by Jerry Jackson
The Dell Latitude E6400 is a 14" laptop targeted towards businesses that need good performance, solid design, and a commonality of parts for an entire workforce. This notebook competes against such notebooks as the HP EliteBook 6930p and Fujitsu LifeBook S7220. The E6400 offers a wide range of hardware configurations, as well as Solid State Drives (SSDs) for the businesses that require extreme ruggedness and extreme performance. Should your company rush out and purchase the latest generation of Dell business notebooks? We took a closer look to find out.
Our review unit of the Dell Latitude E6400 came with the following options:
Build and Design
Unlike the previous generation of Dell Latitude noteboks that featured rounded edges and curves, the Dell Latitude E-series features "down to business" industrial design. The chassis is entirely made of magnesium alloy with plenty of 90-degree edges and sharp angles. While the look is reasonably modern, it's also a little "old school" and could be mistaken for a 5-year old laptop from a distance. Still, the build and design speak volumes in terms of the overall durability of this notebook.
During testing no plastic creaks or squeaks could be heard thanks to the magnesium alloy structure. The entire bottom shell is a metal alloy which gives the laptop a strong footprint on your desk, and gives enough strength to resist bending if you hold the laptop by the edge of the palm rest walking around the room. The only downside to the chassis is that the alloy is thinner than expected in a few locations (more on that later). Another minor issue we noticed is that the bottom access panel on the E6400 really needs one extra screw on the bottom right corner next to the hard drive bay. The magnesium allow base plate smacks up against that corner of the notebook and makes an annoying metal tapping noise if you're typing on an uneven surface.
The heavy use of magnesium alloy carries over to the lid of the notebook, which has an attractive "brushed metal" design that isn't actually brushed metal but rather a painted surface. This immitation brushed metal surface is available in black, blue, or red to give businesses (and their employees) a way to customize the look of their business notebook. The finish itself seems quite durable and should survive years of use and abuse.
In addition to the overall design of the notebook itself, it's worth mentioning the new docking station for the E-series Latitude notebooks. Most businesses will likely use the E6400 with a docking station and an external monitor so that employees can have a mobile laptop when traveling and have a "desktop" computer at the office. Dell made a few changes to the Latitude docking station this year. In addition to relocating some ports they also added an extra USB port on the side and provide new DisplayPort connections for the latest external displays.
The matte WXGA+ (1440x900) screen on the Dell Latitude E6400 is absolutely beautiful. No dead pixels were found during testing, and backlight bleed while noticed on some dark screens was minimal. Colors were vibrant despite the matte screen and the additional benefit of matte screens is the lack of reflection in an office environment. Wide viewing angles made the screen look sharp even at oddly contorted angles. Backlight adjustment was very broad, allowing me to adjust low enough for darker room settings, and bright enough to still be readable in sunlight or a bright office.
One minor negative regarding the screen is that the notebook lid offers less than ideal protection for the screen. Although the allow lid is quite durable and should protect the lid from most impacts, the thin allow does flex and created "ripples" on the screen whenever pressure was allied to the back of the screen The release latch was smooth and unlike most latches on budget notebooks required little effort to release.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard and palm rest structure is solid, but the thin alloy used in the palmrests does flex a little when pressure is applied. Pressing down very firmly, the keyboard suffers from virtually zero flex and is a nice improvement over the older Dell Latitude D630.
The keyboard is very comfortable to type on, and gave just the right amount of response for each key press. Key travel is similar to most business notebooks with just a bit less clicking sound than what we hear on ThinkPads in our office. The keyboard layout was not cramped at all, and the keyboard backlighting allowed for typing in a dark room.
The Alps touchpad has a nice smooth texture and is reasonably responsive, but could be improved. Lag time and accuracy were worse than what we've seen on many competing business notebooks. The size of the touchpad surface was large enough for comfortable control and the two touchpad buttons spanned the full length of the touchpad, and each had a soft click when pressed. The touchpoint/trackpoint located in the center of the keyboard is a nice improvement over the touchpoint on the older D630, but again we found the touchpoints on business notebooks from Lenovo and HP to be more responsive and accurate. On the bright side, the touchpoint includes three mouse buttons for better control with tabbed web browsing.
Next to the touchpad on the right palmrest you'll also notice a SmartCard contact reader ... allowing employees to use their SmartCard security badges with their notebook without having to physically insert the SmartCard inside the notebook.
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