The Dell Latitude E6420 is a well-built 14in laptop with good speed, but it could use more features for the price.
The Dell Latitude E6420 is a commercial laptop with strong build quality and good user comfort. It's a 14in-screen model, which we think offers a good mix of user friendliness and mobility, although at 2.4kg it is a little on the heavy side. The specific model we reviewed wasn't stacked with features but, as is the case with most Dell products, the E6420's configuration can be customised at the time of purchase.
Dell Latitude E6420: Build quality and user comfort
We're told that the Latitude E6420 is designed to meet military standards when it comes to durability, but it's definitely not a fully rugged laptop. It should withstand some accidental bumps and spills, but you won't want to mistreat it completely.
The Latitude's lid is made of anodised aluminium, while the chassis is made from magnesium alloy and the lid's latch is made from zinc alloy. Furthermore, its keyboard is spill-resistant. Dell also claims a protective LCD seal forms when the lid is closed, but we're not so sure about that - a gap is clearly visible between the lid and chassis when the lid is closed.
The laptop definitely feels sturdily built, though, and it's also quite comfortable to use. Its palm rest feels soft and it isn't glossy, so it doesn't get slippery. The Dell's keyboard has soft keys with good responsiveness and it's a pleasure to type on. The model we tested didn't have a backlit keyboard, nor a screen-mounted keyboard light, but there is an option for a backlit keyboard (an extra £33).
The touchpad and its buttons feel soft and the touchpad was responsive to most gestures (although three-finger flicking took a few goes before it was recognised) and there is also a TrackPoint-style device installed. This sometimes got in the way while typing.
We like the inclusion of dedicated shortcut volume buttons, which are located just to the right of the keyboard, and there's a physical Wi-Fi switch on the right side of the chassis. We're fans of the unit's understated LED status lights - they won't be distracting while you use the notebook at night.
The 14in screen has a matt (anti-glare) finish and a native resolution of 1600x900 pixels (this is a £32 upgrade from the baseline spec of 1366x768). It's very bright, and we found it to be adequate for video and photo viewing. The vertical angles aren't great, but that's not unusual in the laptops market. The wide screen allows you to line up two documents side by side easily using Windows 7's Aero Snap feature, which is great when multitasking. The standard model that we reviewed didn't have a webcam installed, but one can be added for £12.
Dell Latitude E6420: Specifications and performance
Running an Intel Second Generation Core i5-2520M CPU with a frequency of 2.5GHz, two cores and Hyper-Threading, the E6420 is no slouch (you can also select up to a Core i7-2720QM). It also features 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a 7200rpm hard drive and integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics.
With this configuration, the Latitude E6420 produced solid scores in our performance tests. It recorded a time of only 39 sec in our Blender 3D rendering test, which is one second faster than the time recorded by the Toshiba Portege R830, for example, which uses the same CPU. It recorded 52 sec in the iTunes MP3 encoding test and 52 min in our DVD transcoding test; these were expected results.
Basically, the Latitude E6420 is more than capable of handling typical office applications; it's powerful enough to be used for tougher tasks such as media encoding and video rendering and it's great for multitasking.
Considering it's a commercial laptop, the Latitude E6420 is also quite strong in the graphics department. It only relies on the graphics processor that's integrated in the Intel CPU, but it recorded a respectable 4486 in 3DMark06. The integrated graphics are also meant to keep the laptop's power usage in check. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video file, the laptop's 6-cell (60 Watt-hour) battery lasted 3 hr 31 min.
It's a decent result, but it's nothing to get excited about. The Toshiba Tecra R850, for example, which uses the same CPU and also has a 6-cell battery (albeit with a slightly higher 66 Watt-hour rating), but which has a dedicated graphics card and a 15.6in screen, recorded a time of 4 hr 15 min in the same test.
Around the edges, the Latitude E6420 has a decent helping of ports and slots. You get HDMI and VGA for video, Gigabit ethernet for networking (there's also dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi), a headphone/microphone combo port, four USB 2.0 ports (one which doubles as an eSATA port), an SD card reader and an ExpressCard/54 slot. Even though it's a commercial laptop, we're disappointed that it doesn't come with a USB 3.0 controller by default, and we weren't able to add this as an option when configuring the unit either.
Security equipment on the standard Latitude E6420 includes a Smartcard reader and a TPM, and Computrace is supported in the BIOS. A fingerprint reader can be added for £17. We wish this was standard as well, especially considering that some similarly priced business laptops, such as the Toshiba Tecra E850 and even Dell's own Latitude E5520, are supplied with fingerprint readers. However, the Latitude E6420 is in a different class to those notebooks, primarily because of its construction materials, and that's why it costs more and comes with less.