Dell Latitude E6320 business-rugged laptop

The Dell Latitude E6320 isn’t the prettiest ultraportable laptop, but it definitely gets the job done. It’s a solid performer, and it has a lot of little features that business professionals will definitely appreciate. Spill-proof keyboard? Check. Business-rugged design? Check. Fast-charging battery? Docking station connector? Bright LED screen? Check, check, check.

Our review model, priced at $1519 (as of October 3, 2011), came packed with a second-generation Intel Core i7-2620M processor as well as 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive spinning at 7200 rpm (average, for its category). It also featured a built-in webcam and microphone, Bluetooth connectivity, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional.

In WorldBench 6 benchmark tests, the Latitude E6320 earned an excellent score of 125. That mark is high for the ultraportable laptop category (though at least one other ultraportable, the very expensive Sony VAIO SB Series, achieved a score of 144), and understandable considering the Latitude’s Core i7 processor. 
The Latitude E6320 didn’t fare quite as well in our graphics tests–also understandable, considering that it has no discrete graphics card. Of course, the E6320 is hardly a multimedia-oriented machine, so graphics performance isn’t a high priority.

In Far Cry 2 at high quality settings and a resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels, the E6320 managed only an unplayable frame rate of 12.3 frames per second. It wasn’t until we ramped the quality settings down to ‘low’ that it produced a playable frame rate of 30.9 fps. While that is hardly impressive graphics performance, it is on a par with that of other laptops in the Latitude E6320’s category. The Sony VAIO SB Series reached a frame rate of 30.3 fps at high quality settings and a resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels–but it has a Radeon HD 6630M discrete graphics card and costs about $2500.

The business-oriented E6320 has a sturdy case design–after all, it is “business rugged.” It sports Tri-Metal casing (instead of your typical plastic chassis), reinforced metal hinges, and a spill-resistant keyboard. Unfortunately, it’s also heavier than it looks: Although it’s only 4.6 pounds with its six-cell battery, the average weight of the past five ultraportables we’ve tested is more than half a pound lighter.

Despite being a business machine, the Latitude E6320 is still somewhat svelte; the cover features a black brushed-aluminum panel and a matte-silver magnesium-alloy bumper. The aluminum panel, which tapers off at the sides, is a bit of a fingerprint magnet. The laptop isn’t superslim, but it is small, measuring 1.2 inches at its thickest, and 8.8 inches wide by 13.2 inches long. Our review model came with a six-cell battery, which generated 6 hours, 11 minutes of battery life in our tests. The battery is a little too big for the laptop, so it sticks out the back about an inch or so. It doesn’t get in the way of the hinge or ports, though, and it doesn’t push the laptop up at an angle; it just adds an extra inch to the back of the ultraportable.

Dell paid a little more attention to the inside of the laptop, which is much more attractive than the svelte yet boring exterior. The wrist rest is a soft, rubbery black, and a thin orange sliver surrounds the keyboard. The laptop also has two pointing devices: a touchpad (simple, black, and with two discrete mouse buttons), and a rubbery pointing stick (with three of its own discrete mouse buttons). On the right side of the keyboard are volume-up, volume-down, and mute buttons.

The backlit keyboard has regular-style keys, but each is slightly raised, higher than the thin border around it. This design gives the keyboard a semi-Chiclet look; it also means that the key faces are smaller than they’d normally be on a regular keyboard. This shape makes typing more difficult, and the keyboard feels cramped.

Both pointing devices are acceptable, though the stick is a little easier to use–the touchpad is understandably small (the E6320 is a 13-inch laptop, after all). All five mouse buttons are big and easy to press, and you can disable the touchpad and its buttons using a Function key.

The Latitude E6320 isn’t port-heavy, but it has what you need in a business laptop: one USB 2.0 port, one USB 2.0/eSATA combo port, an ExpressCard reader, a SmartCard reader, an SD Card reader, a combination microphone/headphone jack, a gigabit ethernet port, and a Kensington lock slot. It also has two different display connectors (VGA and Mini HDMI), as well as a docking connector, in case you want to use it on a desktop with an external display.

The E6320 ‘s 13.3-inch LED screen is matte, so you don’t have to worry about glare or reflections. Color representation looks good, and the display can be almost blindingly bright–excellent for working outside or in direct sunlight. With a native resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels–which is standard for the category–there really isn’t much to complain about here.

Multimedia playback on the Latitude E6320 isn’t great. Though high-definition streaming video plays fairly smoothly, significant blockiness mars darker, transitioning scenes. Some artifacts are to be expected since the E6320 isn’t a multimedia machine, but the artifacts on this laptop are much more glaring than I normally see. Needless to say, I don’t recommend this computer for movie watching.

Ultraportables aren’t known for their loud, high-quality speakers, and the Latitude E6320 is no exception. Its speakers, which are located on the front of the machine, are so quiet that you’ll feel as if you’re listening to music through headphones–except the headphones aren’t on your head, they’re on the person sitting next to you, and their volume is turned way up.

The Dell Latitude E6320 may not be a multimedia powerhouse, but it is an excellent business laptop for a frequently traveling professional. In addition to being a good performer for basic business tasks, it has various little extra features that businesspeople will love. The ExpressCharge battery that charges up to 80 percent in under an hour, the spill-resistant keyboard that can withstand cups of steaming coffee, and the rugged exterior that lets people bang your laptop around at TSA checkpoints are just some of the features that will make your working life a heck of a lot easier.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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