Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Tough, sturdy design; Resistive touch screen; Protected ports; Discrete Nvidia graphics; More than 8 hours of battery life;

The Cons

Touchpad could be more responsive; Steep price tag

Verdict

The Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme can survive the toughest conditions imaginable while providing solid overall performance.

When you need a notebook that can quite literally be taken into the deepest caverns and come out unscathed -- the Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme will be your saving grace. This mini tank sports a military-tough design, complete with a magnesium alloy chassis and the ability to shrug off water, sand and dust. Starting at $3,655 ($4,705 as configured), the Rugged Extreme backs up its durability with strong specs, including a Core i5, a 256GB SSD hard drive and a 14-inch touch screen. If you can afford it, this rig is ready for whatever the world can dish out.

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Design

Place the Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme next to any traditional work notebook you've had, and it will likely dwarf it in size, bulk and intensity. With its clunky, black exterior shell, the Latitude 14 feels industrial in every way, including the bulbous rubber bumpers on each corner and the port covers on three of its four sides. Thankfully, the Latitude 14 has a handle; otherwise it would be difficult to bring this 14.0 x 9.7 x 2.03-inch, 8.6-pound notebook with you.

The ports on the Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme are concealed by plastic latches and insulated with foam. This forms what seems to be a nearly impenetrable fortress protecting it from any and all elements. On the left side there's a discreet hole that houses the stylus, which is connected to the body of the notebook so you never have to worry about misplacing it. On the underside of the chassis, there's a docking connector for use with the optional docking station, giving you an array of extra ports.

Upon unfastening the big plastic cap that locks the lid in place, you're met with the 14-inch, 1366 x 768 touch-screen display and the black Chiclet-style keyboard. On the keyboard deck lies the power button at the top right corner and the 3.5 x 2-inch touchpad with a fingerprint scanner to the right.

Durability

Dell designed the Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme to withstand the toughest conditions. The company put this notebook through the ringer to meet military standard (MIL-STD) requirements, including performing rigorous temperature, shock, radiation, rain, sand and dust, freezing and water ingress tests. The Latitude 14 passed all of the more than 35 tests Dell put it through, so you can rest assured that the body's magnesium alloy backbone and shock-absorbent ultra-polymer materials can withstand serious abuse.

Assuming you can lift it, the Latitude 14 can be dropped, smashed and otherwise beaten without showing signs of damage. Also, all of its nooks and crannies have been reinforced with a dual-knife-edge design and compression gaskets to stop liquids, dust and sand from getting inside.

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I dropped the Latitude 14 from three different levels -- from knee-height while holding it like a briefcase, from table height (about 3 to 3.5 feet) and from my chin height (about 5.5 feet). Each time, the Latitude 14 was resilient, surviving the fall without a scratch or a bump. I only noticed the Wi-Fi signal break off for a second after dropping the notebook from table height, but the signal was almost immediately restored.

The Latitude 14 also boasts an IP-65 certification, meaning it's nearly impenetrable when it comes to dust and water jets. You'll be safe if you get caught in the rain with this notebook in hand, but you won't want it to take a swim in a pool.

Security

In addition to two smart card readers -- one contactless -- and an optional fingerprint scanner, the Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme has a host of Dell Data Protection features to ensure your data stays yours. Dell's security service allows you to encrypt all your data across external media and in the cloud and offers real-time protection against malware attacks. The Latitude 14 also comes with the typical Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and Dell ControlVault, the manufacturer's software that protects and secures your passwords, biometric templates and security codes from malware.

Keyboard and Touchpad

When I sat at my desk to use the Latitude 14, I had trouble reaching the top of the keyboard because the body of the notebook is higher than most. In addition, the keyboard deck dug into my arms right below my wrists as I typed. However, when I moved the Latitude 14 to my lap, typing was much easier, because my hands and arms were above its bulky body.

Although the Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme offers fairly good travel of 1.6mm (1.5 to 2mm is average), the keys felt a little stiff. I scored 77 words per minute with eight errors on the TypingTestOnline.Org challenge, which is lower than my 90 wpm average.

Unfortunately, the 3.5 x 2-inch touchpad didn't provide a smooth experience. The cursor lagged while I moved it around the desktop, and two-finger scrolling was choppy.

Display and Touch Screen

The Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme's 14-inch, 1366 x 768, Direct-View outdoor-readable display is designed to be functional in the brightest of conditions, reducing reflections and protecting contrast.

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I watched Katy Perry's "This is How We Do" music video, and the would-be bold, Pop Art-esque colors were slightly dull, although the details of her outrageous feathered and textured outfits were sharp. In direct sunlight, the Latitude 14's display was readable - tilting the screen back and forth 20 degrees resulted in slightly blown-out images and video, but I was able to read and browse Web pages easily.

