By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. August 1, 2018
If you watch the tech industry, it’s no surprise that the past decade has been fraught for Windows PCs and their makers. Their problems stemmed from Apple’s proactive push into mobile computing, beginning with the 2007 launch of the iPhone and, a year later, the introduction of the MacBook Air. By the time Apple rolled out the iPad in 2010, the company’s parrots and numerous climbers-on were loudly proclaiming that the “death of the PC” was imminent.
But like a lot of other short-sighted visionaries, death of the PC cultists and their backers failed to parse a sizable majority of actual PC customers. That the tablet revolution largely failed was partly because of the inherent limitations of those devices. But credit is also due to the efforts of PC and component vendors who reimagined mobile computing for consumers and businesses with substantial technological improvements and innovative new devices.
Those included “2-in-1s” that combined the best aspects of laptops and tablets and enabled users to choose whichever mode best suited their circumstances or tasks. In this vein, one of the more interesting of these solutions to come down the pike is Dell’s new Latitude 7390 2-in-1. Following are further thoughts on the still-lively PC industry, the mobility revolution, Dell’s new solution and how the company is extending the horizons of business computing.
The limitations of adaptability
Before diving into the details of the 7390 2-in-1, let’s consider why, as novelist Mark Twain is reported to have said of the premature publication of his own obituary, the death of the PC was “greatly exaggerated.”
Probably the biggest issue was mistaking how far end-users are willing to go to adapt to new devices and usage models. Remember that the initial novelty of the iPhone and other smart phones was their ability to seamlessly perform Internet-related tasks, including email, search, etc. while on the go.
Apple, and Android handset vendors further expanded those capabilities via app ecosystems, increasingly sophisticated cameras, partnerships with content and media providers and voice-enabled assistant technologies. Enhanced mobile connectivity enabled ever more new features and capabilities, and the news regularly highlighted how phones were being put to use in unusual ways and circumstances.
By the time Apple’s Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, the world seemed ripe for revolution, especially one sparked by a device that shared many of the iPhone’s capabilities but offered a far better experience for consuming multimedia and other content. However, that’s also where the disparities between new and traditional mobile technologies became increasingly clear.
Why so? PCs initially evolved as devices for work/task enablement and content creation. Smart phones were an obviously great fit for work and creation scenarios, but the iPad and other tablets were better suited for consumption than creation. Sure, vendors offered keypad covers and accessories that made tablets handier for some tasks. However, unless you’re wearing Apple-tinted glasses an accessorized iPad is little more than touch-enabled netbook with fancy apps.
This isn’t to say that iPads and other tablets haven’t attracted devoted consumers and business users. But their inherent limitations also resulted in tablet sales faltering and then falling significantly after reaching a peak in 2014. Similarly, while combined desktop and notebook PC sales are well below their salad days, those numbers have become increasingly stable since 2016.
Dell’s Latitude 7390 2-in-1
Part of that success stems from PC vendors adopting tablet-style features to proven laptop designs, as Dell has done, adding 2-in-1 functionality to the Latitude 7390 it introduced earlier this year.
Dell currently offers two different 2-in-1 design options in its Latitude line –the 360° hinge featured in the 7000 and Education series solutions (as well as in Dell’s XPS and Inspiron lines) and a detachable display/tablet used in the 5000 series. The practical differences aren’t huge but since the company has mostly gotten out of the tablet business (its only dedicated solution is the Latitude 7212 Rugged Extreme tablet, though it also resells Samsung’s Android tablets) they’re worth noting.
Short version: If you’re a Latitude user who regularly require a tablet, you’ll probably be best served by the 5000 series’ detachable design or, in specialized and hardcore industrial use cases, the 7212 Rugged Extreme. If you’re a laptop user who occasionally needs a tablet or likes the tent-style display mode, go with a 7000 series solution.
The new Latitude 7390 2-in-1includes a number of new/upgraded features, not the least of which is Intel’s refreshed Kaby Lake U series processors. Though the base model includes a somewhat pokey Core i3 processor with just two cores and four threads, higher-level models offer Core i5 and i7 CPUs with four cores and eight threads, as well as 4-16GB of LPDDR3 memory (RAM).
