Dell’s Latitude series of notebooks have always been a hit with business professionals as it offers great durability and security features, unlike regular notebooks. With their annual update on track, Dell has refreshed their Latitude line up both cosmetically as well as technically so let’s see what you get for that high a price tag.
Design and Build
Dell has gone with a very understated look, which works very well. It looks and feels professional, without being drab or boring. This can be attributed to the choice of materials used to build it. Dell likes to call it ‘Tri-Metal’ design, as it has an anodized brushed aluminum lid, steel hinges and a magnesium alloy internal frame for rigidity. All this comes together to give you one solid notebook. Pressing the back of the lid causes no rippling effect on the LCD at all. Since the base is quite heavy, you can easily open the lid with one finger without any problems. The entire surface does not attract any finger prints and is easy to maintain.
Sturdy construction makes it very durable
On opening up the lid, you’ll notice there’s quite a bit of extra bezel around the screen and that’s there for a reason. A rubber lining runs all around the screen thus protecting it from accidental spills when the notebook is closed. Thanks to this extra girth, there’s plenty of room for a good keyboard. It’s not chiclet style, but comfortable to use nonetheless. The directional keys are placed separately and not clubbed with the rest of the keyboard. The power button and volume control buttons are placed on the right, along with a biometric scanner at the bottom. The display has a matt finish so reflections are not a problem and when closed, it's held securely with a latch. Weighing in at a little over 2kg, it does feel a bit heavy, as well.
Overall, it feels extremely sturdy and has a very polished look and feel.
Prices for the Latitude E series begin at Rs.61,638 for the base model. Dell sent us a souped up version of the E5420, which pushes its price tag a few notches higher. Powering Windows 7 Professional, we have Intel’s latest SandyBridge Core i7 2620M, a multi-threaded dual-core processor running at 2.7GHz with the ability to Turbo up to 3.4GHz.
Good connectivity although USB 3.0 is missing
To complement that, we have 4GB DDR3 memory and a 320GB hard drive. Some other extras include a higher resolution screen (1600×900) and back-lit keyboard. Surprisingly, Dell does not give you the option to add a discrete graphics card, so you're stuck with the one on the CPU. This isn’t a big issue since most people opting for this would not use it for gaming anyways and the Intel HD 3000 can easily handle 1080p content.
There’s no shortage of connectivity options, either. On the left we have a Firewire, HDMI, USB/ESATA combo, USB 2.0 ports and 54mm ExpressCard slot and a Multi-Card reader below. The right side houses the DVD burner, screw-in VGA port, USB 2.0 port and a headphone/microphone combo jack. The rear features a LAN jack, the fourth USB 2.0 port and a charging port. There’s a docking connector underneath which can be used with an optional accessory. We also have some strategically placed intake vents along with four rubber feet for support.
Offers a good look and finish
Dell also bundles along some data security software like Data Protection Encryption, Dell Fast Response Free Fall sensor and Strike Zone. The finger print reader can also be used to secure certain confidential folders or files.
Needless to say, the Latitude E5420 just flies through CPU intensive tasks thanks to the Turbo Boost enabled processor. The onboard GPU is not designed for graphically intensive tasks, which is evident from the PCMark Vantage score of 8383. This is still a lot higher than the Lenovo X1 though. Despite not having a dedicated graphics card, the onboard GPU of the Core i7 is almost 50 per cent faster, according to Cinebench R11.5.
Good CPU performance thanks to the Core i7
Video encoding a movie into x264 takes 1min 04secs, which surprisingly was a little longer compared to the Core i5. The Woodbox scene using POVRay took 18sec to render, which was quick. Overall, the Latitude doesn't break a sweat when it comes to number crunching.
General and Multimedia Usage
The Dell Latitude E5420 is a joy to work with. The high resolution on a 14-inch screen makes images and text sharp and clear. The LED backlighting provides adequate brightness although the vertical viewing angles could have been a little better. Colors are good as well, they don’t pop due to the anti-glare coating but aren't dull either. The black levels are not the best, which is apparent when watching movies, it has more of a grayish tone rather than pitch black.
The keys are responsive and offer good feedback
The keyboard is very comfortable to use and our back-lit version helps when working under low light. The backlight automatically switches off if you don't use the keyboard for some time which is a good power saving feature. The keys are very comfortable to use and although it's not chiclet type, it works well.
The trackpad is thankfully much better this time (compared to the Inspiron) and features multi-touch gestures. It’s responsive and smooth, but at times you’ll notice a slight lag. Like any professional notebook, we get a dual set of mouse buttons and a trackball. Unlike IBM’s Thinkpad series, the trackball is not really a ball but more of a recessed rubber pad which works, but I didn’t find much use for it.
The E5420 is not designed for multimedia, but it still manages to put up a good show. 1080p movies are super smooth, but suffer due to low black levels. An IPS panel would have been appreciated. The speakers aren’t able to deliver very loud or crisp sound. They are placed at the bottom, so it can get a bit muffled when the laptop is placed on your lap.
Backlit keyboard is perfect for those late night sessions
Even when charging, the notebook seldom gets hot, it just feels a little warm at best. This is due to the large ventilation vents on the side and the new 32nm fabrication of SandyBridge. It’s also very quiet, you can barely here it running even in a quiet room.
The E5420 comes with a 4,6 or 9 cell battery option and the one we tested came with a 60Wh 6-cell battery. In our Battery Eater Pro test, we managed to get 55min before the notebook shutdown. If you are going to perform CPU intensive tasks, then the battery life won’t be great due to the higher wattage of the CPU compared to a Core i3 or i5 chip. For regular use, you should expect around 3hrs of battery life.
The configuration we received will set you back a whopping Rs. 82,747 including taxes and delivery. This puts it in competition with the Lenovo X1 we recently reviewed, which also sold for a similar price. Given a choice between the two, I’d have to go with the Dell Latitude and here’s why. The X1 may be slim and light and have a slightly better keyboard but the heating issue is a big setback in my book. It’s impossible to use the laptop on your lap for a long time which means you’ll have to find a desk or a table to use it on. The Dell Latitude doesn’t have this problem and although it's a bit chunkier, it's just as tough and durable and looks better, as well. It’s not perfect though. Dell could have easily included USB 3.0, an IPS panel for the screen and an option to add a graphics card for this price.
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