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Dell Latitude 5491 Review & Rating

“Pinstriped Overkill” would be a good name for a rock band. Or for the Dell Latitude 5491 (starts at $1,069; as tested $2,370), a 14-inch business laptop that’s too much machine for mere spreadsheets and presentations. Thanks to its six-core, 12-thread Intel Core i7-8850H processor, it’s more powerful than some mobile workstations of a year or two ago. The 45-watt “Coffee Lake” CPU brings some drawbacks compared with Intel’s perfectly adequate 15-watt U-series chips—the Dell’s battery life is briefer and its cooling fan is louder than that of our Editors’ Choice Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. But for users who want to run video editing or other demanding apps on a sleek 3.8-pound portable, the Latitude 5491 fills a nifty niche.

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Bypass the Base Model

I can’t see Dell selling many copies of the base $1,069 configuration, which has a perfectly fine quad-core Core i5 processor but a low-resolution 1,366-by-768 screen (for the icing on the stay-away cake, it also has a 500GB hard drive instead of a swift solid-state drive). By contrast, the fully loaded unit seen here boasts a 1,920-by-1,080 touch screen backed by Nvidia GeForce MX130 discrete graphics, 16GB of fast DDR4-2666 memory, and a 512GB Toshiba NVMe SSD.

An in-between model with Core i5-8400H power, a 1080p non-touch panel, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD costs $1,609. All feature Windows 10 Pro instead of Home, and the review unit comes with a three-year warranty with on-site service after remote diagnostics.

The 5491 is a matte-black slab with rounded corners and a chrome Dell logo centered in the carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer lid. Thinnish bezels surround the screen, which is virtually free of flex when you grasp the corners—the system has passed tough tests for shock, vibration, and hostile-environment survival—though there’s some flex when you press the middle of the keyboard deck. A blue ring around the embedded pointing stick adds a spot of color to the keyboard.

Though a little heavier than rivals like the 3.6-pound Lenovo ThinkPad T480 or 3.3-pound HP EliteBook 840 G5, the Latitude is averagely trim at 0.9 by 13.1 by 9 inches (HWD). In comparison, the T480 measures 0.78 by 13.3 by 9.2 inches, and the EliteBook 0.7 by 12.8 by 9.2 inches. The Dell tucks easily into a briefcase, unlike desktop replacements with 15.6-inch displays, though its 130-watt AC adapter is big and clunky.

The Dell earns an A+ for connectivity. The socket for the AC adapter is around the back, next to Ethernet, HDMI, and USB 3.0 ports. The left side offers another USB 3.0 port, a Thunderbolt 3 port, and SD and SmartCard slots. On the right edge are yet another USB 3.0 port, an audio jack, a VGA port, and a security lock slot. Bluetooth and 802.11ac wireless are standard; mobile broadband is optional.

Passwords: A Thing of the Past

The Latitude offers two choices for Windows Hello sign-ins, a fingerprint reader near the right edge of the palm rest and a face-recognition camera centered above the screen. The latter captures averagely bright, slightly noisy images. Speakers on the bottom front edge easily fill a medium-size room, but their sound is scratchy and raucous when turned up loud enough to do so and a bit flat or hollow at tamer volumes.

The IPS touch screen could use a little more brightness—I found myself wishing for a couple of clicks above the top backlight setting—and has such a mirror-gloss finish where you’ll see yourself, not to mention light sources and objects in the room, in every dark area of the display. But its viewing angles are broad, and its colors are lively. Details are sharp enough that screen elements stayed legible after I dialed Windows’ zoom down from the out-of-the-box 150 percent to 125 percent. Touch operations are trouble-free.

The backlit keyboard has one layout quirk—there are dedicated Page Up and Page Down keys, while Home and End are combinations with the Fn key and left and right cursor arrows. It compensates for it with a soft, pliant, but not mushy feel. Virtually silent, it responds well to fast typing, with adequate travel and good tactile feedback.

Cursor jockeys can choose between the embedded pointing stick, which has a hair-trigger response, and the good-sized touchpad, which has a little more friction. The touchpad has two large, rubbery buttons that are comfortable to click.

A “Coffee Lake” Conqueror

If you feel the need for speed, the Dell Latitude 5491 delivers. With its six-core processor and fast memory and storage subsystems, there isn’t a weak link in its productivity performance setup. You shouldn’t expect too much, though, from its GeForce MX130 graphics, which outrun CPU-based integrated graphics but are no match for the GeForce GTX silicon found in gaming laptops.

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Matched against a handful of 14-inch competitors, the 5491 cruised to victory in our PCMark 8 office productivity benchmark, scoring nearly 800 points above the 3,000 that we consider excellent. It dominated our CPU-intensive tests with a rare over-1,000-point score in Cinebench and under-a-minute time in our Handbrake video-editing exercise, though the ThinkPad T480 and the Huawei MateBook X Pro were hard on its heels in our Adobe Photoshop image-editing workload.

Dell 5491 CPU tests

All its muscle, however, did not translate into the 30 frames per second that we consider playable in our Heaven and Valley gaming simulations at full 1080p resolution and high image quality. The Dell went toe to toe with the Huawei and its GeForce MX150 graphics in our visual benchmarks—the latter actually won our demanding 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme test—but generally proved suitable only for light or casual gaming, not for the latest fast-twitch titles. In other words, it’s a business laptop after all.

Dell 5491 Gaming tests

As such, I was mildly disappointed in its battery life of 9 hours and 39 minutes in our unplugged video playback test. That’s enough to get you through a workday, but nowhere near the stamina shown by systems like the EliteBook (nearly 13 hours) or the X1 Carbon (nearly 17 and a half).

Almost a Workstation

The Latitude 5491 is a well-built laptop that’s a pleasure to use, but if all you need in a business notebook is a traveling partner for word processing and spreadsheets, the $2,370 configuration tested is about twice as powerful and twice as costly as a suitable system. Nor will it satisfy your jones for PC gaming on the side; there are plenty of $1,000 gaming laptops that’ll kick virtual sand in its face. No, the 5491’s niche is too narrow to compete for Editors’ Choice honors—it’s a 14-inch corporate-class machine with colossal number-crunching ability or near-workstation levels of multithreaded muscle. If your application library calls for it, go for it.


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