RealTime IT News

Dell Enters Tablet Notebook Market

Dell today marked its entry into the tablet notebook market with the Latitude XT, a $2,499 notebook that aims to make up for the company's tardiness to the market with advanced screen technology and a solid-state flash memory hard drive.

Like most tablet laptops, the Latitude XT's 12.1-inch touch-sensitive display can be rotated 180 degrees and closed facing outward, so it can be used like a paper notebook. However, Dell sweetened the deal by adding new features that make use of advancements in touch-screen technology.

For starters, the screen can support either finger or stylus input and has a zoom in/out feature, much like the pinch-and-pull method used to zoom in or out on the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. It also allows for multiple fingers to be used simultaneously, so a user can manipulate three or four items at the same time, similar to Microsoft's Surface table technology.

Dell's First Tablet PC
Dell's new Latitude XT tablet notebook. Click on the graphic for a larger view.

Dell claims the XT's screen supports 1,000 dots per inch of resolution and 133 PPS (points per second), for high-touch accuracy even while wearing latex gloves. The screen also has palm recognition, so users can write without confusing the screen with a resting palm.

Dell also offers an optional configuration for outdoor use. An outdoor Latitude XT will be slightly thicker and heavier due to a different screen, but the design will make it bright enough to be readable in daylight. That's been a frequent lament for users of devices with LCD screens, which the Amazon Kindle e-book reader most recently also attempted to address.

"Some people, for what they are doing, need to be able to do their work outdoors," said Margaret Franco, director of marketing for Dell's Latitude line of notebooks. "This screen is viewable even in direct sunlight."

Customers can choose either a single- or dual-core Intel Core 2 ultra-low voltage processor for the Energy Star 4.0-compliant Latitude XT, which also offers an optional 32GB or 64GB solid-state flash drive.

Using a solid-state drive with an external battery slice, Dell said the new Latitude XT would offer up to 9.5 hours of battery life.

The PC uses Windows Vista, which has built-in Tablet PC support. It also includes a low-power ATI Radeon video processor from AMD and supports draft 802.11n wireless networking.

For those who can't afford the pricey solid-state drive, standard hard drives in 40GB, 80GB and 120GB are also an option.

While a large number of Dell's rivals are already well entrenched in the tablet PC space, Franco told InternetNews.com that the company wanted to wait on aspects of the technology to mature before jumping into the quickly evolving market.

"We said 'now is the time to see if we can address the unmet needs that have frustrated users for some time' [and] bring a differentiated product to market,'" she said.

In particular, Dell wanted to wait for touch-screen technology to improve, as well as for the advent of flash drives to better conserve power, Franco said.

"Solid-state drives really keeps power drain down," she added. "Solid state is very promising technology. It's five times more reliable than traditional drives and draws a lot less power."

IDC PC market analyst Richard Shim said he thinks Dell didn't miss much by being so late to the tablet PC game.

"The market is still relatively young, the opportunities are still ahead of them, not just for Dell but for everyone in the market as well," he told InternetNews.com. "The challenge is to market and justify the premium pricing in the meantime. How effective they are in addressing those needs will determine how successful they are with this product."

Dell expects to begin shipping the Latitude XT by the end of the month.