Measuring an average of 483 nits, the Latitude 14 has a very bright panel, clearly outshining the  thin-and-light average of 232 nits. It also produces accurate colors with a 0.3 Delta E score (closer to 0 is better. However, the screen falls short on color reproduction, hitting 58.2 percent on the sRGB gamut test (100 percent is ideal).

The Latitude 14 has a resistive touch screen, which means you can use it with gloves on or with the included stylus. I had to use more pressure than I liked for the screen to respond, but I got used to it.

Audio

The Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme's bottom-mounted speaker gets loud, but loud doesn't mean pleasant. The notebook hit a whopping 93 decibels on our audio test, which is much louder than the thin-and-light average of 85 dB.

Iggy Azalea's "Black Widow" delivered robust vocals at max volume, but the track sounded  muffled overall.

Heat

The Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme stayed fairly cool during our heat test. After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes, the underside measured 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The touchpad reached 87 degrees and the space between the G and H keys hit 89 degrees. We consider anything under 95 degrees comfortable.

Ports and Camera

The Latitude Rugged Extreme has two USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports, as well as two RS-232 Serial ports, two Ethernet ports, VGA and HDMI ports, a stereo headphone/microphone combo jack and a pogo-pin docking connector. It also comes with a memory card reader, two internal M.2 slots, a 54 mm ExpressCard and an optional DVD+/-RW.

The Latitude 14 has an FHD, 1080-pixel webcam concealed behind a privacy shutter above the screen. The quality didn't impress -- my skin tone appeared darker, colors were dull and details  slightly blurry.

Performance

The Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme delivers good overall performance. Packing a 1.90-GHz Intel Dual Core i5-4300U processor, 8GB of memory and a 256GB mobility SSD hard drive, I never experienced any hiccups using it, even while multitasking with many Chrome tabs open.

The Latitude 14's SSD was super-fast transferring files, delivering a rate of 195.7 MBps. That clearly beats out the category average of 111 MBps.

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It was also able to quickly match 20,000 names and addresses in Open Office, completing the challenge in 4 minutes and 47 seconds, crushing the category average of 6:45.

The Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme fared worse on the PCMark 7 benchmark, which measures overall Windows performance. The system scored 2,283, less than the 3,931 thin-and-light average.

Graphics

The Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme is powered by a Nvidia GeForce GT 720M DDR3 2GB discrete GPU. We tested it by playing World of Warcraft on auto settings at the display's maximum 1366 x 768 resolution, and the Latitude managed a zippy 69 frames per second. When we tested WoW on full settings, the Latitude dropped to 37 frames per second, which is still better than the playable threshold of 30 fps.

The Latitude 14 offered average performance on the 3D Ice Storm Extreme test, which measures synthetic graphics performance. The notebook scored 16,473, significantly less than the thin-and-light average of 20,328.

Battery Life

On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits), the Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme lasted 8 hours and 48 minutes. That's less than the 14-hour battery life that Dell claims but much better than the thin-and-light category average of 6:42.

If your battery is running low, the Latitude 14 comes with ExpressCharge, which promises to charge the device to at least 80 percent capacity after an hour.

Software and Warranty

The Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme comes with Windows 8.1 Professional and only a few manufacturer specific programs, the most important one being  Dell Data Protection that encrypts your computer's data for extra safety.

The notebook comes with three years of ProSupport, which provides basic hardware service along with three years of mail-in service, and it can be extended to protect you for five years. You can also choose to upgrade to Rapid Return for Repair service, which provides remote diagnosis of issues, onsite service, around-the-clock tech support in North America, and software and how-to assistance.

Bottom Line

The Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme is an intense notebook that's for intense environments. While heavy for a 14-incher, this machine can take a serious beating and survive all sorts of conditions. I also appreciate the outdoor-friendly display, long battery life and data encryption features. I just wish the touchpad offered smoother performance. Overall, the Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme delivers the peace of mind workers need in extreme conditions along with reliable performance.

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CPU 1.90-GHz Intel Dual Core i5-4300U
Operating System Windows 8 Professional
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to
Hard Drive Size 128GB SSD
Hard Drive Speed
Hard Drive Type SSD Drive
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 14
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card NVIDIA GeForce GT 720M DDR3 2GB discrete GPU
Video Memory
Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi Model
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3.5 x 2-inch
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0
Ports (excluding USB) USB 2.0
Ports (excluding USB) Combo Headphone/Mic Jack
USB Ports
Card Slots ExpressCard
Warranty/Support
Size 14.0 x 9.7 x 2.03-inch
Weight 8.6-pound
Company Website http://www.dell.com/
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