Latitude 5285 2-in-1 Tablet Review

I was sceptical of Windows tablets until I spent some time tinkering with the Microsoft Surface. It’s clear there’s a place for these compact productivity machines, a gap that the iPad has left unfilled but is slowly beginning to catch up with.

Microsoft’s Surface is a great device, but it’s not the only game in town. I had a play with the Dell Latitude 5285 and was reasonably impressed. It’s a business machine at heart, and so not my usual fare here at Gadgetoid, but that didn’t really get in the way of me tinkering with it as a drawing pad, attempting some light gaming and generally enjoying having a reasonably compact machine around.

The Latitude 5285 is unashamedly inspired by the Surface, featuring pretty much the same look and feel, and the same kick-stand you would be forgiven if you mistook it for one of Microsoft’s devices. It builds upon the basic tablet framework with business features including a fingerprint and smartcard reader.

Design

The Latitude 5285 has some good and bad design features, but first let’s get my biggest frustration with tablet form-factor computers out of the way (albeit a frustration that’s been more or less fixed by the hinged Surface Book); the lack of a hinge. Now I may be an outlier here, but I’m one of those people who likes to use a laptop, well, on my lap. The loose hinge of the detachable keyboard in most of the good tablet devices isn’t very conductive to this. Convertible tablets fix this to some degree, but for some reason (maybe I’m not looking hard enough) they all seem to be a little bit meh.

To the Latitude’s credit, the design aesthetic is otherwise fantastic. I love the understated business feel of the device, the soft grey fabric cover that the keyboard becomes when it’s closed, the brushed metal style of the kickstand. All of these factors come together to make a device that looks and feels very premium, very sleek, very business.

The other thing that should be immediately evident to anyone who’s used a computer in the last decade (the WWWIIIIDDEEEESCREEEEN epidemic) should be the unusual aspect ratio: the Latitude 5285 sports a 1920×1280 pixel display. In a world where high density displays are becoming prolific (but still incredibly worthless in my humble opinion) having a screen with a very usable 1920×1280 resolution is a welcome break. Before I switched from a Retina MacBook to a Razer Blade I had a display with an eye-bleeding 2650×1600 native resolution, a practically vintage 1280×900 but crisp 2x scaled resolution or an awkwardly scaled and blurry sort-of usable 1680×1050- despite the touted wonder of the “retina” display, all of these choices were compromised in some way, and utterly useless. When I see a device *without* retina, 4k, or some similar nonsense squeezed into a display far too small to make any real use of it, I consider that a feature. A 1080p panel at 14″ is plenty sharp enough.

Don’t get me wrong, WWWIIIIDDEEEESCREEEEN has its place, but it’s always felt like an anti-trend in the world of laptops- aimed at producing displays that were good for watching movies for devices that are ostensibly for productivity. Yeah it sounds so 2005 me complaining about that, but darn-it this is my blog and I’ll cry if I want to!

If there’s anything you should take away from this poorly contrived rant is that I like the 1920×1280 display. As a prolific programmer and occasional artist (ha!) I appreciate being able to tote around this extra space.

The keyboard is acceptable for something so sleek, and I didn’t find it too much of a chore to type on. The trackpad is basically useless- but trackpads on Windows laptops seem to err on the terrible so I am wholly unsurprised. The keyboard will clip up at a slight angle giving two choices of tilt, which is nice.

Underneath the kickstand is a SIM card and MicroSD slot. This curious placement seems to imply the SD slot is intended for long term storage expansion than intermittent use by a photographer or Raspberry Pi addict, so you’ll want to remember that if an SD slot is a big deal for you.

The Pen

I was slightly disappointed by the responsiveness and feel of the pen. It took a little getting used to and is, of course, targeted more at simple note taking and interaction than any artistic use. It’s not a refined graphics tablet or drawing tool, although it can crudely be used as such. I may be slightly harsh, since I actually had a lot of fun sketching on the Latittude.

The pen certainly worked better when touch was disabled outright while it was proximal to the screen. I’m not sure if there was no palm rejection, or if it was just intermittent, but until I tweaked the settings I was constantly messing things up with the edge of my hand.

The pen worked well enough in Photoshop which I used for the aforementioned sketching, but had no tilt control and not particularly fine-grained pressure control.

Remembering where the pen magnetically clips to the tablet was a challenge, but then I imagine this is something you’d resolve after a month or so of ownership and solid use.

I could never unscrew the top of the pen to get the Bluetooth push-button batteries in… d’oh!

Gaming

For gaming- it’s a business tablet, but why not? – you can use a third party util to hack in a 960×640 resolution, which is a perfect 2:1 scaled version of the full resolution. Most other lower resolutions claimed as supported by default are the wrong aspect ratio for the display- such as 1024×768, 800×600, etc. This resolution is also useful for casual use- but really you should use Windows 10’s display scaling functionality and/or tablet mode for a more finger-friendly setup.

The version I tested sported an Intel i5 with integrated Intel Graphics 630. Perfect for business use, and not bad in a portable. At low resolution I managed to get ~15fps out of my go-to Natural Selection 2, and you’ll certainly find some casual games that will play nicely on it.

USB Type-C Fun Times

One of the key reasons for me picking this tablet to test was its USB Type-C ports. The Latitude 5825 sports two of them, and happily charged from the selection of USB-C docks that I had on hand. This is great because the charger can be left at home, or in a bag, and a dock can be used for desktop charging, hooking up a display, mouse, keyboard etc and making this a really nice workstation.

The USB-C ports do *not* support Thunderbolt 3, which is a shame, but they worked well with the Plugable Dock- diving 3 external displays alongside the internal one with no problems (this is not usually possible with integrated GPUs which only support 3 displays but the Plugable Dock uses DisplayLink).

The tablet could also easily display mirror to a 1920×1080 display (something Windows 10 does by default when you connect an external display on a mobile computer) but the 1920×1280 resolution meant the external screen was scaled weirdly.

Both of the USB Type_C ports support DisplayPort, so you can connect two external displays with individual USB Type-C to DisplayPort cables easily. You’ll really want to use a dock, though, so this is academic.

Overall

If you’re looking for a productive tablet with business security features and an extra roomy display then this is a mighty fine contender to the Microsft Surface. You know what really ices the cake, though? USB Type-C. This standard port for connecting any one of dozens of whole USB Type-C Docks of accessories (keyboard, mouse, display, power, SD card reader, etc, all through one cable) makes the Dell a serious competitor for Microsoft’s proprietary-port saddled portable.

If you want something portable you can tuck into your bag and tote to work, plug into a Dock, and have a triple-display workstation ready to go, and then bring it home to do the same, this is a great choice of device.