Two cheers for Dell's new laptop family

Listening to the Dell folk going through the features of the latest Latitude E family, I found myself muttering, "That's not new, that's not new either..." And yet, at the end of it I was thinking that Dell might actually be on to something here.

Among the hyped but not-new features are: co-processors for instant-on access, backlit keyboards with ambient light sensors (Apple PowerBooks had both in 2003), and laptops with coloured cases (though Dell did try to qualify its claim here by specifying "business laptops"). There's also been better-specced - though perhaps less rugged - sub-kilogram machines before, and fingerprint readers are old news.

A new Latitude series was never going to be a gamble - it's several years since the D series came out, and the line has been due a refresh for some time.

Nor was the feature-hype a surprise. Dell's marketeers probably assume that if they throw enough hype, some will stick - and they're right.

So why - despite all the questionable claims to novelty - did I still come away with a good impression overall? For one thing, Dell could well the first company to roll these features all in together and punt them at the mass market, and for another, so much of selling technology is about timing - and one thing Dell is good at is knowing when the market is ready for something.

There's something else too: Dell talks about commonality, and perhaps it may even understand why and where it's a good idea. A simple example: I've had three IBM Thinkpads in a row now, one reason being the commonality of power supplies.

(In other areas, IBM and Lenovo did less well. Like Dell's "new" USB PowerShare feature, my 2002-vintage Thinkpad X23 would charge a mobile phone from USB even when in standby, and it had a useful keyboard light. But when I swapped to an X41 tablet, I was startled to find my phone still had a flat battery in the morning, and that while the keyboard light switch is there, it doesn't actually do anything as there's no light. Idiocy!)

Another encouraging thing was Dell's apparent willingness to listen to users - both those who'll travel with the machines and those who'll be responsible for deploying and managing them - and build their wishes and concerns into the new line.

Oh, and the company says it will continue to offer Windows XP as an alternative to Vista until 2010.

This story, "Two cheers for Dell's new laptop family" was originally published by


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon