With a top-notch keyboard, good performance and an attractive, lightweight design, Dell's new Latitude E7450 can easily run with the best business notebooks out there. Starting at $1,000, the 14-inch machine also offers a bunch of perks for business users, including great security and a pointing stick for precise mouse navigation. But with some stiff competition from PC makers like Lenovo, should Dell's E7450 be your next mobile workstation?
The E7450 looks like a notebook designed for business, with a modest black-on-black design that doesn’t draw attention to itself. But high-quality materials, including a matte-finish carbon fiber lid and a charcoal gray magnesium alloy edging, give the machine a premium look and feel. Plus, the tapered design of the edges gives the E7450 a more streamlined look than Lenovo's boxy ThinkPad T450s, which is this notebook's closest competitor.
Dell's laptop comes with plenty of durability to match its good looks. The notebook is rated to withstand high and low temperatures, humidity and dings, among other forms of abuse. If you want even more durability, the touch-screen model comes with extra-strong Gorilla Glass, which resists scratches.
You can tell how durable this machine is just by picking it up — it feels really solid. That's a big plus for road warriors who need a notebook that can take a beating over long business trips.
Size and weight
Measuring 13.3 x 9.1 x 0.8 inches, the Latitude E7450 is slightly larger but thinner than the T450s (13 x 8.9 x 0.83). Both notebooks are quite compact, and will slide easily into your work bag.
The weight of the E7450 varies depending on your hardware configuration, but it starts at 3.43 lbs. without a touch screen, which is about the same as the ThinkPad T450s. Ultraportable notebooks like Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon (3.15 lbs.) are lighter, but generally offer fewer ports and connectivity options. And there are plenty of heavier options, such as Acer's TravelMate P645 (3.5 lbs.).
The bottom line is that the E7450 is thin and light enough to carry on your daily commute without a struggle, though it's not in the most portable class of business laptops. That's the trade-off you'll make for a notebook this rich in features.
Keyboard and touchpad
A good keyboard might be the most important feature on a business notebook, and the E7450 gets it right. The individual keys are well-spaced and offer a satisfying level of feedback, without feeling mushy. They also have a good amount of travel at 1.5 millimeters, which is slightly above average for notebook computers overall, and noticeably deeper than most laptops this thin. That's good, because deeper keys usually provide a more comfortable, desktoplike experience. In addition to feeling great to type on, the keyboard has an optional backlight that can be toggled on for low-light productivity.
But as good as Dell's keyboard is, the keyboard on Lenovo's T450s is better. Its keys are even deeper, with 1.9 mm of travel, and they feel more comfortable. They also have a nice sculpted shape, which makes them easier to navigate by touch than the Dell's square keys. Finally, the T450s has full-size arrow keys, which are easier to press than the shrunken-down keys on the E7450.
I have no complaints about the touchpad, though. Cursor control feels smooth and responsive, as do gestures such as two-finger scrolling. The E7450 sports two dedicated buttons below the touchpad, which many users might prefer to the ThinkPad T450's clickable touchpad, which is a bit less precise for right clicks. On the other hand, dedicated buttons hog some space that could have been used for a roomier touchpad, so it comes down to personal preference.
A pointing stick is a nice perk in a business notebook, since it lets you control the mouse cursor without moving your hands away from the keyboard, and it arguably has more precision than a touchpad. Dell's pointing stick — sandwiched between the G, H and B, as usual — work very well, though I prefer the rounded top of Lenovo's TrackPoint stick to the concave design of Dell's stick. It's not a deal breaker, but I found my index finger occasionally slipping off the stick when I wanted to make quick cursor movements.
Three buttons located above the touchpad allow for easy left, right and middle clicks. Like the touchpad buttons, they have a nice, soft feel, so they don't produce an annoyingly loud click sound when pressed.
Our E7450 review unit came with the following hardware:
- 2.2-GHz Intel Core i5-5200U processor
- 8GB of RAM
- 256GB SSD
- Integrated Intel HD Graphics 5500
It felt nice and speedy during my testing time. I didn't notice any slowdown, even during heavy multitasking that included editing a large spreadsheet with more than a dozen tabs open in my Web browser and HD video streaming on YouTube. The bottom line is that the E7450 is more than capable of handling just about any workload you throw at it.
Dell sells the Latitude E7450 with configurations for the 14-inch display, with resolutions of either 1366 x 768 pixels or 1920 x 1080 pixels. Touch-screen functionality is optional with either panel, though I recommend forgoing that option, since it adds weight and costs an extra $168.
