Dell Latitude D420 review

Price when reviewed

Dell doesn’t seem to be able to do much wrong with the new line of Latitude notebooks. The D620 arrived and flew straight to the top of the A List, and it’s a similar story for the D420 – the baby of the Latitude family. Dell is currently tight-lipped about plans to replace the minuscule X1, but with the D420 weighing just 1.5kg with its six-cell battery there’s little reason to look any further for a business ultraportable.

It’s powered by Intel’s U2500, a Core Duo CPU with a speed of 1.2GHz. If that doesn’t sound terribly impressive, the TDP (thermal design power, the maximum amount of power the CPU can draw) of merely 9W certainly does. The D420 isn’t the speediest laptop on the market, but it isn’t designed for intensive tasks such as media encoding or CAD, so the benchmark result of 0.65 isn’t enormously important – it’s more than fast enough. There’s also 1GB of RAM to keep things running smoothly when you’re running multiple applications.

Keeping in touch on the move is something the D420 does exceptionally well. Not only will it work in any Wi-Fi hotspot, but the integrated Dell Wireless 5505 card is an HSDPA adapter compatible with 3G SIM cards. Dell’s website currently markets Vodafone’s data plans, but the notebook isn’t locked to a single network. If you don’t want 3G, simply subtract £131 from the price. But after using HSDPA for a few days, we started to wonder how we’d ever lived without it. You’ll never have to search or pay for a hotspot away from the office, and within London we consistently managed to get on the HSDPA network (labelled 3G Broadband by Vodafone) with resultant data rates of around 1.2Mb/sec. Browsing feels a lot like using a standard broadband connection, and if you move out of an HSDPA area the network seamlessly shifts down to standard 3G. Network rates start from £25 for 250MB per month – visit to check coverage by postcode.

The D420 has most of the plus points of the D620. The chassis is built from magnesium alloy, and the build quality should survive all but the most reckless treatment. The excellent keyboard is another carryover, as are the trackpoint and trackpad. The smart card reader and fingerprint scanner between the mouse buttons remain, as does the TPM. The ambient light sensor on the screen is a welcome addition, although if you dislike the results you can switch it off and adjust the brightness manually.

The 12.1in widescreen has a resolution of 1,280 x 800 and, thankfully, a matte finish, which makes working in a fluorescently lit office comfortable. Contrast is uniformly excellent, as is colour accuracy, and while viewing angles aren’t the best we’ve seen, the small screen means that the D420 isn’t ideal for crowding around presentations anyway.

The hard disk is a reasonably spacious 60GB model with a lowly spin speed of 4,200rpm. Unusually, it’s a 1.8in model, similar to that used in Apple’s video iPod, and weighs only 59g. The lack of an optical drive is a little more of a disappointment. The Sony VAIO VGN-TX2XP manages to squeeze in a DVD writer, yet weighs even less at 1.2kg – it’s also got a bigger hard disk. To use an optical device on the D420, you’ll need to attach the media slice, but at least this is included in the price (use the E-Value code MAG-240PCP on Dell’s website to order this exact model). The media slice includes not only a CD combo drive but also serial, parallel, USB and DVI-I ports.

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