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- Slim, lightweight design
- full-size keyboard
- Wi-Fi Catcher works even when system is powered off
- High native resolution means tiny type
Dell's business-minded Latitude notebooks have always been more about function than form, but the Latitude D420 manages to pack some decent specs into a package that's both small and attractive, making this ultraportable the smallest notebook that Dell currently offers.
With almost a full workday's worth of battery life, the Latitude D420 stands up admirably to other similarly configured systems in its price range, such as the Lenovo 3000 V100. This 1.66kg system has recently been upgraded to include Intel's Core Duo processor, and at £1,069 (ex. VAT) it's a solid choice for business users who need power and portability at the same time.
The charcoal-and-silver case is appropriately conservative-looking; measuring 30cm wide, 22cm deep (24.7cm with the bigger nine-cell battery) and just a hair over 2.6cm high, it's an easy fit for notebook cases or shoulder bags. The almost all-metal construction gives the Latitude D420 a reassuring sturdiness, and the system feels like it could stand up to the rigours of regular travel. Dell refers to it (and in fact, all Latitude, Precision and Inspiron notebooks) as 'RoadReady' -- a bit of proprietary jargon that means the designs have been tested to withstand reasonable extremes of humidity, temperature and mild shocks.
Like most notebooks of its size, the Latitude D420's wide-aspect 12.1in. WXGA UltraSharp display has a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. The small screen at that resolution makes for some potentially hard-to-read text, but we didn't have any trouble with basic Web surfing or word processing. The display's crispness partially makes up for the loss of impact that comes from a smaller display. Although it's not the brightest notebook screen we've seen, it was easy to see in a brightly lit office environment.
Despite the overall compact feel of the Latitude D420, Dell manages to cram a full-size keyboard into the case, leaving no oddly placed or hard-to-hit small keys. Both a pointer and a touchpad are included, catering to both major schools of notebook pointer control. There are also two sets of left and right mouse buttons, one pair above the touch pad and one below it. You can set up the touchpad for horizontal or vertical scrolling -- a must for navigating long Web pages or documents.
The Latitude D420 has a fairly basic set of ports for a business system, including two USB 2.0 ports and a mini-FireWire port on the rear, plus a PC Card slot, an SD card reader and microphone and headphone jacks on the left side. Video output is limited to a basic VGA connection. For networking, there's Ethernet, modem and 802.11a/b/g wireless; Bluetooth is optional (add £12 ex. VAT) and so is a Vodafone SIM providing a 3G / HSDPA wide-area wireless connection (add £125 ex. VAT).
Like other members of the Latitude line, the D420 includes a handy Wi-Fi Catcher; the Wi-Fi on/off switch doubles as a Wi-Fi detector even when the lid is closed or the computer is powered off.
Being an ultraportable system, there's no internal optical drive, but Dell offers a variety of optical drive options. Our review unit came with a Media Base that added a DVI output and parallel port, plus a DVD burner. If you don’t need an internal drive, switching to an external DVD/CDRW drive will knock £65 (ex. VAT) off the price, or an external CD drive will save £78 (ex. VAT.)
For such a small system, our Latitude D420 review unit offered a decent set of components, including a 1.2GHz Intel Core Duo CPU, 1GB of DDR2-533MHz RAM and a 60GB 4,200rpm hard drive. Graphics are provided by Intel's Mobile Express 945GM chipset, which should be fine for office use and occasional media viewing. Although every manufacturer seems to be hopping on the Core 2 Duo bandwagon, Dell's Web site offers a Core Solo CPU for a saving of £40 (ex. VAT), and also offers a fingerprint reader for an extra £60 (ex. VAT).
Performance-wise, the Latitude lagged behind other notebooks with Core Duo CPUs, such as the Toshiba Satellite P105-S6024 (admittedly a larger desktop-replacement system), in our iTunes and Photoshop CS2 tests. The highlight of the Latitude D420 was its battery life -- at 7 hours and 8 minutes (with the larger 9-cell battery), that's 3 hours more than the Lenovo 3000 V100, a similarly configured ultraportable Core Duo system.
The basic warranty on the Latitude D420 is Dell's three-year next-business-day on site service, which includes lifetime phone support. A variety of upgrade options are available, including access to Dell Business Support phone and a training package for £49.99 (ex. VAT), accidental damage cover for another £99 (ex. VAT) and theft replacement for theft for another £100 (ex. VAT).
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