It's a sad reality that little in the laptop world can match the likes of Apple's ultra-thin MacBook Air when it comes to that metal-clad look and feel. Some of the few alternatives are Dell's Adamo and Adamo XPS, but with prices starting at £1,000, neither is exactly affordable. That's why we were excited about last year's Vostro V13, which wasn't quite as sexy but a lot cheaper. The Latitude 13 we're looking at today shares the same 13.3in, ultra-slim, metal-clad chassis, so let's see if it's the ultra-portable for you.
Starting off with that design, while no Air killer it is very attractive by PC laptop standards. First there's its thinness, which goes from 16.5mm at the front to an almost equally svelte 19.7mm at the rear, comparing reasonably well against the original MacBook Air, which was 19mm at its thickest (though that has now slimmed down to 17mm). The Latitude's starting weight is a light 1.5kg too, so it's eminently portable.
While Dell doesn't go as far as Apple in making its laptop's entire body metal, the majority of the outer shell is thick, machined aluminium with tapered edges and a smooth finish. This is easy on the eye, doesn't pick up dust or fingerprints easily, and means build quality is superb. Even the lid's hinges are zinc-reinforced. In these regards it's easily the best chassis we've seen on a non-ruggedized, business-oriented laptop. The only exceptions to the metal outer shell are two strips of thick black plastic on the front edges, and a strip at the back which houses the Latitude's connectivity.
Opening it up, the entire inside is the same matt, sturdy plastic as the edges. Both the screen's bezel and the palm-rest/keyboard surround are beautifully clutter-free, with nothing breaking the smooth lines. The optional webcam and a glossy strip just above the keyboard (with white-backlit icons and the chromed power button) are subtly integrated, and we love the simple but elegant overall effect.
As usual with Dell, the Latitude 13 is completely customizable, starting off at £359 (excluding VAT) for a base spec of a 1.3GHz single core Celeron, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB, 5,400rpm hard drive running Ubuntu. Our sample was thankfully a little more powerful, sporting an Intel CULV Core 2 Duo SU7300, which though it runs at the same 1.3GHz clock speed is considerably faster thanks to its architecture, dual cores and extra cache.
It still only sports 1GB of RAM though, which might be a tad restrictive for the installed 32-bit version of Windows 7 Professional. Though not quite Apple-esque, the £30 (excluding VAT) Dell charges to up this to 2GB is not cheap either, but we would recommend it as essential. On the other hand, the £109 4GB demands is simply too much.
The hard drive is a more generous 250GB model, and better still, runs at a speedy 7,200rpm. Upgrading to 320GB costs only £12, while £78 gets you a 64GB SSD. Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi N are part of the base spec, but a webcam isn't, and will set you back another £16. All-in then, you're looking at £618 excluding VAT for our sample configuration, bringing the total with VAT and delivery to £746.13.