So, what’s so special about the 12.1in touch screen on the Latitude XT? Much like the Apple iPhone, the Latitude XT uses capacitive touch screen technology, as opposed to the resistive technology used on the majority of Tablet PCs. Without going into too much detail, capacitive screens use a layer that holds a constant electrical current, which when touched is altered. This provides the information required to locate the impact, without the physical pressure required by resistive screens. Ultimately, it’s far more accurate and easier to use and since there are fewer layers, the capacitive screen has little impact on image clarity.
This essentially buries two of the greatest criticisms of Tablet PCs: a) that they’re not sensitive or accurate enough and b) that they look blurry and lack clarity. It makes a massive difference, too. In use the touch screen is an absolute joy compared to those we’ve become accustomed to, helping to improve both general accuracy and handwriting recognition when using the pen. Likewise image quality is excellent, and Dell offers an “outdoor viewing” CCFL display that can reach 400cd/m2 – bright enough to fend off bright sunshine. Overall, if you’ve ever used a Tablet PC and been frustrated by the intransigence of the touch interface or quality of the screen, then you’ll find the XT a marked improvement.
Unfortunately, this is still qualified somewhat by the fact that even Windows Vista – perhaps one shouldn’t be that surprised – still isn’t very finger friendly. Regardless of this new found accuracy, some elements of the Windows interface remain simply too small to be comfortably accessed using just the finger. As such, you’ll still need the provided stylus and by and large it’s a very good effort. It has a nice weight and shape to it and though the two-button arrangement is a little crowded, it’s a tolerable issue.
And, while this may be a Tablet PC, you’ll still want to type on the XT and when you do you’ll be greeted by a truly excellent keyboard. It’s still not quite as good as the example found on the awesome Lenovo ThinkPad X300, but it’s not that far behind either. Keys feel extremely firm, crisp and with nary a hint of flex. Its layout is excellent too, making typing on the XT as effortless as possible.
As with the rest of Latitude range you also get a choice between a trackpoint and touchpad, with each having its own corresponding buttons. Some may not like using a trackpoint, but it does mean you can use the cursor without removing your hands from the keyboard. Likewise, when in tablet mode there’s a rocker on the bezel that allows you to easily scroll and select items without using the screen.
Also on the bezel is the power button, a fingerprint reader and an assortment of shortcut buttons, including one for selecting the screen orientation. Oddly, the power button doesn’t provide much by way of positive feedback, so sometimes it’s not entirely clear if you’re pressing it down fully, but it’s a minor annoyance one gets used to quickly.