(Pocket-lint) - For years we've heard tablets are killing laptops. But would we trade in our MacBooks for an iPad and an on-screen keyboard? Only if the alternative was having to ram an Apple Pencil down each fingernail.
The Dell Latitude 7000 2-in-1 is a 12.5-inch device that, like the Microsoft Surface family, suggests a different outcome. It wants the relationship between tablet and laptop to be more a case of a merger than a hostile takeover.
Parts of the Latitude 7000 design are spot-on, but serious issues like poor battery life make this a less practical and more pricey take on the hybrid. Is it worth a look?
Dell Latitude 7000 review: Design
The Dell Latitude 7000 is a hybrid out to solve the main problem with this kind of device: how do you make something that feels like a laptop but isn't a ridiculously huge and heavy tablet when the screen is used solo? It goes a good way to solving the issue.
Its tablet part is iPad-thin, only possible because it takes no responsibility for keeping itself upright. It simply slots into a frame the keyboard is part of.
There's very little screen surround to the display, and while the Dell Latitude 12 7000 design is plainer than what you get from Samsung or Apple, it's well made. You might mistake it for a plastic tablet at first prod because it uses soft-touch paint, but the shell is magnesium. It's tougher than aluminium, yet lighter.
The keyboard stand part is plastic but sturdy, and is what gives the Latitude 7000 its off-kilter teaspoon of style. This is intended as a device for business folk primarily, but it also needs to compete with an iPad Pro. Its solution is to use grey fabric on the outside, making it look as though the tablet base is actually a tablet case.
It doesn't quite reach the same skinny heights as the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, though. Tablet and keyboard together are actually a bit chunkier than a MacBook Pro. That's right: it's not really skinny.
But does it matter? When you're using this Dell it's much more important that it feels right when you're using it as both tablet and laptop takes. No surprise for a 12.5-inch Windows 10 device, though, the Latitude 7000 is a bit better at the laptop side of things.
It takes more than a few cues from the Microsoft Surface, using a free-moving hinge on the back of the case rather than a folio arrangement that only allows you to rest the screen at a couple of different angles.
The difference between this Dell the Microsoft Surface is that the stand is built onto the keyboard part, not the screen.
Dell Latitude 7000 review: Keyboard and trackpad
One of the Latitude 7000's successes is just how sturdy its base feels. The keyboard surround is very stiff for something just a few millimetres thick, and the keys feel a lot like those of a normal skinny laptop. Someone at Dell must have written “must not feel like naff iPad accessory keyboard” somewhere in the mission statement. It even has a backlight.
The Dell Latitude 7000's trackpad is small, but feels fantastic, using a glass panel with a surface just like that of an UltraBook that might cost you the same money. There's an even chunkier keyboard/pad combo too.
Dell makes Slim and Premier keyboard modules - we're using the Slim one for this review. The Premier model has a bigger trackpad and deeper keys. Both have a little loop to hold an Active Pen stylus, but you don't get one of those for free (the stylus costs £40).
The Latitude 7000 is a hybrid you could happily work on all day, as long as your job doesn't involve plugging too much into your computer. Like the MacBook 12-inch, the Latitude 6000 only features USB-C ports, and there are just two of them.
Do any of your computer gadgets use USB-C yet? Your mouse? External hard drive? Didn't think so. But it's future-proof. And Dell supplies a USB-to-USB-C adapter in the box, but it's still a bit of a faff, for the time being. The USB-C early adopter tax is about testing your patience, although if you're looking at these machines hoping for a desktop-replacer, what are you thinking? This is a machine that wants you to embrace wireless working, but that's not going to work for everyone.
It doesn't have a full-size SD card slot either, just a microSD one. Camera fans take note.
Dell Latitude 7000 review: Screen
Where the 7000 continues to win is with its screen. It has a very tablet-like display, with vivid colour and plenty of pixels, at least in the version we're looking at. Dell's starter models have 1080p displays, but if you can cough up around £1,500 all-in then you can get the 4K (3860 x 2160 pixels) version.
This is an LCD screen, but has colour to rival the OLED display used in the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S. It's seriously saturated, but well-calibrated enough to avoid looking like a radioactive Charlie and the Chocolate Factory nightmare.
Contrast is good for an LCD screen too, with both viewing angles and top-notch brightness. The one downside of using a touchscreen tablet-style display is that the surface is pretty glossy, but that comes with the territory and the Dell Latitude 7000 can cope outdoors anyway thanks to its bright backlight.
The problem is that unless you spend big you're going to end up with a Full HD (1920 x 1080) screen and that's a little low for a tablet of this price. Apple offers higher-res tablets for a few hundred quid, after all.
We'll admit 1080p does work well with Windows 10, though. We bumped into a few apps with text that looks like it was made for ants to read on the 4K 12-inch, but that's not a problem specific to this machine.
Dell Latitude 7000 review: Performance
A few lingering scaling issues aside, the Dell Latitude 7000 is a surprisingly adept day-to-day PC. Intel has really cracked this with its latest Core M processors, the famously tiny series of CPUs so efficient they don't need fans for cooling.
The version of the 7000 we're using has the top-end Core M7-6Y75, a dual-core 1.2GHz CPU that doesn't sound too powerful but is well up to the job. The funny thing about how computer performance pans out these days is that for a lot of people the Latitude 7000 will feel faster than a quad-core Intel Core i7 machine running off a 5400rpm hard drive. The Core M7 is super-nimble for lower-demand tasks like the stuff most of us do day-to-day. The 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM are important parts of this equation too, of course.
What the Dell Latitude 7000 can't handle is gaming. We tried a few higher-end 3D titles out, and the results aren't great. While you can just about scrape by with Skyrim on minimum settings, something newer like Thief just doesn't run fast enough. The Intel HD 515 CPU simply doesn't have the juice.
Gamers need to look for a Skylake Core i-series processor, and preferably a dedicated GPU to actually get recent games running properly. There's better competition at the price on this front, even among hybrids. You could get a Surface Pro 4 with a Core i7 for the same money. It's not a gaming beast, but is significantly better than this Dell.
Dell Latitude 7000 review: Battery life
There's nothing wrong with a low-power hybrid that feels fast most of the time, though. The only place Dell really trips up is in providing really quite bad stamina for a hybrid with such efficient components. You're looking at around 4-5 hours between charges, and that's without doing anything taxing like playing games.
This must be the price of making the bit with the battery in so skinny, but then mobile master Samsung manages to pull much better battery life out of the similarly-skinny TabPro S.
That the Dell Latitude 7000 lasts only about as long as a performance-obsessed laptop is a killer issue for something we want to be able to use for a full day's tapping. It should be the perfect fit for days working away from the office, but it just isn't.
The skinny frame also seems to result in the speakers distorting a bit at max volume, which is disappointing when on the surface the Latitude looks so well designed.
The Dell Latitude 7000 gets a lot right for a 12-inch 2-in-1 device. A full-size keyboard, high-quality trackpad and a tablet that doesn’t make your feel like you’re wielding a computer monitor are all things we want in a hybrid.
A sky-high price and that the battery will only get you through one of the Lord of the Rings movies make it seem more like a first try effort with limited mainstream appeal (despite this not being the case, Latitude is well established).
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4, while more awkward in some respects, is a better all-round pick, not to mention cheaper. The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S only highlights the Dell’s flaws too, lasting twice as long between charges.
You'll need to care a lot about the laptop-grade keyboard for the Dell Latitude 7000 to make sense.