The Dell Latitude E6420 aims to be your best business buddy, offering various security options and a sturdy shell. Sadly, it doesn't seem to care as much about performance or good looks.
The model we were supplied with contains an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and, for some ridiculous reason, is apparently only available over the phone directly from Dell. The company also told us that this laptop retails for around £900. That seems implausible, though, as the Core i5 and i7 models, which are available as normal through Dell's online store, start at £890 for the base i5 model up to around £1,250 for the base i7 model. We'll treat our review sample as a preview model until more definitive details emerge concerning the laptop's availability.
The E6420 aims to be an all-round business performer. As such, it's going to have to put up with a life on the go as you lug it from conference centre to conference centre, whipping it quickly in and out of that lovely leather bag you got for Christmas.
At 352 by 24 by 324mm, it doesn't exactly qualify as an ultra-portable laptop, though. Nor is it particularly light. Still, it's nowhere near as gargantuan as the mind-blowingly huge Asus NX90, so it will happily make a home in your briefcase. If you're going to carry it around all day, we'd suggest going for a backpack-style case, rather than one you carry in your hand. That should help you out with its 2.4kg weight.
The lid is wrapped in a sheet of grey, brushed aluminium that, together with the classic Dell logo, gives off an air of professionalism, mixed with a certain lack of imagination. The E6420 isn't a beautiful laptop -- it doesn't have the sleek edges or wafer-thin design of the Samsung Series 9 -- but it certainly has a smart design and it's sure to look at home in a meeting room full of suit-clad ladies and gents.
The brushed metal also helps this laptop to feel incredibly sturdy. We subjected it to our usual prods and pokes and couldn't detect much in the way of flex. The steel hinges also don't bend at all when you quickly open and close the lid. Overall, we have no worries about taking this machine on the road -- it really feels like it could take a beating.
Keyboard and trackpad
Inside, the laptop is somewhat less appealing. Gone is the attractive brushed metal, replaced by stylings reminiscent of the old VTech laptops some of us had as kids. Plain plastic abounds.
Rather than opt for the more popular isolated keyboard, Dell has slapped in an old-school model with edge-to-edge keys. They're very large keys so there's no mistaking what you're pressing, but they have a slightly rubberised feel, which causes quite a bit of friction when typing. That resulted in us making more mistakes than normal when typing at speed.
The E6420's interior isn't as hardy as its exterior. The keyboard flexes a fair amount when you press down on the keys, for example. Thankfully, the lid clicks in place with a sliding clasp, so you can keep the laptop hunkered down like a frightened turtle when in transit.
The edges and wrist rest are made from a rubberised plastic. Whether you like the look and feel of rubberised plastic is a matter of taste, but we found its presence led to unwanted friction on our wrists, which became rather annoying.
The keyboard is apparently spill-resistant, so, if you chuck your coffee over it during a nervous spasm when the boss walks past, it shouldn't be a problem. We tested Dell's claims by chucking a glass of water over the keys. The water drained away in a charming fashion, but we reckon it somehow shorted one of the USB ports, as, subsequently, the port continually tried to identify a non-existent device that it insisted was plugged in.
As the E6420 didn't seem to cope very well with a targeted, small amount of fresh water, we'd advise exercising the usual amount of caution when you have a cup of coffee anywhere near this machine.
On the right-hand side of the keyboard are a few dedicated buttons for controlling the volume or muting the laptop altogether. That's a handy touch if you quickly need to mute the sound during a presentation or hide the fact that you're playing games during the quarterly meeting.
The trackpad is pretty small but its texture makes it easy to use. The trackpad buttons -- also rubberised -- are big and easy to press. If you don't want to use the trackpad, then a track point -- a little rubber nodule in the centre of the keyboard -- allows you to skim the cursor across the page with reckless abandon. A duplicate set of buttons have been placed above the trackpad to allow you to navigate with one hand.
There's no webcam as standard on the E6420, so, if you want to enjoy the delights of video conferencing, you'll have to add one as an optional extra. The same goes for the fingerprint reader if you want to add an extra layer of security.
While the E6420 packs a 14-inch screen, it seems somewhat smaller due to the massive plastic bezel. We don't like bezels here at CNET UK and this one's a humdinger. While bright and clear, the screen definitely doesn't deliver the contrast levels and deep blacks we like to see, but it will handle spreadsheets and presentations just fine.
With a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, the screen falls short of 1080p support, but you'll have no problem reading small text on Web pages, or viewing documents side by side.
Around the edge of the laptop, you'll find an Ethernet port, three USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo, an integrated headphone/mic jack, a 54mm ExpressCard slot, and a smart card reader. The smart card reader will go down well with your IT department -- it allows you to use a key card to access your computer, as well as a password. That makes for double the security.
There are VGA and HDMI ports too, which is great news if you want to hook the machine up to a projector so that you can give a presentation about crisps or something.
The E6420 isn't a machine designed for high-performance media editing, or for chewing its way through the meatiest of games. Instead, it's better suited to handling spreadsheets, running presentations and all kinds of other business stuff we don't understand.
Our sample ran on a 2.1GHz, dual-core Intel Core i3-2310M processor with 4GB of RAM. Annoyingly, it used the 32-bit version of Windows 7, so the machine could only actually take advantage of about 3GB of RAM. If you're thinking that the additional 1GB of RAM is therefore money wasted, you'd be absolutely right.
We fired up the PCMark05 benchmark test and the E6420 returned a score of 5,978, which is acceptable at best. The laptop will handle all the office-type stuff without breaking much of a sweat, but, if you were hoping to fire up Photoshop and tweak those high-res holiday snaps, you may find yourself turning as red as you looked on that beach in Spain.
We trotted over to YouTube and fired up some 1080p video, which the E6420 handled fine. We didn't notice any freezing or jumping in the video and it only started to slow down when we tried opening more browser tabs. The screen's resolution means it can't actually display 1080p content, but it's good to know that the laptop can at least cope with playing it back, since you might want to output 1080p footage to a bigger display via the HDMI port.
We didn't expect the E6420 to welcome much in the way of gaming challenges, but that sure didn't stop us from busting out the 3DMark06 benchmark test to see how it handled the polygons. The E6420 delivered a rather unimpressive score of 4,588, which means you aren't going to be busting out demanding 3D games on this guy.
When we ran our battery benchmark test, the laptop managed to hold out for 1 hour and 52 minutes. The test runs the CPU at a constant 100 per cent, so it's incredibly demanding. You'll get better performance with more cautious usage. If you're mostly performing office tasks on the go, you should be able to get 3 or 4 hours of life out of the battery, which isn't too bad for this type of machine. If you think you're going to be playing plenty of video, make sure you keep the plug nearby.
The Dell Latitude E6420 may satisfy your business needs with its configurable security options and sturdy shell, but our sample's underwhelming design and performance mean it won't impress anyone in conference room B. Unless you're forced to by company policy, we wouldn't recommend you splash your cash on this machine.
Edited by Charles Kloet