If you don't mind sacrificing screen space for a more portable design, Dell's new Latitude E7250 is an enticing portable workstation. The business notebook comes with a compact, 12.5-inch screen, plus a durable design, a comfy keyboard, good security features and all the ports you could ask for in a work laptop. But starting at $1,079, it's a little pricier than some competing machines. So does the Latitude E7250 do enough to stand out as the compact business notebook to buy?
The Latitude E7250 sports a simple, understated design, and that's a good thing. Its magnesium-alloy chassis comes with a matte-black finish that will look right at home in a business meeting. The lid, meanwhile, sports a woven carbon-fiber texture that's a bit more interesting to look at than the smooth finish on Lenovo's ThinkPad notebooks. Likewise, the E7250's tapered edges give it a more streamlined look than that of a boxy ThinkPad.
Dell's notebook is a bit on the heavy side. It tips the scales at 3.4 lbs. when configured with a touch screen, though it's a more manageable 2.76 lbs. without one. The notebook is still heavier than the ThinkPad X250, which weighs 3.66 lbs. with a touch screen. Other ultraportables are lighter than both of those notebooks, such as HP's featherweight EliteBook Folio 1020, which weighs 2.68 lbs. but runs on a less powerful Intel Core M processor.
The E7250 is also a bit bulky compared to its closest competitors. Measuring 12.2 x 8.3 8 0.83 inches, it's larger and thicker than the ThinkPad X250 (12.03 x 8.21 x 0.8 inches) and Folio 1020 (12.2 x 8.27 x 0.62 inches).
The bottom line is that while the 12.5-inch E7250 is a relatively compact business notebook, other laptops will feel lighter on your daily commute.
The E7250's 12.5-inch display is a bit smaller than what you'll find on the average 13-inch consumer laptop, but it's still sharp and spacious enough for everyday productivity tasks. The 1,920 x 1,080-pixel panel on our review unit produced crisp, clean text, though colors are a bit muted. On the bright side, it delivers a whopping 360 nits of brightness at its highest setting, which is significantly higher than the category average of 255 nits.
Our review unit was equipped with a touch display, but I would recommend forgoing that feature. Touch panels add weight and cost, without adding much useful functionality on a traditional notebook like this.
Keyboard and touchpad
A great business notebook should come with a great keyboard, and the E7250 doesn't disappoint on that front. The notebook's keys offer a generous 1.8mm of travel, which is noticeably deeper than the average laptop's 1.5mm of travel. That's a perk for business users, since deeper keys generally mean a more comfortable, desktoplike typing experience. The E7250's keys feel nice and snappy, too, with a good amount of feedback on each keystroke; no mushy key presses here.
The 3.9 x 2-inch touchpad is a bit on the small side for my taste. It features discrete buttons instead of built-in buttons, which allows for more-precise right clicks than you'd get on a touchpad with built-in buttons. On the other hand, the dedicated buttons reduce the amount of overall space available for pointer navigation.
Pointer navigation feels responsive, and multi-finger gestures like two-finger scrolling also work well. I don't love the matte-plastic finish of the touchpad, though; my finger glides more easily on pads with a softer finish.
The larger, 14-inch Latitude E7450comes with a second cursor-control option in the form of a pointing stick positioned in the center of the keyboard, but that feature isn't included on the E7250. Pointing sticks are nice for making precise mouse movements without moving your hands from the keyboard. If you want a pointing stick on a 12.5-inch business notebook, you can find it in the ThinkPad X250.
Ports and connectivity
Every port you could want on a business notebook is here. That includes three USB 3.0 ports, including one with PowerShare functionality, handy for charging your smartphone while your notebook is in sleep mode.
The back of the notebook houses an HDMI port and a mini DisplayPort for connecting to a larger monitor, or linking your notebook to a projector for a presentation. There's also an SD card reader to expand your internal storage, and an Ethernet port for connecting to wired Internet and secure company networks.
Business users will appreciate the extra security features included with the E7250. That includes Dell's Data Protection software, which lets you set secure encryption policies for your system. The notebook also comes with full hard-drive encryption via Microsoft's BitLocker. Meanwhile, a smart card reader on the notebook's left edge will let you configure the machine to require a physical card to verify your security credentials.
It's possible to order the E7250 with a fingerprint reader, though my review unit didn't come with one, so I wasn't able to test this add-on's reliability. The upgrade costs just $14, though, so I recommend that business users go for it. Fingerprint readers are handy for keeping your work laptop locked down, since fingerprints are more secure than passwords.
The E7250's front-facing shooter won't impress you with its image quality, but it’s more than good enough for meeting remotely with colleagues or clients. A selfie I snapped with the notebook's 1,920 x 1,080p webcam came out a bit grainy, but no more so than the average notebook that comes across my desk. Additionally, the E7250 produces loud audio, topping out at 98 decibels, compared to an average of 73 dB for the average ultraportable notebook. That means you'll have no trouble hearing the person on the other end of the line. The machine's small speakers are positioned under the notebook's front lip, so audio quality suffers a bit when you're using the keyboard.
The E7250 will easily get you through the end of the workday and well beyond. The machine lasted an impressive 9 hours and 18 minutes on our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen set to 100 nits of brightness. That's longer than the average ultraportable notebook (7:31), and it also beats out the E7250's primary competitor, the ThinkPad X250 (7:39). On the other hand, that machine has an optional battery that can boost its longevity to an unbeatable 15 hours and 12 minutes, though this adds significant extra weight and thickness to your notebook.
Configurations and performance
Dell sells the Latitude E7250 in a variety of configurations, with a top-end model that includes a Core i7-5600U processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) and a full-HD touch display for $1,948. A more affordable sweet spot for business users comes with a Core i5-5300U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a 1,366 x 768-pixel display for $1,365.
My review unit, which sells for $1,776, came with the following hardware:
· Intel Core i5-5300U processor
· 8GB of RAM
· 256GB SSD
· 12.5-inch, 1,920 x 1,080-pixel touch-screen display
This model returned good results in our performance tests. On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, it scored a solid 4,866, which beats out the ultraportable-category average score of 4,037, as well as the EliteBook Folio 1020 (3,814), though that machine runs on a lower-power Intel Core M-5Y71 processor. A similarly configured Lenovo ThinkPad X250 performed slightly better than the E7250, though, netting a score of 5,259.
Regardless, the E7250 feels fast. Apps opened and ran smoothly during my testing period, even when editing a large spreadsheet and streaming HD video from YouTube with more than a dozen tabs open in my Firefox Web browser. There's more than enough power here to handle the average workload.
Lenovo's 12.5-inch ThinkPad X250 offers a slimmer design, and Lenovo's TrackPoint pointing stick, but it doesn't last as long on a charge as the E7250 — that is, unless you opt for the X250's bulky six-cell extended battery.
The 12.5-inch HP EliteBook Folio 1020 is thinner and lighter than the E7250, but it offers a less powerful Core M processor and shorter battery life.
Lenovo's 12.5 inch ThinkPad Yoga 12 laptop is powered by a slightly slower processor than the E7250, but it's a bit cheaper and has a flexible design so it can be used as a tablet.
The 13-inch MacBook Air is lighter and has much longer battery life than the E7250, but it has a lower-res screen.
There's a lot to like about Dell's compact business notebook. From an excellent keyboard to a durable design and strong performance, the E7250 has what it takes to tackle the most demanding of workloads.
Lenovo's ThinkPad X250 is another strong competitor, with a slimmer design and slightly faster performance. It died about an hour and a half sooner in our battery life test than the E7250, though. That makes Dell's new ultraportable a really good option for mobile workers.