Dell Latitude 13 Education Series 3340: The perfect notebook for school use [Review]

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If you're specifying a notebook for your kids or your school, the attractive world of ultra-portables probably won't be top of your list of possibilities. Robustness, durability and value are far more likely to be your chief considerations. Dell's Latitude 13 Education Series 3340 is designed specifically to satisfy this kind of need. It's clearly built to last, and has both a specification and price that should appeal to the target audience.

The Latitude 3340 is not going to win any style awards, but it is very sturdy. The dark gray plastic chassis feels tough and is surrounded by rubber edges on the base and screen bezel. The hinge is similarly solid, and rotates 180 degrees so it can lie flat on the desk alongside the base, although the screen isn't touch-enabled so this facility is less useful than it could have been.

It's not quite up to the level of a Panasonic Toughbook, but the Latitude 3340 feels ready to cope with a classroom full of boisterous kids. However, the price you pay for the robust build is the weight. Although this is a 13in notebook, it comes in at a hefty 1.8kg. So whilst it's still entirely portable, the Latitude 3340 won't be giving any 13in Ultrabooks anything to worry about.

The Chiclet-style keyboard is comfortable enough, with a responsive, tactile action. However, it's not backlit. The reasonably large touchpad has been positioned directly beneath the spacebar, and has discrete buttons, so its operation is very clear. The screen is decidedly mediocre, though. The 13.3in display only offers the bog standard 1,366 x 768 resolution for this size, and whilst the color is bright and rich enough, viewing angles are quite poor (although the matte finish means there is no problem with reflections marring the view of the screen). As usual for contemporary notebooks, there's a webcam in the top of the sizable screen bezel.

The port allocation is merely adequate, although it covers the key bases. On the left can be found a USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, and full-sized HDMI, with a LAN connection next to the sturdy power jack. The right-hand side is home to the SD card reader, combo headphone and microphone minijack, another USB 3.0 port, and a Kensington lock slot. There's no VGA, although this is decreasingly important, but an extra USB port could have come in handy. Wireless connectivity comes from an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 chipset, which provides 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi as well as the latest 802.11ac, and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.

The Latitude 3340 is based around an Intel Core i5-4200U. This dual-core processor runs at a nominal 1.6GHz, but as always the headline frequency is only a very minor part of the story. This mode draws 11.5W, but there's also a 25W mode where both cores run at 2.3GHz, whilst a single core can hit 2.6GHz. So this processor has plenty of grunt on offer when required, and Hyper-Threading means the two physical cores function as four virtual ones, for improved multitasking and parallel processing.

The processor also supplies the graphics acceleration, in the shape of Intel HD Graphics 4400. This offers 20 cores and runs at 1GHz. It's not going to give a discrete graphics solution a run for its money, but should be capable of coping with most 3D acceleration tasks. One slight niggle is the RAM allocation that partners the processor. Dell only includes 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, and there's no option to specify more at time of purchase, nor can you upgrade later, as there is no removable panel on the bottom of the chassis. At least there is plenty of storage available, with a 500GB Seagate ST500LM0 5,400rpm solid-state hybrid disk providing a good compromise between capacity, performance and cost. Dell-Latitude-E3340-rear_fullwidth

The Latitude 3340's performance is slightly under par for the processor used. Its rendering score in Maxon Cinebench R11.5 of 2.33 is almost exactly the same as the identically equipped Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, although we have seen better results elsewhere. However, the rendering score of 191 in Cinebench R15 is somewhat below expectations.

The OpenGL result of 14.04 in R11.5 is also less than other notebooks equipped with Intel HD Graphics 4400. However, this was the first system we have tested using Intel integrated graphics that has managed to complete the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test, with a result of 18.56, indicating that the drivers are finally compatible. The mediocre graphics abilities were echoed in the Futuremark 3DMark11 score of 772 and 3DMark Firestrike 1.1 result of 504. So the Latitude 3340 will run 3D accelerated software, but not very quickly.

Everyday application performance, on the other hand, is very commendable indeed. Running the Home portion of Futuremark's PCMark 8, the Latitude 3340 managed 2,296, with 3,439 in the Work test. Both are ahead of Lenovo's Yoga 2 Pro, and a number of other Ultrabooks we have tested.

But the most impressive result of all is just how long this notebook will last on its battery. Maintaining a performance result of 1,649, the Latitude 3340 managed 452 minutes of the Home test in PCMark 8, which is the longest we have ever seen, cruising past the Toshiba Tecra Z40-A-11U. Dell-Latitude-E3340-flat_fullwidth

The Latitude 3340 also managed a very reasonable 192 minutes of our intensive Battery Eater Pro test. The amazing endurance was thanks to our sample coming with the 65Wh 6-cell battery. There is a 43Wh unit available as well, but none of the UK specifications include this. The battery is removable, too, so you can carry a spare if you need even more time away from the power socket. Even without this, the Latitude 3340 will easily last a long day's work, and possibly even two with light usage. Dell-Latitude-E3340-top_fullwidth

Verdict

The Dell Latitude 3340 is not a notebook you will long to own for its sense of style. However, its tough design, incredible battery life and reasonable price make it a great option for the intended educational market. We would have liked to see options for 8GB RAM and a higher-resolution screen with better viewing angles, but nevertheless, this is a notebook that suits its school and child orientation very well.

Good Points

  • Amazing battery life
  • Robust build quality
  • Solid performer
  • Reasonable price

Bad Points

  • No high-resolution screen option
  • Heavy

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model Dell Latitude 3340
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U
RAM 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4400
Storage 500GB Seagate ST500LM0 5,400rpm solid state hybrid disk
Optical disc None
Display 13.3in LED backlit TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11/a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Interfaces 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, combo headphone / microphone, LAN, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height 330.9 x 243.2 x 34mm
Weight 1.8kg
Warranty 1 year NBD on-site

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