Military-grade toughness; Innovative rotating display; Resistive touch screen; Spacious, responsive keyboard; Strong performance;
Heavy for 12-inch laptop; Expensive; Runs hot; Below-average battery life
The Dell Latitude 12 Rugged Extreme features mil-spec toughness, a rotating touch screen and strong performance to justify its hefty price tag.
While most 12-inch laptops are practically naked when it comes to protection, the Dell Latitude 12 Rugged Extreme has serious armor and shielding. In addition to being able to shrug off water, getting dropped and extreme temperatures, the Rugged Extreme has the internal power to match its reinforced exterior, thanks to an Intel Core-i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256 GB solid state drive. But this kind of toughness comes with a price, so read on to find out how much punishment this $4,729 (as tested) notebook can take.
In the friendly confines of my office, with its ergonomic chairs and climate control, the Dell Latitude 12 Rugged Extreme feels terribly out of place. The Latitude 12 laughs at the silly soft-touch finishes on other devices, and counters with a flat, black, tactical look that will display future battle scars with pride. This notebook was designed for life in the harshest environments; its appearance makes that clear, from the chunky rubber bumpers on its corners to the combination of durable metal and plastic that make up the device's chassis.
The lid is secured by a big plastic clasp and opens to reveal a chiclet-style keyboard and touchpad with discrete mouse buttons. A floating frame surrounds the 11.6-inch touch screen, allowing the display to rotate 180 degrees. By flipping the screen and closing the lid, I could transform the Latitude 12 into the toughest tablet/presentation device I've ever used. There is even a privacy shutter covering up the webcam and mic situated above the 11.6-inch display.
One last addition is a collapsible stylus that lives in a slot next to the Ctrl key, attached by a springy, spiral cord. I wish Dell had figured out a better way to attach the stylus, because the loose cord takes away from the Latitude 12's rugged façade and tends to get caught on things when you're in transit.
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The Latitude 12 was made to last and features a military-grade 810G rating, which certifies it for drops from up to 72 inches while off,
The Latitude 12 can also survive temperatures from -20 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and has an additional, military-standard 461F rating for electromagnetic interference protection.
Worried about water damage? The Latitude 12's IP-65 rating means it can handle a strong jet of water from any angle without harm and has complete immunity to dust.
To test the device's durability, I pushed the Latitude 12 off my desk (a height of 3 feet) while in use onto the wooden floor below. The Latitude 12 took this drop in stride without issue, but since I've had computer monitors survive tumbles more serious than that, I repeated this process nine more times. After all 10 falls, I encountered only one issue: The Wi-Fi briefly disconnected and then immediately reconnected.
I also dropped the Latitude 12 from shoulder height (about 5 feet) onto a linoleum floor while the device was off. The most severe damage suffered was that the stylus popped out from the laptop's slot. Finally, I tested water resistance by pouring a pint of water over the device's lid while closed, which the Latitude 12 once again survived with ease.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard has four levels of backlighting, and the color can be switched among red, green, blue and white. It even has a "stealth" button for turning off the display and all power and indicator lights for when you need to be a little more covert.
The 3.5 x 2-inch touchpad feels pretty standard, but a somewhat thick ridge lies between the touchpad and the palm rest. Below are two discrete buttons for left and right mouse clicks, which worked as expected, although hitting the buttons feels more like tapping a spacebar than clicking a mouse. I sometimes had difficulty getting two-finger scrolling to work, but for the most part, the touchpad did its job navigating around Windows.
Display and Touch Screen
The display can also rotate 180 degrees within its frame to become a super-rugged tablet. This makes it marginally easier to take and compose pictures using the camera. I played a few games of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft in tablet mode and was impressed by the responsiveness of the touch screen. However, the system didn't always recognize Windows 8 gestures. Stylus input was similarly responsive.
One area where the Latitude 12's display falls short is gamut, as the panel recreates just 58 percent of the sRGB spectrum. This is 9 percentage points worse than the ultraportable average of 67 percent. However, the screen's color accuracy was quite good, with a Delta-E rating of 0.3 (close to 0 is better). This is superior to the ultraportable average of 6.7.
When I watched the trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, colors were accurate, but contrast was a little weak, with slightly less-saturated hues than I would like.
Audio comes from speakers located on the left edge of the notebook. When I listened to Ronald Jenkees' "Stay Crunchy," audio quality sounded a little harsh, with tinny highs and muffled bass. Audio also sounds a little one-sided due to the speaker placement, but overall quality is good given this system's rugged nature.
Even though Dell equips the Latitude 12 with Quadcool thermal management, the system can still become quite hot. The Latitude 12 performed well on the Laptop Mag heat test (streaming HD video from Hulu for 15 minutes), reaching just 85 degrees Fahrenheit between the G and H keys. The touchpad (82 degrees) and underside of the machine (86 degrees) also felt cool. However, the bottom left vent reached 130 degrees a couple times while I was downloading and playing games, and this was painful to the touch.
Ports and Camera
Our review unit came with a second, 8-MP camera mounted on the bottom of the laptop. Taking pictures and videos with this camera is incredibly difficult due to the Latitude's significant heft and odd camera placement; transforming the laptop into tablet mode only slightly remedies this issue. That said, photos from the bottom-mounted camera came out well. My photo from our office rooftop had good sharpness, although some detail got lost in the shadows.
We ran several benchmarks to test the Latitude's 12 capabilities. On Geekbench 3, which tests overall system performance, the Latitude 12 scored 5,678, beating the ultraportable average of 4,331.
Using Open Office to match 20,000 names and addresses, the Latitude 12 finished with a time of 5:09, three minutes faster than the ultraportable average of 8:22.
To test the solid state drive, we duplicated 4.97 GB of mixed media files. The Latitude 12 completed the copy in 27 seconds, for a transfer rate of 188.6 MBps. This is significantly faster than the speedy ultraportable average of 118.4 MBps.
Playing World of Warcraft, the Latitude 12 managed 41 fps at 1366 x 768 and auto settings, which is better than the ultraportable average of 33 fps.
In 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, which tests synthetic graphics performance, the Latitude 12 scored 48,237. That's almost double the ultraportable average of 27,707.
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The least expensive Latitude 12 costs $3,649 and comes with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i3-4010U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD. Our $4,729 review unit is almost identical to the top-of-the-line $4,855 config, except for some small differences in warranty and port choice. Dell has hinted at a possible Intel Core-i7 model, but that option is currently not available.
Software and Warranty
The system also comes with a three-year basic hardware service with three years of mail-in service. This can be extended up to five years and upgraded to Rapid Return for Repair service, which promises onsite service after remote diagnosis, around-the-clock tech support in North America, and software and how-to assistance.
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|CPU||1.9 GHz Intel Core i5-4300U|
|Operating System||Windows 8.1|
|RAM Upgradable to||16GB|
|Hard Drive Size||256GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||mSATA SSD|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4400|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260|
|Touchpad Size||3.5 x 2 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||RJ-45|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone/Mic|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI-out|
|Ports (excluding USB)||ExpressCard/54|
|Ports (excluding USB)||VGA|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 2.0|
|Card Slots||SD memory reader|
|Warranty/Support||3- year basic hardware service with 3 year mail-in service|
|Size||12.2 x 8.6 x 1.6 inches|