My review unit came with the full-HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) screen, which was bright and sharp but a bit dull. That's because it has a matte finish, which isn't as vibrant as glossy displays, but also diminishes annoying reflections from overhead office lights. In other words, it's a perk if you're going to use the machine for spreadsheets more often than movies. Most competing business notebooks come with a similar matte finish.
One nice bonus is that the screen can be opened a full 180 degrees so it's lying flat on a conference table, which could come in handy for collaborative work projects.
Ports and connectivity
You get a very healthy selection of ports on the E7450, but most of them are located on the back of the device. That means they're less convenient to reach than the ports on machines like the T450s, which is a bummer if you plan to move the notebook around a lot. On the other hand, if it's going to stay mostly parked at your desk, the rear-facing ports will leave fewer wires jutting out from the sides of your machine.
All you get on the sides of Dell's laptop is a single USB 3.0 port, a full-size SD card slot and the headphone jack. Around back you get two additional USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port for wired Internet and network access, HDMI and DisplayPorts for connecting to monitors and projectors, and the charging port.
On the underside of the E7450 you'll find a docking port, which lets you connect to Dell's Latitude E-Port Replicator docking station. The benefit of a port like this is that it lets you connect your notebook just by setting it down on your dock. That way you can use desktop accessories like a monitor, mouse, keyboard and external hard drive (as well as a charging cable) without reconnecting them individually each morning.
Dell's dock includes two USB 3.0 ports, three USB 2.0 ports, one Ethernet port and a DisplayPort, DVI port and VGA port for video out.
The E7450 comes with a relatively clean installation of Windows 8.1, but Dell will let you opt for Windows 7 instead, free of charge. That's a nice option in case your office still runs on the older operating system, which offers a more traditional Windows interface. Lenovo charges an extra $50 to get the T450s with Windows 7.
Otherwise, you get most of the same preloaded apps you'll find on other systems. That includes productivity software like Microsoft's OneNote for taking notes, OneDrive for saving files and documents to the cloud, and Skype for basic videoconferencing. You get a free, one-month trial of Microsoft Office 2013, which includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but you'll have to shell out for the full version to keep using the software beyond that.
Like any good business notebook, you get some nice security features with this one. That includes Dell's Data Protection software, which lets you (or your IT manager) set secure encryption policies for your system, with enterprise-level auditing and reporting functionality. Plus, the notebook has full hard drive encryption via Microsoft's BitLocker. My unit also came with a smart card reader, so the system can be configured to require a physical card to verify each user's security credentials.
It's possible to purchase the E7450 with a fingerprint scanner, which would help you keep your work notebook locked down in case it's lost, stolen or otherwise compromised. My review unit didn't come with that feature, though, so I didn't get a chance to test it for myself to ensure that it's reliable.
One area where the E7450 soundly beats the ThinkPad T450s is battery life. Dell's notebook ran for an impressive 8 hours and 36 minutes, which beats the Lenovo by more than an hour (7:31). Both last longer than the average for thin-and-light notebooks (6:08). On the other hand, the ThinkPad T450s is compatible with an optional extended battery that extends that machine's battery life to an epic 16 hours. However, the extended battery costs an extra $100, increases the machine's thickness by half an inch and ups its weight by nearly half a pound. Dell doesn't offer an extended battery on the E7450.
Dell offers a wide range of configuration options for the E7450, with a top-end model that comes with a fifth-generation Intel Core i7-5600U processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD) and a full-HD touch display. A much more affordable sweet spot configuration for average business users includes a Core i5-5200U processor with 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a full-HD, nontouch display for about $1,300.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T450s is our favorite overall 14-inch business notebook, but it has shorter battery life than the Latitude E7450, and it's a bit thicker, too.
The Toshiba Tecra Z40, meanwhile, is lighter than most competing machines at just 3.24 lbs., but it tops out with a low-res 1,366 x 768 display that feels a bit cramped for serious multitasking.
After reviewing Lenovo's superb ThinkPad T450s, it's hard to recommend another 14-inch business Ultrabook, but the Latitude E7450 manages to give that machine a run for its money. It offers fast performance, a sharp display and excellent security features. You also get a keyboard that feels almost — but not quite — as good as Lenovo's industry-leading QWERTY layout.
The T450s is still my top pick, but Dell's notebook has a slight edge in a few areas, with a slightly thinner (but larger) design, and an extra hour of battery life. On the other hand, its keyboard and pointing stick don't feel as good as the ones on the Lenovo. But however you slice it, the Latitude e7450 is a solid option for business users in the market for a feature-packed mobile workstation.