That enables the 7390 2-in-1to deliver both robust performance and excellent battery life, a great combination for mobile workers. In fact, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1review unit Dell provided to me was a higher end model with a Core i7-8650 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 500GB SSD.
It easily handled the common, workday tasks and applications I threw at it. Plus, it was more than capable of supporting “all day” battery life, a critical point for mobile workers and business travelers. I won’t go deeply into the system’s technical capabilities here, but readers interested in those issues should check out the review at AnandTech.
Two Dell 2-in-1s side-by-side
Probably the best way to sort out the 7390 2-in-1’s business-centric features is to compare it to another Dell product – the XPS 13 2-in-1. In both cases, Dell added tablet-style capabilities to established 13-inch laptop solutions via similar 360° hinges. Both support common input devices, as well as Dell’s Active Pen stylus.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 emphasizes mobility and style features, including a svelte 2.71-pound weight, 0.54 inches high (closed), silver or black brushed aluminum case and Dell’s FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge display. In contrast, the 7390 2-in-1 is a somewhat beefier 3.12 pounds, measures 0.70 inches high (closed), sports a matte black case and an FHD WVA (1920 x 1080) touch display.
A significant point of departure between the pair is that the 7390 2-in-1’s camera is centered at the top of the display, while XPS models feature the camera at the base of the display to emphasize the Infinity Edge configuration. That may not seem like a big deal, but the XPS’s camera placement is regularly cited by reviewers who either forgive or dislike it. I’m in the former camp but from a workplace standpoint, the 7390 2-in-1’sdesign means you can easily take notes during Skype calls and video conferences without having to contend with the XPS 13’s odd camera angle.
To my mind, the pair’s height and weight differences are minimal issues but what do you get along with the 7390 2-in-1’s extra half pound? As it turns out, quite a few extra connectivity options. The XPS 13 2-in-1’s slimness comes from Dell standardizing on USB-C and DisplayPort with Thunderbolt 3 ports. You get one of each, along with a MicroSD card reader, a headset jack and a Noble Lock slot.
How about the 7390 2-in-1? Those include two DisplayPort over USB-C ports (with optional Thunderbolt 3), two USB 3.1 Gen 1 (with Power Share), one HDMI 1.4, one SIM card slot, one MicroSD card reader, one Noble Lock slot, an audio combo jack and manual volume rocker. As a result, the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 requires minimal adapters and dongles to connect to common peripherals, including monitors, wired networks, printers and projectors. Those who need additional ports can always add a Dell WD15 Business Dock to the package.
In addition, Dell put the 7390 2-in-1through a full range of durability tests for withstanding environmental extremes, including temperatures, humidity, sand and blowing dust, shock drops and vibration. In other words, the kinds of circumstances, both planned and unplanned, that mobile workers regularly face. Finally, the 7390 2-in-1’s bottom plate can be easily removed to facilitate repairs and replacement of parts, including the battery.
Does the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 have any quirks or downsides? Some reviewers have complained about the “sponginess” of the keyboard. I found that the unit’s key travel was noticeably longer than the XPS 13 2-in-1, feeling more like a conventional desktop keyboard. But it doesn’t suggest a lack of quality or durability. In addition, mobile workers who go out of their way avoid carrying any extra ounce will likely prefer slimmer, if less robust devices.
When it comes right down to it, mobile workers need laptops that are easily portable and offer solid performance and excellent battery life. But the difference between a good mobile workplace solution and a great one depends on product durability, connectivity and flexibility.
Those are all points that the Latitude 7390 2-in-1 delivers in full. Dell has made the 7390 2-in-1 an excellent solution for worker and office requirements. By incorporating the leading-edge features and lessons it learned developing its showcase XPS solutions to the Latitude line, Dell has delivered a notably light yet highly durable 2-in-1 solution for workplace scenarios of nearly every kind.
As I noted in the introduction, the greatly exaggerated “death of the PC” faltered and failed partly due to the inherent limitations of dedicated tablets, like Apple’s iPad. But the terminal blow to those pretenders came from the PC and component vendors who rose to the occasion and created new products and solution classes.
Dell’s Latitude 7390 2-in-1 offers a testimony to what can be achieved when an innovative vendor focuses its attention on serving the needs of modern workers and workplaces.
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