By TAN KIT HOONGbytz@thestar.com.my
With Windows 7 at its heart, the Latitude ST is touted as a business Tablet for those who need compatibility with Microsoft's operating system.
WINDOWS Tablet PCs have been around for years - indeed, while Windows Tablet Edition used to be a separate product, with Windows 7, the Tablet edition has already been rolled into it as part of the operating system.
Which brings us to the Dell Latitude ST, a business-oriented Tablet running Windows 7.
This little device isn't meant to compete with the consumer-friendly iPad (in fact, in many respects it can't) but more for companies with mobile workers who need the more standard Windows operating system.
In fact, the Latitude ships with Windows 7 Professional as an option, which is the model we tested.
On the hardware front, the Latitude will seem familiar to netbook users - it features a 1.5GHz Intel Atom NZ670 processor, 2GB RAM (just about the minimum required to run Windows 7) and up to 128GB SSD (we got a 64GB SSD on ours).
There is a USB 2.0 port on board, and SD card slot as well as HDMI output, which is great if you want to output your display to a larger external monitor or projector.
Unusually, the resolution is pretty high for a device of this size, at 1,280 x 800-pixels, and viewing angles are really good.
The Latitude we got did not have a keyboard (although it will accept any USB keyboard) and was driven entirely by the standard Windows 7 touch interface - it has four-finger multi-touch, but it also comes with a powered stylus which is housed in a silo in the Tablet.
Unfortunately, the stylus is probably going to be an essential part of the experience with the Latitude.
While you can navigate and use the onscreen keyboard with your finger, the Windows 7 menu and items tend to be too small to accurately tap with your finger, necessitating the use of the more accurate stylus.
The Latitude has an orientation sensor and can automatically rotate the display from landscape to portrait depending on how you hold it, but in use we found it to be overly sensitive.
We often found that the Latitude would have an annoying habit of rotating the display to portrait orientation when we just rested it on our knees.
Since rotating isn't as instantaneous as on the iPad anyway, we engaged the orientation lock switch on the device and left it in landscape orientation most of the time.
First off, when we turned the Latitude on for the first time, Windows in-formed us that the operating system had some 36 critical updates available - we left it to its own devices for the next half hour or so for it to download and install those updates.
Once the updates were done and the device rebooted, we proceeded to get down to business.
Performance of the Latitude is distinctly "netbooky" - if you've ever owned a netbook before then you'll probably be familiar with the experience. It's more than adequate for web browsing and wordprocessing but don't expect a speed demon.
Nevertheless, the Atom and Intel GMA600 combination is now able to handle playback of 1080p video content quite well, especially in fullscreen mode. We played several HD movies on the Latitude and they very rarely dropped frames during playback.
The real problem is that Windows 7's touch interface isn't really suited for the 10.1in screen of the Latitude. For example, the on-screen software keyboard on Windows 7 tries to cram too many keys into, and consequently, the target area for each key is way too small on the Latitude ST's relatively small screen, making typing out a sentence with your fingers a slow and laborious process.
It's a lot easier to use the stylus and use Windows 7's quite excellent handwriting recognition, although this is not without its own problems. Apart from the occasional (although surprisingly rare) mistakes when it comes to transcribing our horrendous handwriting, there is always a little bit of a pause after each sentence as Windows tries to figure out what you've written.
So, yeah, if you really want to do some wordprocessing on the device, we would highly recommend using a portable Bluetooth or USB keyboard.
The Latitude has two cameras - a 1-megapixel (720p) front-facing webcam for Skype, and a 5-megapixel one for the back. Image quality is pretty good on the 5-megapixel camera and adequate on the front-facing webcam.
Battery life is between four and five hours, depending on what you're doing.
If you're, say, a mobile worker who spends a lot of time walking around construction sites or warehouses scanning and entering data, then the Latitude ST is probably a good choice.
Unfortunately, we think Dell sort of jumped the gun on introducing the Latitude with Windows 7. Since Windows 8 is due out by this year, it would probably have been a much better experience if Dell had simply introduced the device with the more finger-friendly Metro interface of Windows 8.
Pros: Nice screen; speaker is reasonably loud.
Cons: Windows 7 is not suited for finger input on a 10.1in screen.
Windows 7 Tablet
PROCESSOR: Intel Atom NZ670 (1.5GHz)
MEMORY: 2GB RAM
DISPLAY: 10.1in (1280 x 800-pixel) LED back-lit
GRAPHICS: Intel GMA 600
CONNECTIVITY: WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
OPTICAL DRIVE: None
PORTS/SLOTS: One USB 2.0 port, SD card slot, HDMI, headphone/microphone combo jack
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 7 Professional 32-bit
OTHER FEATURES: Built-in 720p front facing webcam, 5-megapixel rear camera
DIMENSIONS (W X D X H): 27 x 18.6 x 1.5 cm
Review unit courtesy of Dell Malaysia, 1-800-88-0038