Dell Latitude E5520 review: Dell Latitude E5520

It’s weird to be using a Dell business laptop and feel like you’re using a Lenovo. Well, perhaps there isn’t the same feeling that it would survive a tactical nuclear strike, but the aesthetics are certainly there.

Whether it’s the matte black surface, the orange function keys or even the increased rigidity in the screen, we can’t help but expect to see a little red trackpoint control in the middle of the Latitude E5520’s keyboard. There’s actually one there, it’s just black.

There are differences of course: Dell’s got more curves, has a silver trim and a dark, brushed aluminium lid. It also tends to use white LEDs, which lends a certain sophisticated look to the device. Thankfully, the annoying and difficult-to-use lid-latch found on the previous generation Latitudes has been replaced with a more standard slider, making the E5520 significantly easier to open.

The most striking thing? The gorgeously bright and vivid matte screen. At 1920×1080 on a 15.6-inch screen it’s just glorious, with text incredibly readable and popping off the screen. It still suffers poor off-axis viewing as laptop screens do, but from the optimal angle it’s really quite impressive. For those who don’t need a high-resolution screen, a 1366×768 version should be available as well.

One thing we don’t see enough of is backlit keyboards, and the E5520 has one that has four different levels of illumination, plus the ability to switch off. Don’t move the mouse or type for a while and the backlight will turn off — a battery-saving measure.

There’s only three dedicated function buttons, located at the top left under the screen: mute, volume up and volume down.

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Catching up with consumer land, there’s now an array microphone at the top for the webcam, a concession perhaps that more video-conferencing is happening thanks to the proliferation of things like Skype.

The new Latitude also lacks a DisplayPort. Dell tried to push it as the business display solution for the last series of Latitude, but for this series we find more evidence of the consumerisation of business tech instead: an HDMI port. Another nod to how consumers are changing the business space is the single headphone/microphone jack, intended for use with iPhone-style headphones that include a microphone, but only use one 3.5mm jack. It’s a fascinating design choice, but we’d still prefer dedicated jacks for flexibility.

Also featured is a FireWire port, four USB 2.0 ports (of which contains eSATA), SD card reader, VGA out, gigabit Ethernet, 56Kbps modem and a still very business fingerprint reader and Secure Card slot. There’s also a contactless Secure Card reader included if you prefer to swipe. There’s an optional WWAN module too, which will launch on Vodafone, but will also be available through Telstra down the track.

Our particular review model was running on Windows 7 Professional 32-bit, a dual-core Core i5 2540M processor @ 2.6GHz and 4GB RAM. Being 32-bit and featuring integrated graphics, only 3.42GB RAM was usable — you should be able to select the 64-bit version of Windows to get around this if your business is willing to support it. Wireless is offered as either Intel’s Centrino Advanced N-6205, Ulimate N 6300, or Dell’s Wireless 1501 or 1530 depending on how budget conscious you are.

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A 500GB, 7200rpm hard drive was included, although you can also opt for an encrypted 320GB HDD, or 256GB solid state drive if the impulse takes you. Battery options are good, offering four (40Whr), six (60Whr) and nine (97Whr) cell options. While most batteries are covered by a one-year warranty, Dell offers a nine-cell (87Whr) option that is covered for three years.

Performance was excellent, with 3DMark06 and PCMark05 returning scores of 3482 and 7183 respectively. Even though this is a mid-level machine, it should chew through most business workloads thrown at it. Our review sample was supplied with the 97Whr, nine-cell battery, and thus lasted a heck of a long time. With all power-saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and an XviD file played back in fullscreen, the battery held out for three hours and 55 minutes, admirable for a laptop of this power and size. Less arduous tasks will tax the battery less, and of course lower capacity batteries will offer less time.

Dell’s new Latitude series is a solid business option that packs in a huge amount of value. The company is clearly adapting to the consumerisation of the business space by including features such as an HDMI port and single 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack, but still provides the support companies need.