We admit to being rather confused about why Microsoft has seemingly replaced Apple as the laptop maker to emulate. The Surface machines have been heavily copied by other hardware manufacturers, wanting to grab a slice of the market they occupy.
Dell has an extensive range of business laptops under the Latitude name, and the 7000 series are some of the most powerful and costly on offer.
The new 2019 releases include the Latitude 7200, a 2-in-1 design that apes the Surface Pro 6 in many respects and surpasses it on several important levels.
Will the Latitude 7200 grab some of this lucrative market back for Dell, or is it just too expensive for current business budgets?
This hybrid is priced starting from £1,715 including VAT (around $2,070), with the most expensive of five models on Dell’s UK site running up to a cost of £2,123 (around $2,570).
The review model isn’t available in the UK, and is only on sale in Germany. The closest UK model pitches up at £1,859 (around $2,250).
Further note that this particular machine isn’t available directly from Dell in the US, but the company does offer the more powerful 7400 series in this region.
The Latitude 7200 feels a bit like Dell’s engineers got the same brief as those in Microsoft’s Surface team, and subsequently came up with a very similar machine.
The result is a by-the-numbers tablet chassis with a variable angle kickstand and a lightweight magnetically attached keyboard cover. Although unlike Microsoft, Dell includes the cost of its keyboard cover in the standard price, and if you don’t want it, you can claim back £92 (around $110).
However, this makes for one problem shared with the Surface – you can’t use the Dell machine on your knees, because there is no rigid joint between the keyboard and tablet, and the kickstand has a very narrow blade.
However, the kickstand does have a few neat tricks seen previously in the Latitude 5290 2-in-1 back in 2018. These include a spring-loaded deployment of the stand when you press the machine down on a hard surface at 90 degrees, and variable pitch, variable angle.
Because of the keyboard, all the ports are on the sides of the screen. On the left are two Thunderbolt 3 connectors using USB Type-C, each with Power Delivery and DisplayPort supported, and on the right is a USB Gen 3.1 Type-A port.
Dell has fully committed to Type-C charging on this range, and either port on the left side can be used to charge.
The left edge also has microSIM and microSD card slots, a 3.5mm audio jack for headphones and a volume rocker. On the right is a Noble Wedge lock.
It could be argued that those charging with an external display and a mouse might get short of ports, although the Thunderbolt 3 ports have enough bandwidth for the effective use of a docking hub to provide even more for external storage, a full-sized keyboard or other peripherals.
The only element present on the top edge is the power button, and on the rear right corner is a fingerprint reader for biometric authentication.
As 2-in-1 systems go, this is a well-constructed and specified design, and the anti-smudge coating on this screen is partially effective in keeping the display free from fingerprints.
The only question, and it needs to be asked, is what touch-based applications are you intending to use with it? Because the Microsoft Store is a wasteland of abandonware, and even the useful apps present are generally inferior to their desktop counterparts.
Maybe there is still time for this to change, but the new era of touch computing and full-screen apps that Microsoft ushered in with Windows 8 has still failed to materialize more than seven years later.
Here is the Dell Latitude 7200 configuration sent to TechRadar Pro for review:
CPU: Intel Core i5-8365U quad-core 1.60GHz
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 (2,133MHz)
Screen: 12.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 resolution touchscreen
Storage: 512GB NVMe SSD
Ports: 2 x Thunderbolt 3 with Power Delivery & DisplayPort (USB Type-C), 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 (with PowerShare, Type-A), 1 x microSD card reader, 1 x audio jack; Optional ports: 1 x fingerprint reader, 1 x external uSIM card tray (WWAN only), 1 x SmartCard reader
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
Camera: Infrared with dual mic
Weight: 851g (without keyboard), 1.2kg (with keyboard)
Size: 292 x 208.8 x 9.35mm (W x D x H)
Firstly, we need to address the spec of this review machine, and how you can’t buy this exact model in the UK.
Currently, a model with the same screen, memory and processor is an option, but it only comes with 256GB of M.2 SSD storage.
Internally, that storage is soldered to the motherboard, so you won’t ever be able to upgrade that. And the M.2 storage uses the M.2 2230 slot, a challenging form factor to source modules for – and there is only one slot.
It is possible to get the case open and replace the battery, and other parts, but for a typical owner, this machine will most likely end its days using precisely the same hardware it was delivered with.
We think that 256GB of storage for a machine like this isn’t enough, and the only way to get 512GB (the most on offer) is to buy the more expensive Core i7 version.
For most users, the Core i5-8365U in the review machine is more than powerful enough. It’s an 8th-generation CPU that arrived earlier this year and is superior to the i5-8250U (from 2017) that Microsoft offers with the Surface Pro 6.
Unfortunately, both these chips are saddled with the increasingly dated Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU, a graphics engine that first appeared with Kaby Lake series processors in 2016, and was developed back then from Intel video technology that goes back much further.
While it supports resolutions of up to 3,840 x 3,840, it doesn’t have the performance to drive much complexity in 3D at resolutions above 1080p.
Built around Intel silicon that was only released a few months ago, this machine operates as smartly and smoothly as you’d expect.
Booting is fast, apps launch rapidly, and it eats any web-related tasks for breakfast.
The only significant weakness, as we’ve just mentioned, is that Intel’s GPU isn’t anything you could compare with the latest AMD Ryzen technology or a discrete Nvidia GPU.
As the Latitude isn’t meant to be a gaming machine or portable workstation, that’s acceptable, but those purchasing systems for a CAD designer to use should be aware that 3D rendering isn’t a strong point with this hardware.
One area that especially impressed us was the display, as the 1,920 x 1,280 resolution panel has very good viewing angles and color representation. We don’t often see laptops that have 100% sRGB coverage, and 78% AdobeRGB isn’t bad either.
Here’s how the Dell Latitude 7200 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
Passmark CPU: 8,243
CPU-Z: 462 (single-thread); 2,269 (multi-thread)
Geekbench: 4,913 (single-core); 13,287 (multi-core); 22,083 (compute)
CrystalDiskMark: 1,639 MBps (read); 1,458 MBps (write)
Atto: 1,451 MBps (read, 256mb); 1,549 MBps (write, 256mb)
Windows Experience Index: 6.6
The screen isn’t so wonderful that it would be suitable for anyone working professionally with color, but it's much better than a typical laptop, and this enhances the overall user experience.
The benchmark results present an accurate assessment of the various strengths and weaknesses of Intel’s 8th-generation Core i5 products.
From a processing platform perspective, this is probably more powerful than it needs to be for general use or even heavy Office 365 tasks.
The M.2 NVMe SSD is quicker than a SATA drive by a factor of three, even if the speeds we benchmarked aren’t especially wonderful for NVMe technology. The latest drives operate at double those scores (or more), but they don’t come in the M.2 form factor that Dell used in this design.
What these benchmarks don’t reveal is how tired a GPU solution Intel is still using on its latest CPUs, with graphics technology which is way behind when compared to contemporary rival offerings.
The inclusion of dual Thunderbolt 3 ports allows this system to drive two monitors in addition to the laptop screen itself. But being realistic, Intel’s 620 GPU can’t drive 4K output smoothly on a single screen, and even triple 1080p resolution is likely to encounter performance issues.
Intel’s failure to address this problem and the lower power efficiency of its graphics subsystem is becoming an issue. Also, the imbalance between the CPU and the GPU is noticeable when using software that employs 3D rendering or direct compute calls.
Making a machine this thin with a CPU as powerful as the Intel Core i5-8365U (or better) was always going to have a detrimental impact on battery life.
In our testing, this hybrid didn’t reach three hours when given continuous tasks to perform. Therefore, it is highly unlikely to make it through a working day almost irrespective of how lightly it gets used.
The only positive thing we can say about the dual-cell 38Whr battery is that it supports express charging to make even a brief connection to the mains worthwhile.
Those needing to spend the whole working day away from civilization should invest in a Type-C rechargeable power pack to avoid running out of power.
One issue that might also impact those away from the office is the mobile comms, or rather the lack of LTE on the microSim in the US. Including mobile broadband is a very useful feature, but only if it works globally.
Initially glossing over the questionable use of Windows as a tablet platform, the Dell 7200 series packs the latest Intel chips in a svelte and refined package, serving them up in a machine that pays more than a nod to the Microsoft Surface.
There are only two catches here, and they’re the same ones that all other 2-in-1 makers experience when they use these latest Intel chips in their products.
A mismatch has grown between the CPU and GPU performance on offer, where the CPU could drive a much better graphics subsystem but is bottlenecked by older technology.
The second problem is that the thin form factor of a tablet computer doesn’t allow for a big battery, and Windows isn’t as power-efficient as Android or iOS when used in this context.
Where an Apple iPad or Android tablet would easily work all day, this machine is exhausted after only a few short hours.
Arguably, if Dell hadn’t tried so hard to ape the Microsoft Surface, the company could have avoided including most of the weaknesses of that design along with the better aspects.
The key competitors for the Latitude 7200 are the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon, HP EliteBook x360 1030 G3 and the Microsoft Surface Pro 6.
Of these, the Carbon has a better spec at the same price, a larger display and a bigger battery. The EliteBook x360 is cheaper, has a proper keyboard and a larger screen.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6 uses the previous generation Intel silicon, charges extra for the Type Cover, and with the amount of memory and storage in the review model would cost more than the 7200.
Out of these machines, the HP is the most practical and more cost-effective, but it isn’t as portable as the Dell 7200 or the Surface. One mark against Microsoft here is that recent upgrades to Windows 10 caused problems with Surface’s wireless hardware, embarrassingly.
What none of these machines offer, except maybe the HP, is a viable replacement for a laptop with an integrated mechanical keyboard.
The keyboard cover on the Latitude 7200 works well enough, but it isn’t something you would want to use for, say, writing a long report.
These are portable systems for jotting the odd note or surfing the internet, and compared with a Chromebook, they are jolly expensive tools for that purpose.
The Dell Latitude 7200 is an odd 2-in-1 system that appears to address a very niche market for those who want a Windows tablet, but are generally close to a power source and Wi-Fi.
In achieving the goal of being like the Surface Pro, too many compromises have been made in terms of the practical side of this equation, much like the machine Dell aims to better.
After the initial positive vibes that such a lavishly engineered device might inspire in an owner, the limitations of using this machine might not take long to dampen the user’s enthusiasm. And the inability to make any memory upgrades or easily increase the internal storage capacity could also reduce its long-term appeal.
Dell needs to stop trying to make a better Surface and concentrate on exactly what business customers most require, and we’d argue that such a machine wouldn’t look much like this.
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