Dell Latitude D420 review – a decent netbook?

So I have received my Dell Latitude D420 and will share my thoughts on it as a netbook. First the specs:

  • Intel Core Duo U2500 @ 1.2Ghz;
  • 1GB DDR2 4200 (533Mhz) RAM;
  • 60GB 1.8″ PATA 4200RPM Hard drive;
  • 12″ 1280 x 800 Screen;
  • Intel GMA950 Graphics;
  • External CDRW/DVDROM Drive;
  • 6 Cell 42WH Battery;
  • Dell Next Day Business Support until March 2010.

All this cost me $216USD + $49USD shipping, so around $400NZD to the door. I purchased this from Ebay, and was received about a week after payment. I used PayPal and purchased using Credit Card.

First lets see what $400 would get me at Dick Smith Electronics:

  1. 2/3rds of a  HP Mini-1004TU for $599 on special;
  2. 1/2 of a Acer Aspire One AOA150 for $798.

There’s always TradeMe though:

  1. Toshiba NB100 for $515;
  2. Asus EEE PC 701 for $330;
  3. Acer Aspire One Linux Version for $340.

The specifications of a netbook are roughly:

  • Intel Atom 1.6Ghz processor;
  • 1GB DDR2 RAM;
  • 60-120GB 2.5″ SATA Hard Drive or 8GB SSD Hard Drive;
  • 9″ to 10″ Screen, 1024 x 600 resolution;
  • Intel GMA950 graphics;
  • No CD/DVD drive;
  • 3/4 Cell Battery;
  • 3/4 size keyboard.

As you can see, the specifications are pretty close. But I think there’s more to the Dell than in a straight comparison of the numbers.

The Dell Latitude D420 is designed as a business-class laptop, and the current Dell replacement ships for about $5000NZD on Dell’s website. For this money, you’d expect (and get) a really high quality build. Seriously. The screen hinge is excellent with little flex, the laptop is perfectly weighted, and the magnesium-alloy really helps with the protecting the screen.

On the subject of the screen, having 2 or 3″ more than a netbook doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. Those extra couple of inches means you have a resolution of 1280 x 800, or the same as a normal 15″ laptop. That’s quite an improvement over 1024 x 600, and it means that you see webpages without having to scroll, and applications without having to scroll. This is one of those things that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but gets annoying after a little while. Trust me.

Another issue like that is keyboard size and quality. When looking at netbooks, I gave them all (except the MSI Wind) a go with typing. The small 9″ netbooks were near impossible to touch-type with. I have little hands at the best of times, and I found my fingers to not do so well with the little keyboard. Sure for quick messages or to use as a Skype machine great, but for any serious typing or blogging, it just wasn’t going to work. One netbook brand with a great keyboard is HP. The keys were decent sized and took up all available space.

But having said this, 100% of 10″ is not the same as 95% of 12″, and the keyboard on the Dell Latitude D420 is superb. While the keyboard is a little smaller than a regular keyboard, you really couldn’t tell the difference unless you tried. The keys have excellent travel, are easy to type with, and are a dream to use.

The weight of the Dell Latitude D420 is around 1.4Kgs, and compared to my Dell Inspiron 1520, the difference is like night and day. The D420 can easily be carried around in one hand, and slips easily into my bag. The size is that of an A4 hard cover notebook, and is a little heavier. You’ll find a netbook to be smaller and lighter here in this situation, but also more fragile. This is where the superior build quality and materials of the Dell Latitude D420 really show their stuff. Oh, did I mention the keyboard is spill-resistant?

Performance wise, don’t be fooled here either. While the 4200RPM 1.8″ Hard Drive is pretty slow on the best of days, using Windows Vista or Windows 7 Readyboost mode helps significantly. More importantly, the Intel Core Duo U2500 @ 1.2Ghz is a faster processor than the Intel Atom @ 1.6Ghz. Don’t be seduced by the clock speed, as the amount of work per clock cycle is important as well.

Overall, I’m far happier I purchased the Dell Latitude D420 than any netbook. I think a netbook is great, but has its limitations. The Dell Latitude D420 however, has all the positives of a netbook such as a reduced size and weight, but is still a proper laptop in its own right, and could be used as a sole laptop for someone.

That’s something a netbook could never do (yet).

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