Hands-on review: Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1

Dell's Latitude 7400 2-in-1 tries to deliver a little bit of everything for every potential use case, resulting in a 14-inch ultraportable with a 360-degree hinge, with active stylus input.

Hands-on review: Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 Dell's Latitude 7400 2-in-1 tries to deliver a little bit of everything for every potential use case, resulting in a 14-inch ultraportable with a 360-degree hinge, with active stylus input.

Dell's Latitude line of notebooks for business is positioned against Lenovo's ThinkPad and HP's EliteBook and ZBook series. The Latitude 7400 2-in-1 tries to deliver a little bit of everything for every potential use case, resulting in a 14-inch ultraportable with a 360-degree hinge. Some users prefer that form factor for the larger battery or higher power—though this design does add bulk in comparison to detachables such as the Surface Book 2, which has other drawbacks.

Specifications (as reviewed)

  • CPU: 8th Generation Intel Core i7-8665U (4 Core, 1.9 GHz Base / 4.8 GHz Turbo)

  • RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 2133MHz (soldered)

  • SSD: M.2 512GB PCIe NVMe

  • Display: 14" FHD (1920x1080) Touchscreen, Anti-reflective & Anti-smudge

  • Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620

  • Ports: 2x USB Type-A 3.1 Gen 1, 2x Thunderbolt 3 / DisplayPort (USB Type-C), 1x HDMI, microSD Card Reader

  • Networking: Wireless Intel® Dual Band Wireless AC 9560 (802.11ac)

  • Dimensions: 12.59" x 7.87" x .34" (front) / .59" (rear) (319.77 x 199.9 x 8.53 [front] / 14.89 [rear] mm)

  • Starting weight: 2.99lb 

  • Battery: 78Whr

  • Price: $2802 (as configured)

Hardware and design impressions

Designing any finished product requires difficult decisions for component use and placement, more so with 2-in-1 systems that prioritize lower weight and higher portability. Dell's taken quite a lot of heat in the past for the "nose cam" found on previous models of their consumer-focused XPS systems, a practice the company has—thankfully—moved away from in recent years. On the Latitude 7400 2-in-1, the webcam is positioned in the center of the (quite small) bezel, and an unobtrusive white LED turns on when the camera is activated. 

The webcam compared favorably to my 2015-era ThinkPad on the same network and using the same applications I use regularly for video calls, likewise, I've received positive comments about the quality of the microphone on the Dell from people I speak to on a regular basis. As a business-focused device, the lack of a shutter for the camera may irk some, though that would undoubtedly add some bulk to the top bezel.

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

The screen is reasonably typical—it offers multitouch and supports stylus input. The hinge is sufficiently strong enough to require some force to push the screen back when using the stylus in laptop mode. The display is crisp and acceptable bright off-the-shelf 1080p panel, which looks certainly acceptable at 14 inches, though pales in comparison to a HiDPI (Retina) display. The amount of engineering expended to cram a panel this size in a frame this small is laudable, and there's no Dell logo on the screen bezels, which is a welcome omission.

The pen is seriously pleasant to use, if for some reason you have a need to use it. I've found myself using the pen instead of my finger for using the touchscreen quite often when using the system. It attaches quite strongly to either side via magnets when not in use. Unless you have a need to for pen input (signing documents, drawings, notes, etc.,) it is unlikely to be a particularly strong selling point Handwriting-to-text conversion in Windows 10 is occasionally slightly shaky, though this could be as easily explained by (my) poor handwriting. 

dell-keyboard.jpg

Dell didn't produce a custom top case for keyboards with a single-row Enter key, as is common for US keyboards. As a result, the keys extend to fill that space.

Image: James Sanders/TechRepublic

The chiclet keyboard is quiet to type on, has decent key travel, and two backlight settings. It is unobtrusive, though the left Control and Function keys are swapped compared to ThinkPad systems, though this is a fault of muscle memory more than the system itself. Dell didn't produce a separate keyboard top bezel for keyboards with a single-row Enter key, making that and the Vertical Pipe key look peculiar in order to fill that space. It's a minor complaint, though for this asking price, it's not an unreasonable one. 

The touchpad feels similarly unobtrusive, though unremarkable.The power button is isolated from the keyboard, and requires a more forceful press than a standard key to activate.

Being a 14" system, it is naturally going to feel heavier than an iPad Pro when held with one hand. This is unavoidable. When in tablet mode, the angle of the chassis feels slightly jagged, making it moderately unpleasant to hold. Worse, for all of this weight, the Latitude 7400 doesn't feel particularly durable, despite the use of aluminum for part of the bezel. While 2.99 lbs is not an encumbrance, it feels more awkward to hold than other systems.

Storage, performance, and ports

Being a 2-in-1, the Latitude 7400 has somewhat more constraints for space. There's an understandable need to maximize space where possible, leading to the—truthfully, industry standard—practice of soldering down RAM. This review unit is equipped with an ample 16 GB LPDDR3, which should serve well for a normal lifespan of the system. Likewise, it is equipped with a PCI Express-linked 512 GB Toshiba SSD (M.2 2280), which is user serviceable.

The port selection is generous, with two USB Type-A 3.1 Gen 1, two Thunderbolt 3/DisplayPort (USB Type-C), one HDMI, and one 3.5mm headphone jack, plus a microSD Card Reader. It's nearly enough to not need dongles--users with a need for Ethernet connectivity will find themselves out of luck, though I'd be at pains to point to a 2-in-1 with onboard Ethernet.

Starting with 8th generation Intel Core processors, the number of cores included has increased, which brings with it obvious performance improvements—essentially 45-55%, averaged out. That said, the advertised 4.8 GHz turbo is perhaps not the most meaningful figure, as thermal limits will prevent the CPU from operating at that frequency for more than a few seconds. Likewise, turbo clock speeds apply only to one core. 

As a business-focused PC, it is equipped with vPro for remote configuration through Intel AMT, allowing for the system to be re-imaged while the power is off. There's some concern about the security of this, though AMT is used with relative frequency for mass imaging corporate-deployed systems. Likewise, Intel's VT-x and VT-d extensions are practically required for virtualization tasks—this can be handy for running Linux on top of Windows, or a Windows 10 insider build on top of a stable release.

The bottom line

On price, the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is difficult to recommend. Dell's list price is $2802, which is the height of optimism relative to the parts inside it. To make the requisite MacBook comparison, the 2018 Macbook Pro includes a (newer) faster hexa-core processor, and a discrete GPU, and still a $200 savings when upgrading to a 512 GB SSD to match the Dell. 

That—for any number of reasons—can be dismissed as a less than equitable comparison, not the least of which is Dell's own website listing this configuration for $2489, which is better, if only just. Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 4 is likely the most direct competitor, and when configured for the same vPro-compatible CPU, RAM, SSD, and screen, comes up at $1975. 

In comparison to Microsoft's Surface Book 2, the 13.5" model with an i7-8650U, 16 GB RAM, and SSD is a near match at $2499. This is a detachable 2-in-1 that includes an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050, which is substantively more powerful than the integrated Intel UHD graphics on either the Dell or ThinkPad, when it works.

Ultimately, there's a missing wow factor with the Latitude 7400 2-in-1, which may sting given the price tag. On a technical basis, it's a decently solid performer, and the webcam and microphone do impress. 

Also see

screenshot-from-copy-of-20190730-dell-james-mp4.png

Image: Derek Poore/TechRepublic