Dell’s Latitude line has long been a favorite of businesses large and small because of its strong performance, good pricing, and long battery life. With the new 14-inch Dell Latitude E5420, Dell has added a strong dose of style and durability to this tried and true formula, using a new Tri-Metal design with a durable magnesium frame that’s built to stand up to abuse. Inside, the E5420 packs a punch, thanks to a second-generation Core i7 processor.
The Dell Latitude E5420’s aesthetic screams “space age” while still looking right at home in the most conservative corporate boardroom. The gunmetal-gray brushed metal aluminum lid, matte chrome sides, and angular shape combine to make the notebook look like some kind of executive space cruiser. Meanwhile, the soft-touch, rubberized deck is as comfy as the inside of a corporate limousine. Add in a matte chrome accent on the bezel, matte chrome hinges, a zinc latch, and a bold orange stripe around the keyboard, and you have a truly unique design.
But the E5420’s Tri-Metal chassis is more than just eye candy. A magnesium alloy internal frame and reinforced steel hinges combine with the matte chrome bumper and protective LCD seal to provide a business-rugged system that’s MIL-STD 810G-tested and designed to protect against extreme temperatures, dust, and vibrations. A spill-resistant keyboard guards against your clumsiness (or someone else’s).
The trade-off for all this durability is added heft. At 13.9 x 10.3 x 1.3 inches and 6.2 pounds with the nine-cell battery, the Dell Latitude E5420 is quite a bit heavier and larger than other 14-inch business notebooks. For example, the Lenovo ThinkPad T410 measures 13.1 x 9.4 x 1.3 inches and weighs 5.6 pounds with its nine-cell battery.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Dell Latitude E5420’s spill-resistant keyboard offers an excellent typing experience by combining strong tactile feedback with concave keys that grip your fingers and a comfy soft-touch palm rest that’s easy on your wrists. We were able to achieve a rate of 86 words per minute with a 1-percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, higher than our typical 80 wpm score. The keyboard even has an adjustable backlight to help you see it in the dark.
For navigation, the Latitude E5420 has both a touchpad and a pointing stick. We’re big fans of pointing sticks in general, because they’re usually more precise than touchpads. Unfortunately, Dell’s pointing stick, while accurate, has a concave cap that felt slippery under our index finger and left us longing for the grippable, textured nubs on Lenovo’s ThinkPad line.
The generous 3.1 x 1.8-inch touchpad on the Latitude E5420 has a pleasant matte surface that made it easy for us to navigate around the desktop with great accuracy. After enabling gestures in Dell’s easy-to-configure touchpad control panel, we were able to pinch-to-zoom with ease and conduct three-finger gestures such as Flick, which lets you hit the back button in your web browser. The two discrete mouse buttons offered solid feedback.
The Dell Latitude E5420 stayed pleasantly cool throughout our testing. After we streamed a video for 15 minutes, the keyboard measured 87 degrees Fahrenheit, the touchpad 85 degrees, and the bottom center a reasonable 95 degrees. We consider temperatures 95 degrees and lower acceptable and those below 90 degrees quite comfortable.
Display and Audio
The Latitude E5420’s 14-inch, 1366 x 768 glossy touchscreen provided images that were sharp and bright, though not overly rich in color. When we played both a 1080p QuickTime Trailer of Cowboys & Aliens and a 720p streaming Flash episode of Fringe, images were crisp and free from visual noise. However, colors washed out significantly at even 45 degrees to the left or right.
The optional touchscreen digitizer on our unit ($100) allowed us to tap even small widgets and icons on the screen with great accuracy. It also supports two-finger gestures, so we were able to pinch-to-zoom on web pages or draw in two different directions at once in Windows Paint. However, considering that the Dell’s screen does not rotate into tablet mode or support pen input, we don’t think many businesses would choose the touchscreen over the standard one. Dell doesn’t even include any touch-friendly software.
The Latitude E5420’s speakers are adequate for listening to music or video in a small room. When we played both the bass heavy “Forget Me Nots” and the percussion-centric hip-hop song “Like a G6,” we heard accurate, loud audio that wasn’t tinny but wasn’t particularly impressive.