Rugged tech, such as the 11.6-inch Dell Latitude 7212 Rugged Extreme Tablet (tested at $2,774; starting at $1,909), exists because life can get messy. For example, if you bring an iPad without a case to a chaotic construction site, there's a chance something could fall on it, or knock it over and shatter its screen. Not so with the Latitude 7212, which can survive water, extreme temperatures and 4-foot drops, without getting a scratch.
In addition to its durability, the Latitude 7212's all-day battery life (with two batteries), comfortable keyboard and superbright screen make it a compelling choice for anyone who needs this level of durability. However, a somewhat fuzzy sheen on the display and a lack of multitouch gestures on its touchpad are definite downsides.
A beast of a machine, the black Dell Latitude 7212 has pronounced chunky corners that feature a grippy material and a back panel with a harder finish than most. This imposing 2-in-1 looks like the kind of movie prop used to activate nuclear codes.
Starting at 2.6 pounds as a tablet and weighing up to 5 pounds with its optional keyboard, kickstand and second battery, the Latitude 7212 is heavier than the keyboard-attached versions of the 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro (2.3 pounds), the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet (2.4 pounds) and the Microsoft Surface Pro (2.4 pounds), but the Dell is also built tougher.
Measuring 1.1 inches (without keyboard) to 1.7 inches (with keyboard) thick, the Latitude 7212 is also thicker than the docked versions of the iPad Pro (0.6 inches), ThinkPad X1 (0.6 inches) and Surface Pro (0.5 inches).
The Latitude 7212's Kensington lock slot sits on the left side, while its other ports are hidden behind rubber flaps on the right side, to protect them in case the tablet comes into contact with water or dust during your work or travel. One flap covers the power port, while another hides the headphone jack, USB 3.0 port and USB Type-C port. On the top edge of the display is a stylus pen that slides into a slot and is tethered to the Latitude 7212 via a stretchy cable.
If you opt for the Micro serial RS-232 port, a third door on the right side covers that input. An optional fingerprint sensor sits on the top-left corner of the back of the tablet.
The Latitude 7212's cameras are located in the middle of its top bezel and near the top-right corner of its back. Each shooter features a physical switch on the top edge that slides over the sensor, which means people looking for privacy don't have to slap a piece of tape over the lens.
Ruggedness and Security
The Latitude 7212 Rugged Extreme Tablet lives up to its name. When we dropped it from 4 feet onto plywood (with the power off), the Latitude didn't even get a scratch. Its magnetic keyboard cover popped off, but it takes only a second to reattach it. We also dropped it from 3 feet in the air with the power on, and it came away unscathed. (The keyboard even stayed on.)
Dell says the Latitude 7212 has passed MIL-SPEC-810G durability tests that simulate rain, dust storms and temperatures ranging from minus 20 degrees to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. It also carries an IP65 rating for water resistance, which means that it can survive a few squirts of liquid.
The Latitude 7212 is safe not only from falls but also prying eyes. It includes a TPM 2.0 chip for securing passwords, and a contactless smart card authentication reader comes in the Latitude 7212 by default. For $69.41, you can upgrade by adding both a contact-based smart card reader and a fingerprint reader.
Dell also offers a Data Protection service, which starts at $30.55 (for four years) for personal editions; business options include Dell Data Guardian + Dell Endpoint Security Enterprise for $98.15 per year. Intel's vPro technology for remote management by IT pros costs $17.76 extra.
Capacitive Touch-Screen Display and Stylus
The Dell Latitude 7212's 11.6-inch, matte screen is extremely bright and colorful. It uses etched Gorilla Glass to help it survive falls and provide strong viewing angles, but the panel also puts a bit of a fuzzy texture over images. While watching the music video for St. Vincent's "Los Ageless" on this screen, I marveled at the shockingly vibrant tones, such as the blue of her answering machine, the red of her nails and the amazingly white guitar. Unfortunately, the etched texture made it harder to see sharp details, such as the textures of Spider-Man's armor in The Avengers: Infinity War trailer.
