Round Rock (TX) - Dell is having much more fun with its products lately, which is especially visible with the bright colors the company has added to many of its products. Now these colors and new shapes are extending to its previously rather boring Latitude business notebooks, which make us wonder whether Dell will be the PC company that will be the most serious challenger for Apple in terms of product design and innovation. There is just one problem.
A Latitude notebook is typically that Dell notebook the guy in the airplane seat next to you uses to hastily finish up a presentation. Latitudes have earned a decent reputation due to their long product and support life cycles and Dell’s early successes to push its brand deep into corporate structures. The downside, for the individual user, is that these notebooks are simple and boring workhorses and aren’t especially inspiring, especially not if the person next to you pulls a Macbook Air out of a briefcase.
That is an issue Dell obviously noticed and, if we believe the company, then it worked diligently to come up with a notebook solution that reflects the change of time and a device that does not look quite so awkward next to a shiny Apple notebook. Dell said it has 1 million man hours and ended up up with more than 3200 prototypes for a new generation of Latitudes. The result is very much what would expect from Dell, but we have to admit there are some enticing aspects about these new notebooks, which makes them much more attractive than their predecessors.
The new notebooks come in four flavors - the ultraportable 12.1" and 13.3" E4200/E4300 models, the entry-level 14.1"/15.4" E5400/E5500 versions, the 15.4" mainstream E6500 model as well as the rugged E6400 ATG. Leaving the rare ATG version out of consideration, the prices for the new Latitudes start in the $790 range for the E5400, travel across the $1100 mark for E6400. Prices for the E4000 series, which will arrive with a delay of a few weeks, have not been announced, but expect them to be noticeable higher. The ATG model starts at $2400.
Looking through the specs of the notebooks, Dell includes lots of new features - UWB and GPS are available and WiMax can be added as soon as the chipsets and networks are ready. There is also a fancy backlit keyboard and a much smaller power adapter that is about the size of a Blackberry smartphone. The new Latitudes can be ordered in bright colors such as red, blue and, if you want to, pink (E4000 only). There is a range of new security features, including a new service that allows users to wipe the data on their notebook remotely - in the case a device is stolen. Most importantly, the battery time now is 19 hours, if you choose to purchase a 9-cell battery/battery slice. At least in theory, this would allow you to work on your notebook continuously on a flight between New York and Singapore.
It appears that Dell is more and more emerging as the Apple of the Wintel PC makers - there is no doubt that there are more interesting products coming out of Dell these days than ever before. The problem I mentioned earlier is not an objective issue, but will need to be addressed by the company at some point : The introduction of the new notebooks was among the most boring presentations we have seen in a long time. Yes, we know that these are business notebooks, but that does not mean that Dell should put media, analysts and customers to sleep when lifting the cover from one of the most important products in the company’s history. In the hardware department, Dell is catching up with Apple. Now the presentation department could use some help as well.