Dell Latitude E4200 Review

Published on by delllaptopparts

q1.jpgThey 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 like this E4200. Its rich finish - a deep burgundy red in our review sample's case - will make an immediate and positive impression on any clients you visit, which is surely one of the aims of a modern-day business laptop.

Dell piles in the features too. The integrated HSDPA modem is almost a given, and Dell complements it with not only Bluetooth and draft-n wireless but also a GPS receiver.

While we struggle to think of any killer business application for GPS in a laptop, it's an interesting inclusion that could well come in useful in the future. And in the meantime, it means your staff can always check where they are on Google Maps when they get lost.

This laptop also boasts a huge number of security tools. Again, a fingerprint reader and TPM 1.2 chip are de facto in business machines, but it's good to see Dell offering full-disk encryption as part of its software package. Our review system also included a smart card reader for an extra physical layer of protection.

And there's more. Thanks to its Solid State Disk, the E4200 should prove more resilient to life on the move than a laptop containing a mechanical hard disk. The Latitude's overall build quality is good too, with a magnesium alloy chassis and no obvious areas of weakness.

Dell's website makes much of the Latitude ON 'communication module' too. It's a Linux-on-a-chip affair that can connect directly with an Exchange server over wireless, and also includes a web browser, Microsoft Office and PDF reader. Or at least so we're told - unfortunately it didn't work on our review sample.

Built for mobile professionals

We should also point out that the extended life battery, a 5,200mAh unit, 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. It measures just 88 x 63 x 15mm (WDH), slightly wider but slightly slimmer than a standard pack of cards. The only drawback is the size of the British three pin plug.

While a five-and-a-half hour battery life is pretty respectable, take note of the Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (web ID: 228786). It will never match the E4200's glamourpuss styling, but it kept going for 5hrs 57mins in our light-use tests and weighs 1.54kg - 350g more than the E4200.

In return for the X200's greater weight, though, there's also greater power: it scored 1.10 in our benchmarks compared to 0.73 from the E4200. While that gulf in power may seem quite damning, it's more a sign of the X200's workstation-like capabilities - the E4200 still has enough grunt to double up as a main PC.

Around the chassis

One obvious sacrifice is the optical drive, or lack of one, which is another trait the E4200 shares with the X200. Surprisingly, Dell doesn't find space around the chassis for more than two USB ports, but at least one of these doubles up as an eSATA port - an excellent inclusion - and it's kept company by mini-FireWire, an SD slot and an ExpressCard/34 slot.

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 it would be.

For example, it's not possible to switch the Wi-Fi radio on or off from ControlPoint, just the broadband modem and Bluetooth. And clicking for Help on Mobile Broadband dumps you straight into the highly technical User's Guide for the modem, which tells you all about the various frequencies of mobile data connections but nothing about how to actually get connected.

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 Dell Latitude E4200 keyboard.

It sacrifices function for form by opting for touch-sensitive, and again neon-blue, volume controls, but they're awkward in use - we found it tricky to hit them in precisely the right place to make them work.

Ergonomics

Our biggest criticism, though, is reserved for the screen. It's a 12.1in affair with a decent 1,280 x 800 resolution, and Dell even includes an ambient light sensor - in darker conditions it drops brightness (saving power), and though it works effectively we actually found it irritating in practice.

But our real complaint is with the panel itself. As it uses LED technology it offers a bright image while having relatively low power demands, but its colour accuracy and viewing angles were very disappointing. For instance, reds looked orange, and we could only get a consistent level of apparent contrast when we were looking square on - we expect much better on a laptop costing this much.

Typists should derive more pleasure from the Dell Latitude E4200 keyboard, with Dell using almost every millimetre of the chassis' width. The end result is large, touch-typist friendly keys, with the only obvious sacrifice being half-height Function keys.

We'd have liked the option of a trackpoint as well as the bijou trackpad, but most people should find this aspect of using the Latitude a pleasure.
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Customisable

A big strength Dell still holds over its rivals is the sheer configurability of its laptops. If you need to save a few pounds you can opt for a slower processor, drop down to 1GB of RAM (we wouldn't recommend the latter) and decide not to include Bluetooth. You can even specify which Wi-Fi chip to choose, Intel's 5100 or 5300 (the difference boils down to the aerial configuration and maximum theoretical data throughput).

More importantly, you can choose which battery you'd like - the four-cell version or the six-cell. You get an impressive three-year, on-site, next-business day warranty by default, but again more options are available.

Sadly, there's no way to opt-out of Dell's bundling of Google Desktop. While we're generally fans of this software, it's too invasive for a business machine, and the first thing most people will do is surely close the annoying sidebar.

Conclusion

So we have mixed feelings about the Latitude E4200. It looks fantastic and it's incredibly light, and the flexibility offered by the tiny power supply and five-hour-plus battery life will give it real appeal to mobile professionals. The screen, however, is a disappointment, and coupled with a high price means we hold off from a wholehearted recommendation.

Published on Dell Laptop Review

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