Colossal quad-core horsepower. Good battery life. Faultless security and manageability.
Gets pricey with options. Slightly dim display. Thunderbolt 3 not standard.
- Bottom Line
Dell's highly configurable Latitude 5480 is a strong rival to its 14-inch business laptop competition, though our near-$2,000 test unit was too much machine for mere spreadsheets and reports.
What do you call the middle model in a mainstream line? The sweet spot's sweet spot, perhaps. Dell's Latitude 3000, 5000, and 7000 series target modest, middling, and major budgets respectively. That makes the 14-inch Latitude 5000 (5480) (starts at $769; $1,947 as tested) as mainstream as it gets. We recommend it for fleet deployment in your enterprise, plus distribution to specialized workers who'll appreciate its available near-workstation levels of performance. On the minus side, our test unit was optioned so heavily it wound up priced above the 14-inch flagship Dell Latitude 7000 (7480), and its screen, keyboard, and weight keep it from unseating our current top pick for business laptops, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
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Room for Customization
The base model Core i3 configuration of the Latitude 5480 comes with 4GB of memory, a 500GB hard disk, and a 1,366-by-768 screen. Our test unit was closer to the top—and frankly overpowered for productivity work— with an Intel Core i7 quad-core processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB solid-state drive, and a 1,920-by-1,080 non-touch display. Options are plentiful, ranging from dedicated graphics and a touch screen to Thunderbolt 3 and WiGig support. Whichever configuration of the 5480 you end up with, your IT department will be delighted with Dell's manageability and security features, from TPM and vPro support to our system's three ID authentication choices (a SmartCard reader, fingerprint reader, and Windows Hello face-recognition webcam for securely logging into Windows 10).
Basic Business Black
At 0.88 by 13.1 by 9 inches (HWD), the Latitude is a bit thicker but has a slightly smaller footprint than the HP EliteBook 1040 G3 (0.65 by 13.3 by 9.2 inches) and a slightly larger one than the Lenovo ThinkPad T460s(0.74 by 13 by 8.9). At 3.6 pounds, it weighs about as much as the HP and a half-pound more than the T460s. (The Carbon weighs less than 2.5 pounds.) Nevertheless, it's no burden in a briefcase, nor to carry uncased—the lid and palm rest have a pleasant-feeling nonskid coating.
The chassis is made of carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer. You may balk at a near-$2,000 laptop made of plastic instead of metal, but the Latitude feels solid, with virtually no flex in the display and only a little in the middle of the keyboard deck (we had to hammer the G and H keys to feel the bend). You'll be pleased with the unit's road-ready reliability (it's passed a slew of military standard tests for things like shock, vibration, and extreme temperatures).
The bezels surrounding the screen aren't fashionably thin, but they permit a proper placement of the webcam above rather than below the display. The chiclet-style keyboard features an embedded pointing stick (its blue ring is a nice accent in the sea of black) as well as a touchpad, with three and two buttons respectively.
The power button and fingerprint reader are to the right of the keyboard, which features dedicated Page Up and Page Down keys (Home and End, alas, are function-key combinations with the left and right cursor arrows) and a bright backlight. The soft, silent keyboard encourages high-speed typing, but feels a bit mushy compared to its competitors. Both pointing devices work smoothly, though we prefer the touchpad and its big, crisp buttons to the slow stick.
Ports are plentiful. On the left side, you'll find a USB 3.0 port, an SD card slot, a SmartCard reader, and a DisplayPort video output with USB-C connector. The last worked fine with our USB-C flash drive, but does not function as a Thunderbolt 3 port unless you spring for an option package including Nvidia GeForce 930MX discrete graphics replacing the Intel HD 630 integrated graphics. Considering the 5480's price, we would like Thunderbolt 3 to be standard.
The right edge of the system holds another USB 3.0 port, an audio jack, a VGA port, and a Noble lock slot that will probably frustrate your IT department and its collection of Kensington lock cables. Finally, along the rear are a third USB 3.0 port, an Ethernet jack, an HDMI port, and a door covering the tray for the optional mobile broadband SIM card. There's also an NFC hotspot in the palm rest and 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 for wireless connections.
The Full HD display offers good colors and contrast, as well as an anti-glare coating that reduces reflections. Details are crisp, with enough resolution to indulge in some photo editing and 1080p video viewing as well as fine-tuning presentations and spreadsheet charts, though we wish the screen (rated at 220 nits) had more brightness—it was perfectly legible at its top couple of backlight settings, but we longed for a couple more.
PowerPoint presenters and Candy Crush Soda Saga players will find the Latitude's bottom-mounted speakers can easily fill a room, though sound lacks booming bass and grows distorted as you crank it past 75 percent volume. Our test unit carried an impressive warranty with three years of on-site service after remote diagnostics, compared to the one year of many rivals.
The Thrill of Overkill
If the Latitude's cooling fan frequently made itself heard during our everyday use and benchmark testing, that's because it has some heavy-duty hardware to cool: The processor is Intel's seventh-generation Core i7-7820HQ, a 2.9GHz (3.9GHz turbo) quad-core with Hyper-Threading that tops even the Core i7-7700HQ found in many gaming laptops. It's teamed with 16GB of DDR4 memory and a 512GB Micron SSD (with SATA interface; a PCI Express/NVMe solid-state drive is another option for performance zealots).
Our test unit's PCMark 8 Work Conventional productivity score of 3,586 topped those of comparable 14-inch notebooks, ranging from the Core i7 Latitude 7480 (3,369) to the Core i5 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (3,240). The new ThinkPad T470s (the "Kaby Lake" successor to the slimline T460s) scored 3,255. All these laptops, however, scored highly enough to indicate no trouble with the likes of Word and Excel.
The quad-core Latitude 5480 predictably pulverized its dual-core competition in the CPU-intensive Cinebench scene rendering (score 737) and Handbrake video transcoding (time 1:01) tests. The system sprinted through our Adobe Photoshop image editing scenario in 2 minutes and 58 seconds, though all of its rivals except the HP EliteBook 1040 G3 were within a minute of that time.
You likely won't use this or any business laptop for gaming, though it did reach the 30 frames per second threshold for smooth gameplay in our Valley test at medium resolution and image-quality settings—a performance near the top of the business-centric, integrated-graphics segment. We wouldn't bother ordering a Latitude with optional dedicated graphics in hopes of gonzo gaming, either; the GeForce 930MX is too far down Nvidia's parts list to challenge today's 1000-series GPUs.
Lasting 10 hours in our battery-rundown test, the 5480 should easily get you through a full workday or transcontinental flight, though you can't replace the battery or swap in a spare. Other notebooks in our test group showed even more stamina, however, led by the Carbon's remarkable 16 hours.
Racehorse or Workhorse, It's Up to You
We may be overemphasizing the Latitude 5480's sticker shock: A nice dual-core model with, say, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD will satisfy most needs for under $1,500, and even companies that crave our unit's mighty power will amortize its cost over several years. The 14-inch competition is formidable, though, especially from Lenovo's T460s/T470s and our Editors' Choice X1 Carbon with their lighter weight and divine keyboards, but IT managers seeking top levels of both manageability and customizability will find the 5480 one of their best bets. We wouldn't wish a 1,366-by-768 screen on any business laptop user nowadays, but the freedom to choose anything from a Core i3 to our test unit's beefy Core i7-7820HQ? That counts for a lot with us.
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By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Old Greenwich, CT. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
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