Who said a corporate notebook has to be boring? The 14-inch Dell Latitude 6430u ($1,278 as configured) is built for the rough-and-tumble business world, thanks to rigorous MIL-Spec testing, but sports a sleek and stylish chassis. An Intel Core i5 processor and a swift 128GB SSD will help you breeze through your to-do list before quitting time, while strong security software will keep your data safe. Read on to find out why the Latitude is a top-tier business machine.
The Latitude 6430u is swathed from head to toe in a black matte soft-touch finish that we can't get enough of. It virtually eliminates fingerprints and makes gripping the notebook a cinch. This surface just feels good; we couldn't keep our hands off the lid, keyboard deck and underside of the laptop.
The medium-size chrome Dell logo and the trio of status lights along the bottom right of the lid are the only embellishments. The black reinforced metal-plated hinges are well-built, refusing to move despite our poking and prodding. The bottom half of the notebook is trimmed in light gray, which offers a nice contrast.
Opening the Latitude 6430u reveals a full-size keyboard in a slightly recessed well. Above the layout sits buttons for Mute, Volume Down, Volume Up and Power with another set of status lights and a pair of speakers. The touchpad and its two buttons are located below the keyboard along with a trio of buttons for the pointing stick.
Measuring 4 pounds, and measuring 13.3 x 9 x 0.82 inches, the Latitude 6430u is heavier and thicker than most Ultrabooks its size. The 13 x 8.9 x 0.74-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon weighs a slight 3.3 pounds. The HP Elitebook Folio 9470m measures 3.6 pounds, and measures 13.9 x 9.1 x 0.75 inches by comparison.
Dell added some durability features to make sure this Latitude maintains its good looks in the face of everyday bumps and bruises. The corners of the notebook are wrapped in magnesium alloy to protect against inadvertent drops. The spill-resistant keyboard will protect against any spilled liquids. The notebook has also gone through MIL-STD-810G tests, meaning it's dust and shockproof and can operate in extreme temperatures and altitudes.
But before you go slinging the notebook around like hash, keep in mind that it's not a fully rugged machine. That means that the Latitude 6430u can only withstand a few bumps at best.
The Latitude 6430u features a number of security measures for business and IT professionals. Intel's vPRO technology grants IT workers remote access to the Ultrabook to monitor battery health, perform system updates or to wipe the hard drive. Important files can be locked away from prying eyes via Dell Data Protection/Encryption. There's also the Trusted Platform Module to create tiers of security authentication to control access to the hard drive.
Users who want another layer of security can add a fingerprint reader for $7.50.
The Latitude 6430u's matte screen does a good job of eliminating distracting reflections and glare, but you lose brightness and vividness. The notebook's 14-inch, 1366 x 768p display gave us sharp text when reading documents and websites such as CNN.com and Polygon. However, the normally molten orange of the Mozilla Firefox download page looked ashen.
Colors were equally muted during the "Great and Powerful Oz" trailer. What was supposed to be a Technicolor wonderland looked cold and uninviting. Mila Kunis' ruby red ensemble appeared faded as did the Emerald City. Colors began to invert past a 45-degree angle and darker scenes were littered with distortion.
The Latitude 6430u's 143 lux display is rather dull compared with the 227 lux ultraportable category average. The HP Folio 9470 was somewhat brighter at 165 lux while the Lenovo X1 Carbon shone with 290 lux.
Dell will offer a higher-resolution 1600 x 900 display, but not one with a touchscreen.
The small pair of speakers mounted just above the Latitude 6430u's keyboard won't win any awards, but they deliver passable sound. Marsha Ambrosius' "Far Away" filled our test room with soft chords and plaintive vocals. However, we found ourselves constantly switching between the MaxxVoice Pro software's three settings (Voice, Video and Music) trying to find the sweet spot.
The Music setting gave us the loudest result complete with noticeable bass, but the usually sweet vocals sounded harsh. Video sounded clearer, but the volume was greatly diminished. When we switched to voice, the track sounded flat and listless.
Keyboard, touchpad and pointing stick
The Latitude 6430u has a spill-resistant, island-style keyboard with generous spacing and springy feedback. We're also fans of the slight curvature of the keys, which helped our fingers stay in place. The right Alt and Ctrl keys were noticeably undersized, but we appreciated the inclusion of the direction keys. We scored 50 wpm with a 1 percent error rating on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test. That's on a par with our typical 52 wpm/1 percent error rating.
The 3.5 x 1.8-inch touchpad is a little on the small side. We could still perform gestures and navigate documents and Web pages with relative ease. One-finger swiping along the edges of the display summoned the Charms menu and the recent apps bar. Two-finger scrolling and panning was nice and smooth, as was two-finger rotate. Three-finger quick launch and flick were also quick and responsive.
The pair of discrete mouse buttons offered snappy feedback as did the three pointing stick buttons. Which leads us to our only ergonomic point of contention: Despite the small spines in the center, our finger kept slipping of the pointing stick. We wish Dell would take some hints from Lenovo and use a nub that rises above the keys.
