 1080p touchscreen. The notebook’s base configuration comes with a paltry 1,366 x 768-pixel panel, but both options fall short of the QHD and Retina display resolutions found on competing notebooks.

The 12.5-inch HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1, for example, comes with a similar 12.5-inch display, but with a higher 2,560 x 1,440 QWHD resolution screen. Even though the Latitude comes with just a 1080p display, the screen is still crisp. Both text and images appear fine, and colors are vibrant.

Display

The upside is that the screen on the Latitude can tilt further than both these rivals. With a 180-degree tilt, allowing for better screen sharing and collaboration in one-on-one or small group meetings.

Also, even though Dell rates the brightness of the the 1080p display on our review unit at 350 nits, the screen seems a lot brighter. On competing notebooks, I found that I usually increase the brightness to between 50% and 70% indoors to get rid of glare and 80% to 100% outdoors when working under a bright sun. On the Latitude, I can keep the screen to about 30% to 40% indoors, and 50% to 70% outdoors.

The 12.5-inch screen sizes feels a lot less cramped than the smaller 10.8-inch Dell Venue 11 Pro 700 Series ($749, £488, AU$1,007) and the 11.6-inch Apple MacBook Air. I still wish Dell had gone with a taller screen, like that on the 3:2 aspect ratio on Microsoft Surface Pro 3 ($799, £520, AU$1,075) or the 16:10 of the MacBook rather than video-centric 16:9 ratio. Even though a taller screen would lead to letterboxing while watching videos, it would make working with large Excel spreadsheets easier with less vertical scrolling.

For multimedia, the Latitude has downward-firing speakers at the front. The speakers are loud with good audio fidelity, even at high volumes.

Keyboard and trackpad

Typing on the Latitude took a little bit of time to get used to coming from a larger 15-inch MacBook Pro. The keys on the Latitude’s keyboard are 1/16 inches smaller than the chicklet-style keys on the MacBook Pro, and key spacing is also slightly reduced.

However, once I got used to the key size and spacing, typing is an absolute joy on the Latitude with springy, responsive keys. Key travel is satisfying with just the right of level of stiffness so that the keys don’t feel mushy, and there is a reassuring level of "clickiness" to the keys when depressed.

Backlit keyboard

The soft touch finish on the keyboard deck also helps with the typing experience as the material feels nice on my wrists. When you first power on the laptop, the area doesn’t feel too cold compared to an aluminum deck, and after prolong use the area doesn’t get hot, making for a very comfortable experience from the moment you power up the Latitude to the moment you shut down your notebook.

After a week with this notebook, I can say that Dell has created my favorite laptop keyboard.

On the other hand, the trackpad is good, but could be better. The trackpad supports gestures, such as scrolling and pinch-to-zoom, but the tracking area is smaller than on a MacBook. One reason for this is that Dell didn’t go with a large, clickable trackpad. Instead, there are two hardware buttons below the trackpad for left and right clicks. Unlike the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s, the Latitude does not come with a trackpoint.

Verdict

The Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250) packs lots of features that are sure to please the most demanding business user. It balances security, performance and connectivity in a travel-friendly 12.5-inch form factor.

What we liked

With a bevy of ports, options for wireless connectivity and highly serviceable internal components that users can upgrade, the Latitude 12 7000 Series can be considered a pared down mobile workstation in its own right, but one without a dedicated GPU.

Even though the keyboard is slightly smaller than a traditional keyboard, the Latitude packs in one of the best typing experiences on a laptop.

Enterprise users will appreciate the robust selection of security protocols, superb battery life, rugged build quality and a highly mobile 12.5-inch form factor.

What we disliked

The Latitude 12 lacks the sheen of sleeker consumer Ultrabooks, and its port-friendly design may be considered uninspiring. At its highest priced configuration, the Latitude 12 instantly feels underpowered, compared to mobile workstations like the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s and the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, as it lacks a dedicated graphics processor. The Latitude 12 also lacks the higher resolution screen options found on some of its rivals.

Final verdict

The Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250) is the ultimate business-class Ultrabook for power users. Even though the understated design may look boring compared to the sheen of consumer notebooks, the Latitude’s subtle curves make it appear stylish while staying functional. A long three-year warranty, upgradability, removable battery, comfortable keyboard and assortment of wired and wireless connectivity options make the Latitude an excellent productivity companion for mobile road warriors who need a thin-and-light laptop without compromise.

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