They just don’t make business laptops like they used to. Gone are the dull grey boxes that used to typify Dell’s Latitude range, to be replaced by stunning machines such as this E4200. Its rich finish – a deep burgundy red in our review sample’s case – will make an immediate and positive impression.
Dell piles in the features too. The integrated HSDPA modem is complemented not only by Bluetooth and draft-n wireless, but also a GPS radio and a huge number of security tools. A fingerprint reader and TPM 1.2 chip are standard in business machines, but Dell goes the extra mile by offering full-disk encryption and a smart card reader.
And there’s more. With a solid-state disk inside, the E4200 should prove more resilient to life on the move than a laptop with a mechanical hard disk. The overall build quality is impressive, with a magnesium-alloy chassis and no obvious areas of weakness.
We should point out, though, that the six-cell extended-life battery sticks out rather inelegantly by 22mm from the rear of the chassis. With the normal battery in place the E4200 would measure 296 x 204 x 27mm (WDH), but in return for the extra bulk you also get lots of extra battery life: the E4200 lasted for 5hrs 35mins in our light-use test. With the standard battery, expect half that.
Then again, it’s never been easier to sling a power supply into a bag than it is with the Latitude. Its brick measures just 88 x 63 x 15mm (WDH), slightly wider and slimmer than a pack of cards.
Couple all this with a super-light chassis – it weighs just 1.19kg with the extended battery in place – and it’s clear our reigning favourite business ultraportable, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X200, has some stiff competition. They have similar battery life, and the X200 weighs 1.54kg.
But in return for the X200’s greater weight, there’s also greater power: it scored 1.10 in our benchmarks compared with 0.73 from the E4200. It’s a sign of the X200’s workstation-like capabilities, but the E4200 still has enough grunt to double up as a main PC.
The right-hand side of the chassis also includes a wireless on/off switch, but awkwardly this controls all four radios: WLAN, Bluetooth, GPS and the mobile broadband modem. To take more granular control you’ve got to use Dell’s ControlPoint software, which isn’t the finely polished tool we hoped for.
For example, it isn’t possible to switch the Wi-Fi radio on or off from the ControlPoint, just the broadband modem and Bluetooth. And clicking for Help on Mobile Broadband dumps you into the highly technical modem User’s Guide.
You can at least tell at-a-glance which radios are switched on, as Dell’s new-found sense of style extends to fashionable neon-blue indicator lights above the keyboard. It sacrifices function for form by opting for touch-sensitive volume controls, but they’re awkward – we found it tricky to hit them in just the right place to make them work.
Our biggest criticism, though, is reserved for the screen. It measures 12.1in across with a decent 1,280 x 800 resolution, and Dell even includes an ambient light sensor – in darker conditions it drops brightness (saving power), which we found irritating.
But our real complaint is with the panel. It uses LED technology, so it offers a bright image at the same time as having low power demands, but its colour accuracy and viewing angles were disappointing. Reds looked orange, and we only got a consistent level of contrast when we were looking at it square on.
Typists should derive more pleasure from the keyboard, however, with its large, touch-typist friendly keys; the only obvious sacrifice being half-height Function keys.
So we have mixed feelings about the Latitude E4200. It looks fantastic, it’s incredibly light, the three-year on-site warranty is excellent, and the flexibility offered by the tiny power supply and five-hour-plus battery life will give it real appeal to mobile professionals. But the screen is a disappointment and that, coupled with a high price, means we hold off from a wholehearted recommendation.