Dell's Latitude E4300 is a 13.3in notebook for business users who are looking for something very portable, yet fast and well built. It's a stylish notebook - ours came with a blue lid - and its straight lines make it look very clean. You get decent battery life and plenty of convenient features, such as a backlit keyboard, dual navigation devices and a built-in DVD burner.
The Dell Latitude E4300 is based on Intel's 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo P9400 CPU, and it's a very fast little notebook. It recorded a score of 104 in our WorldBench 6 benchmark suite, which is not far off the performance of a gaming notebook such as the ASUS G60J gaming notebook.
You can use the Dell Latitude E4300 notebook for creating elaborate office documents, image editing, and even chopping up and rendering videos. Our reivew unit came with 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM (you can get up to 8GB) and a fast 7200rpm, 160GB hard drive - the hard drive managed an average transfer speed of 30.72 megabytes per second in our tests. This is a little slower than notebooks such as Dell's own slimline Vostro 13, but it's still a very good result. There is an option for a solid-state drive, and you can even get the laptop with a second hard drive installed.
The only aspect of the Dell Latitude E4300 that's weak is its integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics adaptor, which is slow and takes up some system RAM. It recorded 1020 marks in 3DMark06, which means it won't be good for crunching 3D graphics, but it will be fine for running the 1280x800, 13.3in screen or a higher resolution monitor connected to the notebook's VGA port. Another of the notebook's weaknesses is its lack of a digital video port; you don't get a built-in HDMI output or DisplayPort. If you want a digital video port, you have to purchase the one of the docking options.
Business users will like the speed of the Dell Latitude E4300, but the build quality of the unit will also be appreciated. It's made of magnesium alloy and it feels very sturdy. The lid flexes a long way without producing puddles on the screen, so it protects it very well, and the chassis can be picked up from either corner without any bending - even when you pick it up from the side with the optical drive. Metal hinges are used to keep the lid perfectly in place and the notebook is very well balanced; you can open the lid with one hand without the base lifting off the desk.
Around the sides of the Dell Latitude E4300 you will find Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0, FireWire, headphone and microphone ports, a built-in DVD burner, an ExpressCard/34 slot, an SD card reader, a smart card slot, an eSATA port (sharing the same space as one of the USB ports) and a VGA port. For mobile broadband, you can purchase the Latitude E4300 with a Vodafone module, or you can use a 3G data card (ExpressCard/34) from your carrier of choice. There is a physical switch for the wireless networking module, which is an Intel WiFi Link 5300AGN module. The notebook also has a fingerprint reader, a webcam built in to the screen, and an ambient light sensor.
The ambient light sensor can adjust the brightness of the screen automatically. In well-lit conditions, the screen increased in brightness, while in dark conditions the screen dimmed. It wasn't overly sensitive to minor changes in lighting conditions. Funnily enough, when we enabled the 'Power Saving' scheme, the ambient light sensor was automatically disabled and the screen brightness increased, but it did not do this every time. We found this frustrating.
To aid typing at night, the Dell Latitude E4300's keyboard is backlit and the keys illuminate when they are pressed. The lights don't stay switched on permanently; even though there are settings for 'on' and 'auto', they seemed to behave identically. The keyboard itself is very tactile and feels sturdy when you hit it. There aren't any misplaced keys, nor are there any abnormally small keys. We like the dedicated volume buttons above the keyboard and also love the fact that the E4300 has both a touchpad and a TrackPoint-like device. However, the latter does not feel as good as the TrackPoint that can be found on Lenovo laptops such as the X100e; the 'eraser head' that Dell has used is not tactile and the pointer is a little too sensitive. It takes a while to get used to it.
One thing you'll notice when you first look at the Dell Latitude E4300 is that it has two power buttons. The big one is the main power button, while the little rectangular one is used to boot into Dell Latitude ON.
Dell Latitude ON is a Linux-based operating system that resides in a dedicated module on the motherboard. Its role is to boot quickly into a low-power environment where you can send e-mails, check your calendar and browse the web. What we really don't like about Dell Latitude ON is that it's very slow and doesn't provide a rich browsing experience; it can't cope with Flash and you can't install browser plug-ins. It's a decent enough environment for checking and sending email via POP accounts, but that's it. We think you're better off just booting into Windows 7, where you will have a much richer user experience. The notebook can boot Windows quite quickly - it will only take around 40sec compared to under 10sec for Latitude ON.
Because the aim of Latitude ON is to boot up in only a few seconds when the notebook is powered off, it uses a standby mode that always consumes some of your battery power. It might not be much, but if you leave your notebook off for an extended period of time, you might find that the power capacity is reduced a little bit. In the BIOS, you can configure the laptop so that Latitude ON doesn't consume any battery power when it's powered off.
We were able to get more than four hours of use out of the 6-cell battery while using the laptop primarily for web browsing and word processing. The battery life will depend on the type of work you do and the power settings you employ. For example, in our video rundown test - where we disable power management, enable the wireless radio, use full screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video - the E4300 lasted 2hr 32min, which is a decent result for a notebook that doesn't have a low-voltage CPU.
Because the Dell Latitude E4300 is not a low-voltage laptop, the CPU produces a fair amount of heat, and you will notice that the notebook gets warm if you use it on your lap for a while. It will be unpleasant unless you are working in a cold environment.
What we like most about the Dell Latitude E4300 are its speed and its build quality. It's a very responsive laptop and it feels rock-solid when you handle it. Not only that, it has good docking options that make it easy to use the same machine at work and at home. We wish it had at least one more USB 2.0 port though, as well as a different style of TrackPoint; and we're also not enthralled by Dell Latitude ON. But despite these things, the E4300 is a fantastic business notebook.
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