After watching 15 minutes of "Le Chavalier D'Eon," the Latitude 6430u's touchpad measured a cool 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys was 93 degrees, but the bottom of the display registered a balmy 97 degrees. We consider anything past 95 degrees above our comfort threshold.
The right side of the Latitude 6430u houses ports for USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet and a secure lock slot. An SD Card slot rests along the notebook's right lip. Another USB 3.0 port sits on the left of the Latitude 6430u with VGA, a wireless switch and jacks for a headset and power. A USB 3.0/eSATA port and HDMI is tucked away on the rear of the notebook.
It was a good move on Dell's part to include VGA and Ethernet on the Latitude 6430u. Lenovo's X1 Carbon designers ditched the ports in the interest of space. However, business users are finding themselves left out in a lurch when faced with older projectors or an office with spotty Wi-Fi.
You won't get a National Geographic-worthy photos, but the Latitude 6430u's 1-megapixel webcam can handle video conferencing tasks. During our test shots, both our skin tone and bright orange shirt were severely washed-out under fluorescent light, which didn't improve much in natural lighting. The image was rife with visual noise in both instances.
When it comes to productivity, the Dell Latitude 6430u's 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3427U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD can handle pretty much anything. The notebook effortlessly streamed an episode of "Sons of Anarchy" despite having eight open tabs in Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox -- all while running a full system scan.
On the PCMark 7 benchmark, the Latitude 6430u scored 5,065, well above the 3,208 ultraportable average. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the HP EliteBook Folio 9470M, which also sport 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3427U CPUs, scored 5,297 and 4,496, respectively.
The Latitude 6430u's 128GB SSD booted Windows 8 Professional in a blistering 10 seconds, beating the 33 second average. The X1 Carbon's 128GB SSD loaded in 30 seconds while the Folio 9470M's 180GB SSD took 21 seconds.
The Latitude's SSD continued its winning ways during the File Transfer Test, duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files in 32 seconds for a transfer rate of 159MBps. That's 80MBps faster than the 79MBps category average. The X1 Carbon clocked in with 84.8 MBps while the Folio scored 118.4 MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Latitude 6430u matched 20,000 names to their corresponding address in 5 minutes and 11 seconds -- 2:01 faster than the 7:11 ultraportable category average. The Folio 9470M finished the task in a sluggish 8:29. The X1 Carbon crossed the finish line in 5:37.
The Dell Latitude 6430u and its integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics can handle HD video and even some 3D games.
During the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the Latitude 6430u delivered an average of 36 fps on Good at 1366 x 768p. That's below the 43 fps average, but better than the X1 Carbon and Folio 9470M, which scored 29 and 23 fps, respectively. When we switched the settings to maximum, the Latitude 6430u scored 19 fps, slightly below the 21 fps average.
The business notebook scored 661 on 3DMark11, which fails to match the 740 ultraportable average. However, that showing was enough to edge out the HP EliteBook Folio 9470M (594) and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (517), which also have Intel HD 4000 graphics.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Dell Latitude 6430u lasted 7 hours and 7 minutes. That's 1 hour and 5 minutes longer than the 6:12 ultraportable average. The HP EliteBook Folio 9470M finished close at 7:04, but the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon lasted an impressive 7:45. (The X1 Carbon Touch, which runs Windows 8 and has a touch screen, lasted just 5:52).
Software and warranty
Dell made the wise decision not to weigh the Latitude 6430u down with bloatware. Instead, Dell includes a small collection of helpful utilities. We liked Dell Smart Settings, which adjusted our display according to our environment (Outdoor Mode) or actions (Presentation Mode and Video Mode.) with the flick of a switch. For example, the Video setting disables alarms and power settings for high-quality, uninterrupted video viewing.
Dell Battery Life was also a favorite. The utility consists of four modes (Standard, ExpressCharge, Adaptive and Primary AC Use) that can either charge the battery in about an hour or adjusts battery usage based on previous patterns. There's also Dell Backup and Recovery to create backups of important files in case of a system crash.
The Windows app store also has a rapidly growing catalog of apps for people who want to augment their Windows 8 experience. Dell has a list of 32 recommended apps tucked away in the larger app store.
Our $1,278 review unit comes with an 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3427U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and Intel HD 4000 graphics. The base enterprise model is priced at $992 and has an 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3427U CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD and Intel HD 4000 graphics. The $1,577 model is outfitted with a 2-GHz Intel Core i7-3667U processor with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and Intel HD 4000 graphics.
Dell also offers a small business line of the Latitude 6430u. The base model starts at $899 and features a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i3-3217U, 4GB of RAM, a 64GB Mobility SSD and Intel HD 4000 graphics.
Note: In order to get the lowest price, we recommend that you go through Dell's Small & Medium Business channel on its site, as opposed to its Small Business & Home Office channel.
With its attractive yet durable design, strong performance and solid battery life, the $1,278 Dell Latitude 6430u is a strong choice for mobile professionals. Consumers looking for a lighter business notebook with a better display and pointing stick might want to check out the $1,349 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. However, they'll lose VGA and Ethernet and have to pay slightly more. Overall the Latitude 6430u is well suited for value-minded business users high on mobility, adaptability and power.