A great ultraportable business notebook needs several key components, including speed, security, durability and endurance. The 12-inch Dell Latitude 7280 (tested at $1,830; starting at $1,029) has all of the above, thanks to its 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor and impressive battery life. Plus, this lightweight system is built to survive short drops.
Although we wish the screen were more colorful, companies looking for a portable and potent laptop for their employees will be pleased with the Latitude 7280.
CPU 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7600U with vPro Operating System Windows 10 Pro RAM 8GB RAM Upgradable to 16GB Hard Drive Size 256GB SSD
Design: The Right (Soft) Touch
The Latitude 7280’s black magnesium-alloy chassis is thin and nondescript, with a glowing-white power-indicator light on the front edge. The soft-touch paint used on the lid and deck gives the chassis a good feel and makes it easy to grip.
Our review unit included the Latitude’s optional IR webcam and fingerprint reader, found above its screen and to the right of the keyboard, respectively.
Dell placed the Latitude’s HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port, an optional smart-card reader and an optional Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C port on the left side of the notebook. The laptop’s headphone jack, SD memory reader, headphone jack and Ethernet port are on its right side.
Our test unit included a manufacturing problem we’ve seen before in other laptops: Its underside was unbalanced, with the bottom-right corner not lying flush when on a table. When placing my wrists on the deck to type, I noticed the right corner moved down and touched the table underneath, repositioning the far-left corner in the air.
Speedy performance; Durable design; Long battery life with optional four-cell upgrade
Can get pricey; Scratchy audio; Underside heats up
The Dell Latitude 7280 is a lightweight business laptop with a potent combo of speed and long battery life.
Durability and Security: MIL-SPEC Tough
The Dell Latitude 7280 is built for the long haul. The notebook passed 15 MIL-SPEC-810G tests. This means it can survive drops from 30 inches (onto plywood) and heavy blasts of dust, and the system can be operated in extremely high and low temperatures (from minus 20.2 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
For $35, you can add a trio of security readers (smart card, contactless smart card, fingerprint sensor), to give the notebook a variety of verification methods. The fingerprint sensor isn’t exactly easy to use, though, as it’s recessed into the deck, making it hard to activate for Windows Hello login. In fact, the system kept telling me the sensor needed to be cleaned, even though my hands were not dirty.
Our model features an integrated infrared webcam (an optional $21 upgrade available in the Core i5-7300U and Core i7 units that Dell marks as configurable) that allows for Windows Hello facial recognition. Once the system was set up, unlocking it was as easy as looking into the webcam.
Display: Bright, But Needs More Color
While watching a trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on the Latitude, I appreciated the panel’s brightness and sharp image quality, but the colors were just blah. The system’s well-illuminated 1080p display allowed me to easily see fine details such as Rocket’s whiskers, Baby Groot’s bark pattern and Drax’s body markings. In terms of color, the screen didn’t pop, leaving Gamora’s typically vibrant-green skin dull.
Our colorimeter readings backed up my impressions, as the Latitude’s screen produced 73 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That’s below both the score from the EliteBook (116 percent) and the average for ultraportable notebooks (98 percent). The panel on the ThinkPad (67 percent) offered even fewer colors.
The Latitude emits up to 289 nits (a measure of brightness), which is higher than the 239-nit EliteBook and the 184-nit ThinkPad, but just below the 303-nit average for ultraportable notebooks. That’s bright enough for 45-degree viewing angles to the left or right, where it darkens just slightly.
Keyboard and Touchpad: Swift Typing Ahead
The Latitude 7280’s backlit keyboard i enables speedy typing. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I click-clacked my way to 77 words per minute, nearly reaching my 80-wpm average. The ease of typing offered by the laptop is owed, in part, to its keys’ 1.7 millimeters of travel and 60 grams of required actuation force — measurements that are well within our preferences (1.5 to 2.0 mm, 60 grams).
The Latitude’s 3.8 x 2.0-inch touchpad is flanked by a pair of discrete left and right buttons that sit below it. The surface accurately tracked my input and smoothly responded to two-finger page scrolling and three-finger app-switching gestures. Its discrete buttons provided a solid feel to each click.
Audio: Kinda Scratchy
Streamers, beware: Though the Latitude 7280 blasts enough volume to fill a large conference room, it emits annoyingly scratchy audio. I heard varying degrees of distortion on everything from Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” to Migos’ “T-Shirt.”
I opened the Waves MaxxAudio Pro sound-adjustment utility to try to fix the distortion, but I could erase it only by disabling the switch underneath the playback speaker icon in the app. Unfortunately, this also reduces the amount of volume the system produces, to where it barely filled a small conference room.
This configuration of the Latitude 7280 features a 7th-Gen Intel Core i7-7600U processor and 8GB of RAM, which enable speedy, productive multitasking. I saw no lag after splitting the screen between 12 Chrome tabs (including Slack, Gmail and TweetDeck) and a streaming 1080p YouTube video. Only after adding a round in Minecraft on top did I notice any stuttering on load times, though it was still usable.