According to our colorimeter, the Latitude 7212 produces 115 percent of the sRGB spectrum, an amount that clears the 103-percent average for ultraportable notebooks. However, we saw higher ratings from the Apple iPad Pro (122 percent), the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (115 percent) and the Microsoft Surface Pro (140 percent).
You can definitely view this screen outdoors. Emitting up to 525 nits, the Latitude 7212 beats the 287-nit category average and shines far brighter than the 376-nit ThinkPad X1 and the 396-nit Surface Pro. The iPad Pro gets even brighter, at 555 nits. Although the Latitude's screen gets really bright, its colors still darken when viewed from 30 degrees to the left and right, though the display is legible and brighter than many other laptops and tablets at those angles.
The Latitude 7212's 11.6-inch capacitive touch screen accepted input accurately as I tapped around the desktop and Google Chrome. It also recognized Windows 10's swipe gestures for navigating apps and viewing the activity center.
The attached stylus works well enough for navigating the desktop, but I couldn't draw in Paint with it until I switched device modes in the included Touchscreen Mode Switch app. You'll use that app to switch among four scenarios: tapping the screen with your fingers, writing with the stylus, interacting with the screen while wearing gloves and using it while there is water on the screen.
Optional Keyboard Cover and Included Stylus
The keys on the Latitude 7212's optional keyboard felt great to type on overall. When I took the keyboard out for a spin on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I hit a rate of 74 words per minute, which is not too far from my 80-wpm average. I enjoyed the keys; they feel comfortable to click and feature a solid 1.7 millimeters of travel and 73 grams of required actuation force. (We look for at least 1.5 mm and 60 grams, respectively.)
However, if you're buying the Latitude 7212 keyboard, make sure you test it out as soon as it arrives. The first unit we received had a defect that prevented it from sitting flush on a desk. Dell sent us a second keyboard that didn't have the problem.
The keyboard's 3.5 x 2-inch nonmoving touchpad sits above left- and right-click buttons, and accurately tracked my input as I navigated the desktop. Although the touchpad recognized the two-finger page-scrolling gesture, the three-finger-swipe gesture for viewing all open windows didn't work.
The Dell Latitude 7212 filled our largest room with the sounds of St. Vincent's "Los Ageless," but the quality of that audio was disappointing until I fixed it with the preloaded Waves MaxxAudio Pro utility. Initially, the bass came out strong, but the track's vocals and drum cymbals sounded as if they were far away.
To resolve that muddy sound, I popped open the utility and increased the Details setting. That knob corresponds to treble; voices and drum cymbals sounded clearest with the option turned to 100.
The Intel Core i5-7300U CPU and 8GB of RAM in our configuration of the Dell Latitude 7212 provided enough speed for a decent amount of multitasking. I saw no stutter or sputter after splitting my screen between a 1080p YouTube video and a dozen Chrome tabs (Google Docs, Slack and Giphy).
The Latitude 7212 earned a subpar score of 6,722 on the Geekbench 4 general performance test -- a mark that falls below the 7,874 ultraportable-notebook average. We saw higher scores of 9,414 from the Apple iPad Pro (A10X Fusion CPU, 4GB of RAM), 7,194 from the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (Core i7-7Y75 CPU, 8GB of RAM) and 8,652 from the Microsoft Surface Pro (Intel Core i7-7660U, 16GB of RAM). Those higher scores aren't exactly a shock, though, as most of those machines have faster processors. (The ThinkPad's Core i7-7Y75 is arguably slower.)
The 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Class 40 solid-state drive in the Latitude 7212 duplicated a DVD's worth of multimedia files in 29 seconds, for a rate of 175.5 MBps. That rate is slower than the 225.4-MBps category average, the 282.7 MBps we saw from the ThinkPad X1 (256GB SSD) and the 339 MBps notched by the Surface Pro (1TB SSD).
