The Dell Latitude series has always been popular with business buyers, as the notebooks deliver precisely the feature sets that corporate IT wants at a price the finance department can stomach.
The lowest rung on the Latitude ladder is the 3000-series machines with 11-inch screens that use a Celeron CPU. At the opposite end of the scale are the high-end Core i7-powered 7000-series with all manner of sophisticated features. And between those are 2-in-1 designs, rugged models, and what we’re investigating today: the 5000-series.
The Dell Latitude 5490 is the latest 5000-series design, and aims to keep Dell well represented when the debate turns to new productivity tools at the next board meeting.
Price, availability and value
For those unfamiliar with the Dell approach to selling computers, there is a basic selection of sub-models for any design, and you can customize them to varying degrees from there.
The Latitude 5490 comes in 11 different configurations that start at £709 (around $965) ex VAT and go up to £1,109 (around $1,500) depending on processor, memory, display and storage options.
You can also make them pricier by adding options like a SmartCard reader, LTE modem and fingerprint scanner, or including accessories like the Dell Business Dock. The Latitude 5490 reviewed here replaces the 5480, a very well-respected design, and a strong competitor in a sector with impressive offerings from Acer, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba amongst others.
One critical difference between the Dell US and Europe product options is that the reviewed design isn’t one available in the American range.
The $799 (around £586) version of the Latitude 5490 in the US has only 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA drive and a lower resolution 1366 x 768 display. The inclusion of a 1080p screen is exclusive to those systems that come with the Core i7-8650U or i5-8350U processors.
Because this machine isn’t a Dell XPS, we expected plastic over a metal interior, and our assumptions were correct.
Irrespective of the materials, the Latitude 5490 feels well-made, substantial, and the surface texture makes it easy to handle. That last point is important, as it weighs 1.6kg and dropping it might have unpleasant consequences.
That’s a little on the heavy side for this type of machine, but there is plenty of computer inside the black exterior to compensate for having to carry it.
The first thing we noticed about the notebook was that the external ports are almost evenly distributed between left, right and the rear, with a full-size Type-A USB port on each side. As a rule, it's normally considered a poor idea to put ports on the hinge spine, as that’s where the greatest angular breaking force is often applied should the machine fall or tip over.
Dell acknowledged this to a degree in the placement of the power port and the LAN socket. They’re mounted in each of the hinge plates, providing them with a metal surround that offers some protection from a potential calamity.
How much protection that offers is difficult to predict, but anything is better than a broken notebook that you can’t power, charge, or can only network using Wi-Fi.
The keyboard on the 5490 was a very pleasant surprise, as it has a decent amount of spacing between the keys and a very positive, if slightly bouncy, action. It is also backlit, should you need to work in low-light conditions, like those in a projected presentation.
Our only dislike with the keyboard is how small Dell decided to make the cursor keys, which are tiny considering how often a typical user will need them. At the center of the keyboard is a ‘nipple’ for those who loved their ThinkPad once (or maybe still do), though the touchpad is a much better option for controlling the cursor for most users.
Dell touchpads have improved markedly, and the one on the 5490 is large, has buttons at both the top and bottom, and supports single, double, triple or four finger gestures. Most users will probably stop at pinching and scrolling, but those who learn these gestures can invoke Cortana or the Action Center with a single movement.
A weakness of a machine built to a very exact price is often the screen, but the one used in the review model looked perfectly serviceable to us. With a 1080p resolution and a brightness of 200 nits, it works well for typical office use, and at this resolution, the interface doesn’t require any extreme interface scaling.
We’ve seen brighter and more colorful displays on other brands, most noticeably from Fujitsu, but the screen on this PC will be acceptable for most users.
It isn’t a touch-capable display, and Dell doesn’t offer touch on any Latitude 5490 currently. As this system isn’t a 2-in-1, its omission isn’t a huge loss, unless you are addicted to putting smudgy fingerprints on the screen. So far, everything about the Latitude 5490 is good, or good enough.
Here is the Dell Latitude 5490 configuration sent to TechRadar Pro for review:
CPU: Intel Core i5-8250U quad-core 3.38GHz
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
RAM: 8GB DDR4 RAM (2400MHz)
Screen: 14-inch Full HD (non-touchscreen)
Storage: 128GB M.2 SATA SSD
Ports: 3 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 (one with powershare), 1 x DisplayPort over Type C, 1 x HDMI, 1 x VGA, 1 x Ethernet, 1 x microSD card slot, headphone/mic jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
Camera: Camera with mic
Weight: 1.6kg (3.52lb)
Size: 332 x 229 x 16.9mm (W x D x H)
Battery: 4 cell
The specification of this machine swings rather wildly from making perfect sense to almost none at all.
On the logical side of that line is the Intel Core i5-8250U CPU, an excellent Kaby Lake U-series quad-core (eight-thread) chip that can trundle along at 1.6GHz until the hard work kicks it up to 3.38GHz in turbo mode. It manages this with a maximum TDP of just 15W.
That chip combined with the 8GB of DDR4 memory makes for a smooth experience, and there are enough external ports for most users.
It irks us that Dell is still placating people who use VGA screens, but those living in the 21st Century can connect via HDMI or use DisplayPort over the USB Type-C port.
The highest specification models have this port upgraded to Thunderbolt 3, but not on the reviewed hardware spec. But where the specifications go entirely awry is in the storage department, where Dell confusingly used an M.2 drive that offers no practical advantage over a SATA-connected SSD.
The logic appears to be that because the 128GB module in the review model is M.2, then it is worth more than the 2.5-inch 500GB hard drive on other models. Well, it will be quicker, but with such little space left (88GB on the review machine), it hobbles what is otherwise a very useful piece of equipment.
What makes even less sense is why M.2 technology was used for the drive. Because the machine obviously has the space for a 2.5-inch mechanism, as seen in the hard drive models, why not use a bigger SATA SSD? The argument about M.2 offering ultimate performance doesn’t hold any water either, as Dell chose to use only SATA M.2 modules over the entire range in the UK and not NVMe.
There aren’t any easy user upgradable options either, so unless you fancy dismantling the Latitude, you can’t utilize that empty 2.5-inch drive bay - ever. For those who don’t mind removing screws and cloning drives, disappointment awaits.
The M.2 slot and the 2.5-inch SATA bay occupy the same physical space, so you can’t have both. And, the M.2 version of the machine is also missing the cables and shroud to mount the 2.5-inch drive.
Based on that revelation, we suspect that those models provided with 2.5-inch drives are missing the corresponding elements to use the M.2 slot.
However, there is a little light at the end of this tunnel. In the manual it mentions that the M.2 slot can take both SATA and NVMe drives, allowing you to buy the 128GB review version and then upgrade it to an NVMe drive of whatever size you can afford (up to 1TB).
The only caveat to this exercise is that the drives will need to be cloned outside the machine, ideally using a desktop PC with two spare M.2 slots. Or, make a recovery drive, and do a total rebuild at the outset.
Opening up the 5490 also allows the RAM to be upgraded to 32GB, filling both memory slots provided, having first removed the single pre-installed 8GB module. Another oddity is that the machine has a SIM card slot, for those wishing to go online via cellular technology. But inserting a SIM won’t provide this, as you must buy and install an additional WWAN module to enable this functionality.
Dell went to the trouble of mounting the tray and the antenna by default in every 5490, but frustratingly left out the WWAN module. The battery spec of this machine can vary from a 42 to 51 or 68 Whr, and the review hardware had the biggest of those options for the longest operating battery life.
But enough technical details: how does it run?