First look: Dell's Latitude Z laptop goes for the high end

This pricy luxury notebook is aimed at the executive who wants to impress

Dell, once the king of low-cost over-the-phone computer sales, has recently been trying to find its niche as a purveyor of luxury goods in what could charitably be called a stuttering economy. Having first gone for the high-end consumer market with its sleek Adamo notebook released in March, it has turned its sights to the corporate sector with the sleek, expensive and better equipped Latitude Z.

I had a chance to preview the Latitude Z before its release. It is indeed a great-looking machine, black with silver highlights. It's slim and lightweight (4.5 lbs. with basic battery, about 5 lbs. with longer-life battery), with a widescreen, impressively bright 16-inch display and full-sized keyboard that I found almost too large -- I actually had to stretch slightly to hit a couple of the keys.

Inductive charger

There are a number of nifty features that come with the Latitude Z, either standard or as options. (For a base price of $2,000, there had better be.) But the most anticipated feature -- at least, the one that has featured in most of the pre-release speculation -- is its optional ($400) inductive recharging stand, which charges the laptop without a wired connection.

There are a few inductive charging stands out there, most of them third-party devices for phones, media players, and other small gadgets. But the Latitude Z is the first mainstream notebook to come with the ability built in. The stand is a bright metal object in the shape of a sideways "U" -- the notebook sits on top of the stand, held in place by a small lip in front. The idea is that you can drop the notebook on the stand, pull out a keyboard and work with the notebook while it charges. According to Dell, it should take 2 to 3 hours to fully charge a depleted machine, depending on the battery.

Dell Latitude Z on wireless charging stand
Dell Latitude Z on wireless charging stand

At first look, the stand is snazzy looking but seems like more of a gimmick than anything else. The lack of a power cord leading from the notebook to the stand might look good in a corporate office, but won't make much difference in the long run. And of course, the Latitude Z also comes with a more traditional power cord.

Inside the case

What will make or break the Latitude are its own features. It includes a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor (upgradeable to 1.6GHz) and a separate low-voltage ARM-based processor -- the Texas Instruments OMAP 3430 -- for its Latitude ON alternate boot environment (more about that in a moment). Also standard are 2GB RAM (expandable to 4GB) and an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD.

While most notebooks and even netbooks still shy away from the more durable but more expensive SSDs in favor of traditional hard drives, Dell has decided that its Latitude Z will accommodate one or two SSDs. The base model has a 64GB SSD, with an option to expand to 128GB or 256GB; the secondary SSD is available in the same three capacities.

The notebook has two battery options: Dell says the standard 4-cell battery is good for about 4 hours, while the longer-life 8-cell battery ($69 as a replacement for the standard battery, $150 as an additional battery) lasts for 8 hours. While the standard battery fits snugly between two rather snazzy silver metal holders, the longer-life battery extends out a bit from the back of the chassis and adds about half a pound to its weight, but it could be worth it for the additional computing time.

Also included: 802.11a/g/n wireless networking, Bluetooth, a fingerprint reader, a contactless Smart Card reader, two USB ports (one of which is also an eSATA port) and an Ethernet port. (Unusually, the Ethernet port is behind the notebook's hinge, on the side of the battery.) It comes with Windows Vista Ultimate or Business, or Windows XP Pro.

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