On the OpenOffice macro test, the Latitude 7212 matched 20,000 names to addresses in 3 minutes and 33 seconds, which is faster than the 5:31 category average and the 5:02 from the ThinkPad X1. The Surface Pro finished this test in less time.
The Intel HD Graphics 620 integrated graphics chip in the Latitude 7212 allows for modest gaming. The machine ran the Dirt 3 racing test at 38 frames per second, clearing our 30-fps playability threshold but not the 41-fps category average.
The Latitude 7212 earned a score of 58,041 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test. That's near the 60,693 average, below the 109,678 from the Surface Pro (Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640), and above the 48,953 from the ThinkPad X1 (Intel HD Graphics 615) and the 54,198 from the iPad Pro.
If you want all-day battery life from the Dell Latitude 7212, you need more than the stock single battery. It took only 4 hours and 59 minutes for the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi) to drain the Latitude 7212 with only one of its hot-swappable 34-watt-hour batteries in its back bays. With two batteries plugged in, we saw a much stronger runtime of 9:44.
The 8:10 ultraportable average falls in between those times, as does the 7:30 from the Microsoft Surface Pro and the 5:23 from the Lenovo ThinkPad X1. The Apple iPad Pro lasted even longer, with a runtime of 12:09.
The 5-megapixel rear camera and 3.6-MP front shooter in the Dell Latitude 7212 Rugged Extreme Tablet capture decent images.
Not only can you see plenty of detail in my hair and stubble, but a close-up of a shrub on our roof contains accurate versions of its amber and green tones.
Don't worry about the Dell Latitude 7212 getting too hot. After we streamed HD video on the machine for 15 minutes, our heat gun captured a measurement of 90 degrees Fahrenheit from the tablet, which is below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Dell packs a ton of ways for you to download its drivers and updates into the Latitude 7212. You get the Command Update tool for downloading drivers, but the SupportAssist utility includes that in addition to system maintenance and optimization tools. While checking these utilities for anything new, Dell Digital Delivery (another app for downloading tools from the company) prompted us to download Power Manager, Dell's power-management utility.
Dell also included its own camera app, which is nearly identical to the one loaded in Windows, except it's missing Time Lapse and offers three image-quality settings (low, medium and high).
The Latitude 7212 packs more preloaded third-party apps than average. So while we weren't surprised to see the likes of Drawboard PDF, Bubble Witch 3 Saga and March of Empires on this machine, there were also less-seen entries like Spotify and Autodesk SketchBook in the Start menu, whichdownload onto the system when selected.
We tested a $2,774 configuration of the Latitude 7212, which features an Intel Core i5-7300U CPU with Intel's vPro technology, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe NVMe Class 40 SSD, a keyboard with a kickstand and dual hot-swappable two-cell, 34-watt-hour batteries.
The $1,909 entry-level Latitude 7212 comes with a Core i3-7100U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a M.2 128GB SATA Class 20 SSD and one two-cell, 34-watt-hour battery. The attachable keyboard and kickstand cost $372, and a second two-cell 34-watt-hour battery costs $92.55. Dell charges $179 to upgrade to a 7th-Gen Core i5 CPU and $430 to upgrade to a 7th-Gen Core i7 CPU.
Dell charges $17.76 for Intel's vPro technology and $69.41 to add a contact-based smart card reader and fingerprint reader, on top of its built-in contactless smart card reader.
The Dell Latitude 7212 Rugged Extreme Tablet is an excellent choice for businesses and government agencies that need a laptop with this kind of durability. If you're an architect who needs to bring a tablet to construction sites or a police officer who needs a device to take on the beat, for example, you'll really benefit from the Latitude's ability to survive drops that would destroy a regular tablet.
The Latitude 7212's superbright display, solid sound and comfy keyboard give it great usability overall. However, the awkward, fuzzy look on the panel is a trade-off, as is the bulk of this machine.
If your job is less demanding on your gear, another option is the Microsoft Surface Pro, which offers a better screen and even stronger performance for less money ($415 less when similarly configured). But if you want a machine that's made to endure almost anything, the Latitude 7212 is made for you.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag