Big functionality and small size make this notebook a hit.

When I first opened the box, I was shocked at how small the Latitude X300 is -- it's about as thick as a whiteboard marker and weighs 2.9 pounds.

The 12.1-inch TFT monitor seemed small at first, but working with documents and slides was no problem; and the display's crispness is easy on the eyes. Similarly the keyboard felt cramped initially, but typing got easier and faster as I used it more. After a few days of constant use, the X300's power and features banished my regular desktop PC to the corner.

Dell engineers did an impressive job of squeezing a lot of hardware into a small package, but some tradeoffs emerged.

The size of the space bar, arrows and "home," "end" and "delete" keys leave a bit to be desired; several left-handed staff members complained the keyboard is biased toward right-handed people. The touchpad is slightly closer to left side of the unit, which is uncomfortable for left-handers.

The unit is nicely outfitted with ports. A modem port, an Ethernet port, a D/Bay connector port, a 1394 port, a two USB 2.0 port and VGA port line the laptops sides along with an infrared sensor for wireless file transfer over limited distances.

Dell offers an optional MediaBase that provides optical disk drives with varying read/write speeds and a subwoofer tuned port. The MediaBase blocks access to some ports on the unit, but the MediaBase is equipped with all the same ports, plus PS/2, parallel and serial ports.

You won't find a PS/2 port on the X300 itself. Nearly all mouse/trackball devices use USB these days, but if you're really attached to an older mouse/trackball, you can use the X300 on its MediaBase or spend $15 on an adapter.

The MediaBase, though far easier to work with than modular add-on drives, does create a couple of issues. The extra height makes typing uncomfortable, and a raised edge on its right side partially blocks the air intake vent, noticeably raising the unit's temperature on that side. After a few days, the MediaBase's front catches didn't lock the X300 properly, making it feel like a wobbly table at a coffee shop.

The high-speed optical disk (24x) made short work of several big jobs -- burning 200+ MB of PDFs, photos and PowerPoint presentations onto a CD took less than 2 minutes and used minimal battery life. Backing up an entire directory onto a CD (690 MB) took about 8 minutes and used 9 percent of the standard battery.

The regular four-cell battery lasted between two and two-and-a-half hours for normal use, and recharged fully in about an hour. The extended life battery lasted between five and five-and-a-half hours, depending on use, and recharged fully in about two-and-a-half hours.

The four-cell battery drained completely in a little more than an hour after burning several big sets of documents onto CDs.

Retail price for the unit, including the MediaBase, is $2,624, but governments get a better deal. Based on a sample GSA Department of Defense Contract (#GS-35F-4076D), the unit's price is approximately $2,154.

Overall, the X300 strikes an excellent balance between ultrasmall and sufficiently equipped for a wide range of computing needs. If travel is a large part of your job, having just one PC that's portable but powerful enough for the office easily justifies buying the X300.

Specs

10.8" x 9.2" x 0.8"

2.9 lbs.

40 GB hard drive

632 MB RAM

Intel Centrino mobile technology package -- 1.2 GHz Pentium M processor, internal Pro/Wireless 2100 802.11b Mini PCI WLAN card and 855 GM chipset

Integrated dual band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) antennas

12.1" TFT XGA monitor (1024 x 768)

Single PC Card slot, which will accommodate a Type I or Type II PC Card and is hot-swappable.

Single SD Memory slot

Primary battery is a 28 WHr (four-cell) "smart" lithium-ion

Optional extended life, high-capacity battery is a 65 WHr (eight-cell) battery.

Rating

4 out of 5

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor