Dell vs. Lenovo: Which laptops are better for business?

Dell unveiled the latest generation of the Latitude series of business laptops. Here's how they stack up to Lenovo's ThinkPad lineup.

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Dell is making a steady stream of announcements at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas this week, including among them refreshed models of the company's Latitude and Vostro notebook computers.

Dell's Latitude series and Lenovo's ThinkPad series are popular options for business users due to the inclusion of several hardware and security features. TechRepublic compares the two product lineups to help you decide what's best for you.

The business case for Dell Latitude systems

Dell's newly-announced systems bring essentially the same set of features for business-class systems as are available from HP and Lenovo. Among these include aluminum and/or carbon fiber chassis, privacy screen settings to narrow the field of view, fingerprint readers, Windows Hello-compatible IR cameras, and smart card readers.

The aluminum and carbon fiber Latitude 7000 series comprises 13- and 14-inch models, and 2-in-1 12-inch model (Latitude 7200), while the carbon-fiber Latitude 5000 series includes 13-, 14-, and 15-inch models. The budget-focused Latitude 3000 uses the same form factors, without the carbon fiber reinforcement. All use 8th Gen Intel Core processors. The newly-announced models are available starting May 1, with the 7000 series starting at $1,299, the 2-in-1 Latitude 7200 starting at $999, the 5000 series starting at $819, and 3000 series starting at $599.

Compared to Dell's consumer-facing XPS series, the newest Latitude and Vostro models (correctly) place the webcam at the top center of the screen bezel, avoiding the "nose cam" effect. There is no cover for the webcam, however, leaving users who need to cover the camera reliant on tape or sticky notes, while Lenovo includes the "ThinkShutter" to cover the camera when not in use.

SEE: 16 top laptops for business users in 2019 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

If you're working in particularly adverse conditions, Dell's Latitude Rugged series provides a great deal more protection than is available on Lenovo's ThinkPad line. While ThinkPads are by no means fragile (more about that later), the Latitude Rugged 5420 is MIL-STD 810G and IP52 certified, and would serve well in environments where these systems are not likely to be handled gingerly. Dell's Latitude Rugged and Rugged Extreme series are more in competition with Panasonic's ToughBook series, as there is not quite a direct competitor in among ThinkPads.

The business case for Lenovo ThinkPad systems

Owing to a distinctive design language, the ThinkPad is practically synonymous with "business notebook," though fans of IBM's original models are often quick to criticize Lenovo's stewardship of the brand. Twelve years after Lenovo's purchase of the ThinkPad business from IBM, some changes have been made, though these typically reflect industry-wide changes in how laptops are designed.

Among these include the use of 16:9 screens, which are often criticized for being designed for media consumption rather than productivity. Though Dell and HP systems use the same screen type, MacBooks use 16:10 screens, while Microsoft's Surface line of devices adopted 3:2 screens in 2014, similar to Google's Pixelbook and Pixel Slate systems. Abandoning the seven-row keyboard (with the exception of the ThinkPad 25th Anniversary Edition) has also been a point of criticism.

Dell and Lenovo business-class systems are on essentially equal footing for user serviceability, though the extent to which this is possible has decreased in recent years. The ThinkPad X390 has soldered RAM, as does the 2-in-1 version of the 2018 Dell Latitude 7390, though the standard notebook version of the 7390 has soldered RAM and one SODIMM slot. (Dell's model number schema leaves a lot to be desired.) For comparison, recent 13-inch HP notebooks including the EliteBook 735 and EliteBook 830 G5 include two SODIMM sockets.

Soldered RAM makes it impossible to upgrade after ordering, and leaves buyers captive to manufacturer's pricing for RAM, which can often be exorbitant. While this is slightly more forgivable on a 13-inch system, the soldered RAM + single SODIMM combination on the 15-inch T590 is objectionable.

SEE: Beyond the PC: Lenovo's ambitious plan for the future of computing (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Thankfully, Lenovo does offer the P-series mobile workstation with superior serviceability, with the P52 and P72 including 4 SODIMM slots, 2 M.2 2280 SSD slots, and a single 2.5-inch SATA drive. This expandability does come the cost of weight, as the P52 weighs in at 2.59 kg (5.71 pounds). While this is heavy relative to contemporary systems, it is lighter than older systems with similar expandability-the T510, for example, weighs in at 2.81 kg (6.19 pounds).

The verdict

If you want to make a judgement by sales alone, Lenovo shipped just over 3 million more systems worldwide than Dell did for Q1 2019, giving the company a 23% market share compared to Dell's 17.7%, according to IDC. Lenovo and Dell-which are ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively-are the only companies to have year-over-year growth in Q1, while HP Inc., in first place with 23.2% market share, fell by 0.8%. Sales are not everything, however, and the bandwagon effect is not a precisely useful metric.

Linux users are equally well-served by both Latitude and ThinkPad systems, as both officially support Linux, and are among the more popular notebooks among Linux developers.

For users needing expandability, Lenovo's P-series is a likely best bet, though for rugged use cases, Dell's Latitude Rugged series is a better fit.

Modern day Dell systems should not be judged by the company's past faults, while Lenovo's ThinkPads do not live in the shadow of IBM. Essentially, the differences come down to aesthetics and pricing. If you see one you like, and can grab it in a sale, go for it.

Also see

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Image: Lenovo

By James Sanders

James Sanders is a technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on Asia.