The monochrome, sunlight-readable displays remain largely synonymous with e-readers, but they're moving into other devices large and small.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Dell's Latitude range of business notebooks includes a large number of models spanning ultraportables through to the fully rugged. Somewhere in the middle is the 14in. Latitude E6420 ATG, a 'business rugged' system that's designed to withstand significant punishment on the road
The notebook has a starting price of £949 (ex. VAT) and shipping, but you can configure various components to take it above the base specification. A version of this notebook without the port covers and carry handle exists as the Latitude E6420, with a starting price of £719 (ex. VAT).
The Latitude E6420 ATG is an extremely solid-looking notebook, although the design is a little consumer-grade: it has a stippled black edging to the mainly silver lid section, and a rather odd orange trim around the keyboard. The trim has the unfortunate effect of making the keyboard look small and rather lost in its surroundings.
The materials should definitely handle a few knocks. The Latitude E6420 ATG has been designed to meet MIL-STD 810G, which certifies the system as capable of handling levels of temperature, vibration, dust and altitude that would cause problems for everyday notebooks.
Meeting MIL-STD 810G requires a tough chassis, for which Dell uses its 'Tri-Metal' design. This includes an anodised aluminium lid that exhibits almost no flex at all, offering plenty of protection for the screen. The lid is quite thick, with a little airspace between it and the screen. So if there is any flexing, the screen should not be affected at all.
In addition, the Latitude E6420 ATG has a powder-coated base that feels rigid, reinforced steel hinges, a magnesium alloy internal frame and a zinc alloy latch. The latter relies on a single hinge where other standard and rugged notebooks use a dual hinge system; still, it holds lid and base sections together securely enough.
There’s an optional carry handle (which wasn't fitted on our review sample) that makes the notebook more like a small briefcase to tote around — potentially doing away with the need for a carry bag in some situations.
Elsewhere there's a spill-resistant keyboard, a protective LCD seal and a 360-degree 'bumper' for added screen protection that's designed to repel liquids and provide general protection from knocks. These features aren't immediately apparent.
What effect does all this ruggedisation have on the Latitude E6420 ATG's size and weight? It's quite heavy, starting at 2.07kg, and also on the chunky side for a 14in. notebook, measuring 35.2cm wide by 24.1cm deep by 2.69–3.24cm thick.
The keyboard looks a little incongruous with its aformentioned orange frame, and it eschews the trendy 'chiclet' style. It feels great under the fingers though, with plenty of return and good-sized keys. Touch typing at speed — if that's your thing — should not be a problem.
The E6420 ATG's keyboard uses standard keys and is very comfortable to type on; as well as a touchpad, there's a pointing stick embedded in the keyboard
Dell includes a pointing stick between the G, H and B keys that can be used in conjunction with three buttons sitting beneath the space bar — the central button is for vertical and horizontal scrolling. Meanwhile, the two-button multitouch touchpad has support for scrolling.
There are secondary screen brightness controls on the cursor keys on the bottom right-hand side of the keyboard, and media playback controls on three of the Fn keys. Another Fn key can be used to disable the touchpad, and another to switch monitor configuration.
Three small buttons on the far right handle volume up, down and mute functions. The only other button on the keyboard surround is the on/off switch. A keyboard backlight is optional, and was not present on our review sample.
The Latitude E6420 ATG has a couple of options for its 14in. display. Our review sample had a 1,366-by-768-pixel panel and you can opt for a touch-sensitive version if you prefer. The regular Latitude E6420 has an additional option for a 1,600-by-900-pixel configuration, but this is not available in the rugged ATG version.
The reflective finish on our review sample didn't help in brightly-lit conditions, but viewing angles are good. The screen does look a little lost inside its wide bezel.
Our review unit lacked a fingerprint sensor and a webcam, but both are available as options.
The Latitude E6420 ATG's base configuration can be tweaked to meet your requirements. Our review sample sported a rather lowly 2.1GHz Intel Core i3-2310M processor, which is not actually available in retail. You can opt for a 2.5GHz Core i5-2520M processor or a 2.2GHz quad-core i7-2720QM if you need more CPU power. The system supports up to 8GB of RAM.
Our review sample ran Windows 7 Professional 32-bit, but you can specify the 64-bit version, or Windows 7 Ultimate (32-bit or 64-bit).
There are two graphics configurations available: Intel's CPU-integrated HD Graphics 3000 or the discrete Nvidia NVS 4200 GPU. Storage options include hard drives between 250GB and 500GB, and solid-state drives up to 256GB.
Ethernet and Wi-Fi are included as standard, and the Latitude E6420 ATG can be configured with Bluetooth 3.0, mobile broadband and GPS.
Further evidence of the E6420's 'business rugged' status is the presence of hinged rubber covers for many of the ports and connectors. This helps protect against the ingress of dust and liquids.
On the right edge, under a rubber cover at the back, there are two USB 2.0 ports and a USB 2.0/eSATA combo port. In front of these is the optical drive and, above it, a toggle for Wi-Fi. Right at the front is an ExpressCard slot.
There's a fourth USB 2.0 port on the left-hand side, behind a rubber cover at the back, along with a VGA connector and a headphone/microphone combo jack. Towards the front is a SmartCard reader.
The housing for the two rubber covers extends round the back corners of the chassis and onto the back edge. The left one provides a single-hinged cover for the Ethernet (RJ-45) port, next to which is an unprotected power jack. On the right the rubber housing provides a single hinged cover for a HDMI port and a cover that's marked as protecting a modem port, although there was no modem on our review unit.
The rubber protectors are screwed into place, and can be removed easily enough if you don't require them. When in situ they don't affect your ability to remove the battery. On the front edge of the chassis is a card reader for SD-compatible media.
Dell supplies its own configurable power management utility
Dell does not overburden the Latitude E6420 ATG with software, but does include its own power management utility, which comes with several preconfigured power plans and the ability to build your own. It provides a visual representation of the effects the different power plans have on surface temperature, fan volume, CPU speed and battery life.
A Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 5.5 (out of 7.9) is probably on the low side for this notebook, given that the processor in our review unit is the slowest of those on offer and bettered by those in the preconfigured options. The indications are, then, that the Dell Latitude E6420 is a decent performer.
The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which was for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero); the highest score, 7.6 went to RAM (Memory operations per second). In between was Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) with 5.8, Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) with6.2 and Processor (calculations per second) with 6.4.
Dell supplied our review sample of the Latitude E6420 ATG with a 6-cell battery, although 4-cell and 9-cell options are also available; a second 3-cell battery can also be fitted in place of the optical drive.
We tested the battery life by playing a DVD video continuously from a full battery charge, choosing Dell's basic power plan that delivers an optimal balance between performance and power consumption. Under this plan the Latitude E6420 ran for a reasonable 4 hours and 22 minutes.
The Dell Latitude E6420 ATG has rather ungainly looks, but these are underpinned by a solid chassis design. The screen and keyboard are both good, as is the battery life. With CPU options including a quad-core Core i7, this is potentially a powerful notebook. There are no integrated USB 3.0 ports, though — disappointingly, that's only available as a modular bay option.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel