Laptop Mag Verdict
The Dell Latitude 5420 Rugged offers an extremely bright display and long battery life in a chassis that can withstand the harshest elements.
Survives 3-foot drops
Long battery life
Comfortable RGB keyboard
No Thunderbolt 3
Poorly designed stylus garage
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If you need a capable all-around laptop that can brave the outdoors, look no further than the Latitude 5420 Rugged (starting at $1,359, reviewed at $3,547). With a bright 1080p display, a relatively slim chassis and a responsive touchpad, the Latitude 5420 addresses the biggest problems we've previously encountered with rugged laptops. And it does so without sacrificing durability or performance, thanks to its military-grade strength and capable Core i7 CPU. Better yet, the Latitude 5420 offers all-day battery life, despite sporting a chassis that's thinner than those of its rugged rivals.
The Latitude 5420 Rugged is predictably expensive, but you can't put a price on a laptop that keeps your important data safe, even under the harshest conditions.
Dell Latitude 5420 Price and Configuration Options
The Latitude 5420 is a pricey machine but its modular design lets you customize to your needs. The $2,317 base configuration has a 14-inch, non-touch display and comes with a Core i5-8350U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and integrated UHD 620 graphics.
Our $3,547 review unit flaunts a $660 touch screen and packs a Core i7-8650U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and an AMD Radeon RX540 GPU. The model we tested also comes with some useful extras, including a secondary 51Whr battery, a second Ethernet port, a Display Port and an IR camera.
Maxing out the 14-inch, touch screen Latitude 5420 with a Core i7-8650U CPU, 32GB of RAM, 2TB of SSD storage and AMD Radeon RX540 graphics inflates the price to $5,627. But it doesn't stop there: You can then splurge on extras like LTE connectivity (+$215) and a rubberized RGB backlit keyboard (+$173).
The Latitude 5420 is surprisingly easy to transport when you consider its ruggedness, thanks to a convenient handle on the front of the laptop.
I should be clear: The Latitude 5420 is not a thin or lightweight laptop. This hunk of black plastic looked completely out of place on my office desk -- rather, the 5420 Rugged is in its element when surrounded by rubble at a construction site or mounted to the dash of a police car.
Yes, the Latitude 5420 is more beast than beauty, but that's sort of the point. From the bumpers covering each corner to its magnesium-alloy materials, this laptop's utilitarian design may as well have been contrived in a secret military lab. Exposed screws, geometric angles and chunky bezels assure the user that no expense was spared in creating the Latitude 5420's practically indestructible chassis.
At 6.2 pounds and 13.7 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches, the Latitude 5420 is a hulking machine that's too large to put inside a backpack and too heavy to carry around comfortably for long periods. In its defense, we've tested much larger and heftier rugged laptops, like its more expensive sibling, the Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme.
Durability and Security
With military-grade strength, the Latitude 5420 has a sturdy chassis that can survive even the harshest conditions. When we dropped it from 3 feet (with the power off), the laptop was unharmed and powered right up. Even more impressive is how it handled our water test. The laptop turned on and booted Windows without a hitch even after we ran water over it for 30 seconds. The touchpad, touch screen and keyboard were in working order.
The Latitude passed MIL-SPEC-810G durability tests for high altitudes, water ingress, repeated drops and thermal shock -- just to list a few. Soldiers and construction workers will benefit from the Latitude 5420's ability to withstand sand and dust, while the vehicle vibration test it passed should be reassuring to police officers and emergency workers.
While the 5420 Rugged is an unquestionably durable machine, it isn't quite as rugged as the more premium (and much larger) Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme, which survived additional tests, including a drop from 6-feet high, an "explosive atmosphere" and blowing rain.
The Latitude 5420 displays its exterior toughness but hidden within are security measures designed to combat digital attacks. On board the 5420 Rugged is a TPM 2.0 chip for securing passwords, while Dell's Data Protection and Backup and Recovery software protect the 5420 Rugged from unsecured systems.
Physical security measures include a steel-reinforced lock slot as well as an optional fingerprint reader, IR camera (with privacy shutter) and Contactless SmartCard for fast and secure authorization.
Secured behind flaps are a range of ports for docking, connecting peripherals and charging other devices. The Latitude has just about every port I could think of but inexplicably omits Thunderbolt 3, which enables superfast transfer speeds, high-performance networking and connection to multiple UHD monitors.
Under one of the two flaps on the left side of the laptop are two USB 3.0 ports and a headphone jack, while the other protects a USB-C port. The rear of the laptop houses an HDMI, two Ethernet ports (one of which is optional), a serial RS-232 port, a lock slot, a DisplayPort and an exposed power input.
The right side of this laptop is where you'll find a removable SATA storage bay, an SD Card slot, a SIM card slot (for LTE connectivity) and a third USB 3.0 port. There are also connectors on the bottom of the laptop for mounting it to a dock.
Unlike the Latitude 7424, the doors protecting the ports on the Latitude 5420 aren't secured with a locking mechanism. Instead, you simply pop open the flaps by pressing down on a small latch.
Wondering what accessories you might need for the Latitude 5420? Check out our guide on the five best Dell Latitude accessories you can buy.
If the 14-inch, 1080p touch-screen display on our Latitude 5420 were any brighter, I might have needed to put on sunglasses. That's a definite perk, because the display's exceptional luminance is not only handy outdoors, but it also showcases the panel's vivid colors.
When I watched a trailer for the upcoming film Shazam!, I could see shards of falling stone after Billy Batson uses his newfound strength to obliterate a concrete pillar. The amount of detail captured by the panel came into play as I watched Batson's distinct facial expressions transition from "What the heck is going on?" to "Let's kick some supervillain butt."
I was also impressed by the screen's excellent color reproduction and blinding brightness. The red jumpsuit worn by our protagonist had a rich tone, while the giant lightning bolt on his chest looked like it was going to pierce my screen and zap me.
The display covers 110 percent of the sRGB color gamut, according to our colorimeter measurements. Although that's slightly below the premium laptop average (117 percent), the panel never looked dull.
The Latitude 5420's display is easily visible outdoors and under bright lights, thanks to its 923 nits of maximum brightness. To put that into context, the average premium laptop's display illuminates to just 329 nits. Viewing angles are also strong; I had no problems reading text no matter where I stood in relation to the laptop.
On the down side, the Latitude's touch screen is inaccurate and getting the pen out of its slot can be a hair-pulling exercise. I needed a key to pry out the stylus and once I did, I had trouble tapping on small icons.
Keyboard and Touchpad
My fingers appreciated the comfortable keys on the Latitude 5420's RGB backlit keyboard. There was a pleasant snappiness to the keys and I never felt like I was bottoming out, thanks to its 1.5 millimeters of key travel (1.5 to 2mm is our preference). And since the well-spaced keys require 61 grams of actuation force, (just above our 60-gram minimum), I was able to quickly move my fingers from one letter to the next.
I do have a few minor qualms with the keyboard. For one, some of the keys, especially the arrow keys, are undersized, which could be a problem for those who work with gloves on. Also, the optional handle installed on the front of the laptop doesn't make for the most comfortable wrist rest, and the RGB lighting settings are very basic.
I typed at 119 words per minute with a 95 percent accuracy rate on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which matches my average on both accounts.
The 3.8 x 2.1 touchpad on the Latitude 5420 is fluid and responsive, unlike the irritating touchpad on the Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme, which lacks Microsoft Precision drivers. I had no problems executing Windows 10 gestures, including pinch-to-zoom and four-finger tap to open Cortana. While I don't personally use one, some enterprise users might lament the lack of a pointing stick.
The solo speaker on the front edge of the Latitude 5420 did a reasonably good job of handling the complex instrumentation in Glass Animal's "The Other Side of Paradise," but the psychedelic pop song barely filled our small office. The electronic sounds were crisp and Dave Bayley's smooth vocals sounded crystal clear. However, the speaker's limitations were revealed when I listened to "All the World is Mad," by the rock band Thrice. The high notes in this electric guitar-driven song were hollow, and the drum hits sounded shrill rather than forceful.
If the audio quality isn't to your liking, the Latitude 5420 comes with Dell's MaxxAudioPro software, which lets you adjust sound frequencies using a simple EQ interface.
The Intel Core i7-8650U processor and 16GB of RAM inside the Latitude 5420 kept this laptop chugging along as I loaded 20 Google Chrome tabs, four of which played HD videos. I didn't notice any lag when I switched tabs and graphics rendered before I could blink.
Armed to the teeth with high-end components, the 5420 Rugged impressed in our performance benchmarks, scoring a 16,054 on the Geekbench 4.1 test. That strong result tops the premium laptop category average (13,113) by a large margin.
With a speedy time of 1 minute and 29 seconds, the Latitude 7424 Rugged just edges out the premium laptop average (1:31) on our Excel Macro Test, which involves pairing 65,000 names with their corresponding addresses.
And although its 512GB PCIe NVMe Class 40 SSD couldn't keep up with the category average (526.7 megabytes per second) on our File Transfer Test, it still duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in a reasonably fast time of 10 seconds for a rate of 508 MBps.
The Latitude 5420 just beat out the average premium laptop (21:48) on our Handbrake test, converting a 4K video to 1080p resolution in 21 minutes and 23 seconds.
Unless you intend on gaming at the highest graphics settings on this rugged laptop, you won't run into any problems with its AMD Radeon RX540 GPU. The discrete graphics card enabled the Latitude 5420 to run the racing game Dirt 3 at a swift 146 frames per second, nearly doubling the premium laptop average (76 fps).
The Latitude 5420 performed equally well on our synthetic benchmark test, topping the premium laptop average (88,502) with a score of 117,381 on the 3DMark Unlimited test.
Those who work outdoors don't always have access to a power outlet. It's a good thing, then, that the Latitude 5420 lasts an entire day on a charge when equipped with a swappable secondary 3-cell 51Whr battery. The rugged machine endured for 9 hours and 45 minutes on our Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. Just be careful cranking the display to maximum brightness because it could take a serious toll on battery life.
The selfie I snapped using the Latitude 5420's 720p webcam appeared grainy. Details in my face, like strands of hair in my beard and the creases under my eyes, were blotchy, as if they had been painted on. Apart from the visual noise, the camera did a decent job of capturing the deep purple color of my sweater and the blue-green tone in my eyes.
When it's not in use, you can cover the webcam with a sliding shutter to protect your privacy.
The fans inside the Latitude 5420 did a reasonable job of keeping this beast cool, but the underside warmed to uncomfortable temperatures. After playing a 15-minute HD video in full screen, the bottom of the laptop, near the hinge, reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, that was the only location on the laptop that breached our 95-degree comfort threshold. The Latitude's touchpad peaked at just 86 degrees, while the center of the keyboard remained a bearable 94 degrees.
Software and Warranty
Dell packaged a handful of tools designed for its durable laptops into a program called Dell Rugged. The app opens a sidebar with quick access to an on-screen keyboard, brightness and volume controls, and Dell's own camera app. Expanding the interface reveals icons for wireless settings, Night Mode and Airplane Mode. Additional Dell programs on the Latitude 5420 include Dell Command for updating your PC's drivers, firmware and BIOS and a battery diagnostics program called Dell Power Manager.
Also pre-installed on the Latitude 5420 is a program for adjusting the laptop's discrete AMD graphics settings and an app called eGalaxDr.Touch, which lets you optimize the touch screen for use with gloves, a pen or in wet conditions.
The Latitude 5420 Rugged runs Windows 10 Pro, an operating system meant for enterprise users. And yet, bloatware apps like Candy Crush Saga rear their ugly head once again. Other pre-installed apps courtesy of Microsoft include Netflix, Fitbit Coach and Xbox.
Whether you're a first responder or a soldier stationed overseas, the Latitude 5420 Rugged has you covered with its blindingly bright display, durable chassis and impressive battery life. The Latitude 5420 offers a lot for its sky-high price -- most important, the reassurance that your data is safely housed within its rugged chassis.
However, if you need even more protection against extreme environments, then look to the Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme. While it's even pricier than its lower-end sibling, the 7424 Rugged Extreme (starting at $3,499, reviewed at $5,123) passed additional durability tests, including a 6-foot drop and blowing rain. It also lasts longer on a charge than the 5420 Rugged. Unfortunately, the 7424 Rugged Extreme lacks Microsoft Precision drivers, which makes the touchpad a nuisance to use.
For that reason, the Latitude 5420 Rugged is the better option for most people, and a highly recommended laptop for the world's toughest jobs.
Credit: Laptop Mag
Dell Latitude 5420 Rugged Specs
|CPU||Intel Core i7-8650U|
|Card Slots||SD memory reader, SIM|
|Graphics Card||AMD Radeon RX540|
|Hard Drive Size||512GB|
|Hard Drive Type||M.2 PCIe NVMe Class 40 SSD|
|Highest Available Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet, Smart Card Reader, Combo Headphone/Mic Jack, SIM card, DisplayPort, SD card slot, Lock Slot, serial, Headphone/Mic, USB-C, HDMI, USB 3.0|
|RAM Upgradable to||32GB|
|Size||13.7 x 9.6 x 1.3 inches|
|Touchpad Size||3.8 x 2.1 inches|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 8265|
Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.