The Dell Latitude Z is the concept car of Dell's notebook line-up, with innovative technology not found elsewhere.

While Dell has built a reputation around supplying workmanlike business laptops, the Dell Latitude Z totally bucks the trend of chunky slab-like professional notebooks.

More of a technology showcase product, the Dell Latitude Z adds some truly innovative features to lift this stylish notebook far from the corporate crowd.

The headline features include a very slim profile – at 20mm, the slimmest 16in notebook anywhere, according to Dell – along with wireless battery charging, and a wireless connection to an external docking station. And that station can connect to a second monitor.

Despite the large 16in screen, the Dell Latitude Z still has its sights on the ultraportable category. It may be almost 40cm wide and over 27cm deep, yet it manages to keep the weight down to 2.1kg.

This is acheived in part by forsaking an internal optical disc drive, favouring an external DVD or Blu-ray drive.

Our sample included the BD unit, available for £81 extra in place of DVD±RW. It can read Blu-ray discs as well as read and write DVDs and CDs.

Unusually, this slot-loading drive connects to the Dell Latitude Z’s combination eSATA/USB port, and takes its power from this connector too. Unlike eSATA ports, its hot-swapable, so you needn’t reboot the computer just to access discs after it's plugged in.

Also on the right side is a DisplayPort connector for digital connection to an external monitor, and a second USB 2.0 port. Tucked away on each rear angled corner are the power inlet (left) and an ethernet port (right).

Dell Latitude Z

The Dell Latitude Z is incredibly slim for a 16in screen design

So far, so conventional. But you don’t have to use that DisplayPort to hook up another monitor. While DisplayPort offers similar facilities as DVI and HDMI, most displays require an adaptor to connect.

An optional wireless docking station is offered (£160), which acts like a port replicator for connecting you to your home or office desk peripherals – all without cables to the laptop.

On this breakout unit are four USB 2.0 ports, headphone and mic audio jacks - and a DVI port for another display. So you can effectively extend that already large 16in 1600x900 display to a second monitor, wirelessly.

With the latest 802.11n wireless protocol, the data connection may be fast – but not quite quick enough for full-screen video without some dropped frames. If you only need to view static content such as spreadsheets, though, this wireless display system should work flawlessly.

Continuing the wire-free theme, Dell also makes a wireless charging stand for the Dell Latitude Z. In profile this is a C-shaped folded metal support that lifts the Dell off the desk by a few inches, providing some space to store papers and folders below.

But its real trick is to power up and charge the Dell Latitude Z’s battery with no direct electrical connection. Instead it uses inductive coupling, just like an electric toothbrush charger. Simply place the Dell Latitude Z on top and it takes power through its stand, with no metallic contacts to engage.

See also: Group test: what's the best laptop?

NEXT PAGE: Design and benchmark performance >>

The Dell Latitude Z is the concept car of Dell's notebook line-up, with innovative technology not found elsewhere.

When opened for business, the Latitude Z has simple, classic lines that give it timeless styling. Build quality throughout is very high, including a soft-to-the-touch matt coating over the chassis, in either black or burgundy colour.

The huge display has an anti-glare matt finish, a welcome respite from the reflective gloss panels that have become so annoyingly prevalent on even high-end notebooks.

Surrounding the display is a dark satin-finished bezel, further aiding visibility. This unusually has a touch-sensitive control on the right edge, allowing page scrolling, or the launching of one of seven preset user apps.

We also found the keyboard comfortable to use, with its gently sculpted concave topped keys. White LED backlighting illuminates the keyboard automatically from below like the Apple MacBook Pro, as ambient light drops; you can also manually dim the glow using the Fn plus left/right arrow keys.

The large trackpad features some multi-touch control, and has two precise-feeling click buttons.

Beyond the keyboard are touch-sensitive volume controls, with a reassuring haptic vibration to give your fingers feedback when you’ve engaged them correctly.

Dell Latitude Z

Deep burgundy or black soft-touch finishes are offered for the Dell Latitude Z

There’s a choice of two processors to power the Dell Latitude Z, either a 1.4GHz or 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo. Our sample had the faster processor, as well as two 128GB SSDs for storage.

Graphics are courtesy of an Intel GMA 4500MHD; and 4GB of DDR3 RAM is more than enough for the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Professional installed.

In our lab tests, the Dell Latitude Z was no speed demon, garnering a score of 80 points in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test. But the modest processor (not to mention unsophisticated integrated graphics) did help the notebook to a usable runtime away from its wireless charger.

Stretched by the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test, it lasted for nearly 4.5 hours (264 minutes) with just the included 4-cell battery. An 8-cell pack is also available. This Latitude was a relatively cool and silent runner, two fans quietly venting warm air from the left side.

Executives looking for some engaging gaming relief will have to look elsewhere, as the last-gen Intel integrated graphics controller is only good for lightweight games. Our FEAR game test was met with just 6fps at Max detail settings, rising to only 20fps with quality lowered to the fuzzier Medium detail level.

The Dell Latitude Z is far from a cheap package by the time you include the interesting optional wireless accessories, but the entire package commands an air of quality and attention to detail rarely seen outside the MacBook range. The entry-level version of the Dell Latitude Z is currently listed on Dell's website for £1316.

Our only issue was with a mysterious error Windows message that would periodically appear, warning that ‘total hard drive capacity in your system has decreased’ or ‘the number of hard drives has decreased’. This would seem to be an issue with the unusual setup of two separate encrypted SSDs.

See also: Group test: what's the best laptop?

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Dell Latitude Z: Specs

  • 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9600
  • 16in (1600 x 900) WLED matt LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 32-bit
  • 256GB (2x 128GB) SSD
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • Intel GMA 4500MHD
  • DisplayPort
  • external slot-load eSATA BD-ROM/DVD±RW optical drive, hot-swappable
  • 3G wireless modem
  • 1x USB 2.0, 1x eSATA/USB 2.0
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • webcam
  • backlit keyboard
  • fingerprint reader
  • 40Wh removable lithium-ion battery
  • 396 x 272 x 15-20mm
  • 2110g
  • 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9600
  • 16in (1600 x 900) WLED matt LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 32-bit
  • 256GB (2x 128GB) SSD
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • Intel GMA 4500MHD
  • DisplayPort
  • external slot-load eSATA BD-ROM/DVD±RW optical drive, hot-swappable
  • 3G wireless modem
  • 1x USB 2.0, 1x eSATA/USB 2.0
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • webcam
  • backlit keyboard
  • fingerprint reader
  • 40Wh removable lithium-ion battery
  • 396 x 272 x 15-20mm
  • 2110g

OUR VERDICT

The Dell Latitude Z is a classy notebook with some touches that truly earn the label innovative. Some of this technology – such as wireless charging and screen sending – will almost certainly trickle down into more affordable laptops in the future. But right now, the expensive Dell Latitude Z goes some way to justifying its price by virtue of its wire-free tech, and tactile covetable design, great feature set and excellent build quality.

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