Dell Latitude 5420 Rugged, hands on: A 14-inch semi-rugged laptop for challenging workplaces

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For a mainstream PC maker, Dell has plenty of presence in the rugged laptop market, including several 14-inch models. One of these is the Latitude 5420 Rugged. It may not be as bulletproof as laptops in Dell's 'Rugged Extreme' series, but it can still take a few knocks.

The magnesium alloy chassis keeps the laptop safe from knocks and drops -- it meets MIL-STD 810G, is good for drops from three feet (~1m), and is certified IP52 dust and water resistant ('dust protected' and protected against 'dripping water when tilted at 15 degrees'). All that protection adds bulk and weight, although the Latitude 5420 Rugged is somewhat slimmer than many rugged laptops: it measures 347mm wide by 244.5mm deep by 32.88mm thick, and weighs 2.22kg with a single 3-cell battery (there's room for a second battery on the underside, and you can hotswap fresh batteries in).

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The 14-inch Latitude 5420 Rugged can have a non-touch, touch or touch/outdoor-readable FHD screen. CPU options range from 7th generation Core i3 to 8th generation Core i7, with up to 16GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD storage. It can accommodate two 51Wh hot-swappable batteries and weighs from 2.2kg (with one battery and no optional handle).

Images: Dell

There are bumpers on the upper and lower four corners, so there are eight of these in all. The bottom ones are thicker than those on the screen section, and they raise the base of the laptop away from its surface. This means air can circulate around the underside of the laptop, which is protected to an extent from rugged, uneven surfaces. The handle is chunky and feels very solid. If it's not needed, it unscrews easily.

The batteries are held in place by catches that have to be slid in two directions, to ensure sure they can't slip open accidentally, and all of the ports and connectors are behind hinged covers. There's quite an array of these. On the back, there's full-size HDMI, Ethernet and even a 9-pin serial port. On the left side, one cover protects a USB-C port while another hides two USB 3.0 ports and a headset jack. There are also two covers on the right side: one protects an SD card slot, a SIM slot, a third USB 3.0 port and a housing for an optional stylus, while the other gives access to the removable M.2 PCIe SSD.

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There are plenty of ports, protected behind dust-tight latched covers. Left side (top): USB-C; 2x USB 3.0 and 3.5mm aundio in/out. Right side (middle): removable M.2 PCIe SSD drive; SIM card, SD card, USB 3.0, stylus holder. Rear (bottom): serial, RJ-45 Ethernet, HDMI.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

All this doesn't come cheap. A starting price of £1,938.11 (ex. VAT) gets you a 7th generation Intel Core i3-7130U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. You can customise this right up to an 8th generation Core i5-8350U, 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, a combination that raises the price to an eye-watering £3,238.01 (ex. VAT). There are plenty of steps in between, and you can add extras like discrete AMD graphics, a smartcard reader and a fingerprint reader.

The 14-inch screen on the entry-level configuration lacks touch support and outdoor-readable features. Again, these can be configured if required. Whatever your choice, the resolution is Full HD (1,920 x 1,080). There are no pretensions to a bezel-free design here: the screen is given plenty of protection, which means the narrowest bezel is 18mm.

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There's a webcam above the screen: the entry-level model has a simple RGB camera, but you can also opt for no camera or an IR camera. A sliding cover offers privacy and protection for the lens.

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The backlit keyboard and touchpad both work well. The fingerprint and smartcard readers are optional extras that add £32.90 to the price.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The keyboard has raised keys whose centre is perceptibly lower than the outer rim. This should make them particularly easy to hit accurately when wearing gloves, when fingers become stubbier and more slippery. The keys are very springy, and I found I could touch type at my usual speed.

The Dell Latitude 5420 Rugged is a competent rugged laptop. Well protected with an optional handle, it should survive life in the field unless treated very roughly. Swappable batteries and flexible configuration options mean that it can be fitted out to suit a range of working environments.

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