Starting Configuration Price
Excellent battery life. Plenty of ports including HDMI, Ethernet, and Thunderbolt 3. Snappy keyboard.
Micro instead of standard SD card slot. Sound gets fuzzy when turned up.
- Bottom Line
Business users will appreciate the Dell Latitude 7280's briefcase-space-saving size and impressive battery life, as well as the wealth of connectivity it offers in its small chassis.
Do you mind a bit of bezel with your business notebook? The Dell Latitude 7280 (starts at $1,029; $1,830 as tested) has a conventional 12.5-inch screen rather than the nearly borderless InfinityEdge 13.3-inch display of the Latitude 7370, but it offers more potent Intel Core i7 versus Core M power, superior battery life, and a less shallow, more comfortable keyboard. Plus its webcam is properly mounted above, not below, the screen so it focuses on your face instead of up your nostrils. The 7280 doesn't quite topple our Editors' Choice among business ultraportables, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, thanks to the latter's 14-inch screen and lighter weight, but it goes toe-to-toe with the ThinkPad X270 for 12.5-inch supremacy.
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Entry-level models feature a low-resolution 1,366-by-768 display and low-octane Core i3 CPU. Our test unit was fitted with a 1,920-by-1,080 non-touch screen, Core i7-7600U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SATA solid-state drive, along with a fingerprint reader and infrared face-recognition camera for Windows Hello password bypassing. Options range from a SIM card for mobile broadband to a slightly faster PCI Express SSD.
Comfy to Carry
At 0.67 by 12 by 8.2 inches (HWD), the Latitude 7280 has the same compact footprint as the ThinkPad X270 but is about one-tenth of an inch thinner and slightly lighter (2.8 pounds versus 3.1 pounds), though not as svelte as the 2.45-pound X1 Carbon. It's not as slim as systems like the Asus ZenBook 3 (0.47 inch) that forswear USB Type-A and Ethernet ports, but the Dell has both, as well as USB-C, as you'll see below.
Its stylish black chassis is made of magnesium alloy with soft-touch paint that makes the lid and keyboard deck easy to grip, though a 1080p touch screen with carbon fiber back is optional. The nonskid theme continues with a touch borrowed from the Latitude's XPS cousins: two nearly full-width rubber feet instead of the usual four dots on the underside, so the system won't slide around your desk. Both the lid and the keyboard deck feel reassuringly solid; you can force a little flex if you grab the screen corners or whale on the keys, but in normal use the 7280 is sturdy and secure.
For a small laptop, the Dell bristles with ports. On the left edge are the connector for the shirt-pocket-sized AC adapter, a Thunderbolt 3 port with USB-C and DisplayPort functionality, a full-sized HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port, and a SmartCard slot (there's also a contactless SmartCard reader in the palm rest).
On the right, you'll find an audio jack, a SIM card tray, a microSD card slot, another USB 3.0 port, an RJ-45 Ethernet jack, and a Noble (not Kensington) lock slot. We could wish for a full-sized flash-card slot, but the 7280's array of connectivity is pretty impressive, especially for enterprises moving away from proprietary docking ports toward Thunderbolt 3 solutions—an edge over the X270, which has a USB-C port that is merely USB-C.
Even more impressive is the Dell's keyboard. Not quite full-sized—the A through apostrophe span is three-eighths of an inch shy of the desktop standard 8 inches—it compensates with a crisp, responsive typing feel, with more travel than we usually expect from ultraportables and a pleasant amount of feedback.
We were happy to find dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys (although the first pair are on the top row and the second near the bottom) and a function lock key (Fn+Esc) that let us choose between Windows commands and system operations such as microphone mute and keyboard backlight for F1 through F12. The touchpad is on the small side but glides smoothly, with two buttons that give a satisfying click.
Just under the front edge of the keyboard are the 7280's stereo speakers, which pump out enough sound to fill a midsized conference room. Audio is good at low volumes, though predictably short on booming bass, but grows ragged as you crank the volume past 75 percent. At 100 percent, it'll remind you of the first AM radio you had as a kid.
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The screen's full HD resolution is a good fit for its 12.5-inch size, helped by Windows 10's icon and display element zoom (set to 125 percent out of the box); an antiglare finish prevents reflections. There's enough brightness that we didn't mind dialing the backlight down several steps for battery savings' sake, though contrast seemed a little low—colors were clear, but didn't pop as vividly as we like.
Dell earns points for backing even the cheapest Latitude 7280 with three years of next-business-day on-site service after remote diagnostics. (Rivals with one year of carry-in or depot service, pay attention.) IT managers will be happy with the system's Intel vPro remote manageability.
Full (Processing) Speed Ahead
Our test unit's Core i7-7600U CPU, a 2.8GHz (3.9GHz turbo) dual-core chip with Hyper-Threading and Intel HD 620 integrated graphics, matches or surpasses those in the system's 12.5-inch competitors. The Dell's PCMark 8 office productivity score of 3,409 was trivially lower than that of the ThinkPad X270 (3,484), as was its Cinebench CPU score (351 versus 375), but it topped or tied the Razer Blade Stealth and Asus ZenBook 3. Its Photoshop and Handbrake multimedia benchmark results were more middling, but still well within the respectable range for a productivity-oriented portable.
That's not true of its 3DMark graphics scores—356 for the Fire Strike subtest, compared to 401 for the Razer Blade Stealth and 429 for the ZenBook 3—but that simply underscores that neither the Latitude nor any other integrated-graphics business laptop is built for 3D arcade or shoot-'em-up action. Casual and solitaire games, not the latest fast-blast titles, are its pastimes of choice.
Besides, the 7280 more than redeems itself in our battery-life benchmark, cruising through a remarkable 15 and a quarter hours of video playback. The Lenovo X270 came close to 16 hours with its optional extended-life battery, as the X1 Carbon did with its standard battery. But in a sense the X270's battery life is limited only by your budget: If you buy multiple battery packs, you can swap in one after the other. The Latitude and Carbon show some of the greatest stamina we've seen among laptops with traditional, non-swappable power packs.
A Spiffy Subcompact
With the fashionable trend toward thinner screen bezels, you can quibble about the prospects for 12.5- versus 13.3-inch ultraportables; anything that causes less squinting is a bonus in our book. For now, however, the 12.5-inch size remains a good bet for crowded briefcases, and the Latitude a leading contender in the class. Both the Latitude 7280 and the ThinkPad X270 have a lot to recommend them. If you're not swayed by the Lenovo's user-changeable battery or the Dell's Thunderbolt 3 port, we'll settle it based on thinness and weight: Advantage Latitude.
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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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