Notebook computer

2 Oct 2003

Product: Dell Latitude X300
Price: €1,813

First things first: this machine is a pet. Mobile computers come in lots of shapes and sizes, some pretty clunky, some too small and finicky. The balance is between the portability – neat, small, light – with the computing power and range of capabilities the user regularly need away from home base. So from this writer’s perspective, the Dell Latitude X300 gets it just about right. It is a very slim, trim three pounds or so and just under 11 inches by just over nine inches. Just under an inch thick and slips neatly into a briefcase or the nice Dell zipped leather wallet that comes with it. Unfortunately, this is stamped Dell (although discreetly) so it’s not going to fool anyone that you’re just carrying a worthless folder.

Apart from love at first touch, what’s the X300 like to work with? The 12.1in. XGA screen is simply excellent, crisp and sharp with both black on white text and colour photos. The keyboard is about as good as you can expect in a small notebook with a firm key action while a slightly small touch pad has very good ‘mouse’ buttons. Some notebook users are happy to do all their work on them, others prefer an external keyboard and mouse for regular, sustained working sessions. Two USB 2.0 ports mean that you can connect these and any other peripheral to the X300 but you would probably want to invest in a mini-hub as well (or a keyboard with USB port) since any desk session is likely to require connection to a printer as well as the external DVD/CD drive.

Communications are usually the next priority after the usual office software and the X300 really makes this a doddle, with built in Ethernet and Wi-Fi network connections and standard modem. The default Wi-Fi is 802.11b but a Dell card option gives the full range of standards up to the latest 802.11g. So you can keep in email touch from airport hotspot or anywhere with a phone line and you just plug into the office network when you’re there. Optional extras include the X300 MediaBase, a docking solution that sits underneath to add faster Ethernet connection, additional ports and a larger second battery.

With a 1.2Mhz Pentium mobile processor and 256MB RAM, this is no desktop replacement but a genuine ultra-portable. DVD movie performance, by the way, gives a splendid picture but thin and tinny sound even with good earphones. Battery life will hardly serve longer flights, with a claimed 2.5 hours that will be less using the external drive.

The 1.2 GHz Centrino processor was notably slower than our 2.4GHz desktop – naturally, but it seemed sluggish. Compromises in notebook architecture mean that graphics share the system RAM in this machine – but that’s quite a load with up to 64MB of the standard 256MB running Windows XP (or even Windows 2000 on our test model).

It will hardly bother the user, but Dell consistently claims that the X300 is “a mere 20mm thin” in European Web and promotional material. The US specs are closer to the mark at 0.9 inches, but even that excludes the very neat rubber-tipped ‘feet’ that add another couple of millimetres to the true overall dimensions.

Fully charged overnight from new, the battery of our test model was exhausted after installing MS Office, which took about 20 mins CD reading time plus perhaps the same in detailed set-up before re-booting. The claimed life is 2.5 hours working, which probably holds for pure processing, but powering the external drive through the USB 2.0 port is obviously an extra drain.

Batteries can be temperamental, so with any portable computer it is essential to charge overnight in the first instance and then test (making notes) according to your normal working pattern. The price of the system includes Vat but does not include delivery charges.

By Leslie Faughnan