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

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Latitude ON for instant on

The Latitude Z sits its Windows 7 operating system alongside an instant-on (what Dell calls Latitude ON) Linux-based OS. This added functionality is so much a part of the Latitude Z that Dell has provided the instant-on OS with its own button, which sits next to the slightly larger power button on the upper right-hand side of the keyboard.

Unlike most of the other instant-on interfaces that I've seen, which tend to have highly simplified interfaces with large icons, Latitude ON has a more professional look, with menu drop-downs along the left top of the screen. As stated before, Latitude ON uses its own low-power ARM processor and is stored in flash memory; it is based on the GNOME application Evolution, and gives you access to e-mail, a calendar, an address book and the Web.

Latitude ON doesn't communicate with your local version of Outlook. It pulls your e-mail and other data wirelessly via Microsoft Exchange (individuals who don't use Exchange can use POP for e-mail access). Data is not synced between Latitude ON and your data on the SSD. According to Dell representatives, this is for security purposes, so that others won't have easy access to your data (although you can have a separate password for your Latitude ON boot-up). This basically means that if you don't use Exchange, Latitude ON won't be very practical.

More goodies

There are a number of extra attractions that should attract style-conscious executives. The Latitude Z has a nifty backlit keyboard (the 2-megapixel Webcam can act as an ambient sensor so that the backlighting automatically goes on in low lighting conditions); the Webcam can also scan and capture documents such as business cards and save them to Outlook. The large touchpad is comfortable to use and supports multi-touch gestures.

The right side of the bezel (the frame around the display) responds to pressure from your fingers and brings up a customizable icon menu on that side of the screen; press the bezel near the icon and you can launch the associated application. I don't know how useful a feature like that will be in the long run, but it certainly looked cool.

One extra that'll cost you is the optional wireless dock, which connects your laptop to your external monitor and USB peripherals instantly as you enter your office. (The dock is connected to the peripherals via cables but connects to your notebook wirelessly.) It costs $350 and requires that your system have Dell's 420 ultra-wideband (UWB) mini card installed.


All this is very cool. But with all that said and done -- the stylish look, the instant-on OS, the great display, the two SSDs, the wireless dock and inductive charger -- the question is whether corporations have lifted themselves enough out of the recession doldrums to purchase what is, in essence, a luxury item.

Dell hopes they have; a company representative told me that the $2,000 notebook is being aimed at executives, salespeople, and others who need to present a successful image to their customers. That, at least, the Latitude Z will do.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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