"Another Dell Workhorse"4.0 starson by jplake3
Pros: Excellent battery life
i5 handles everything I throw at it
Reliability of a tank
Optional NVS graphics
Cons: Dell support has been hit or miss.
No USB 3.0
Has a profile closer to a 15.4"
Pricy compared to a consumer-grade system
Optional NVS graphics
Summary: I bought one of these for college, and so far it's been great. I optioned mine with the NVS graphics card and a 500gb HDD, then later upgraded to a 750gb HDD and 8gb or RAM from a 3rd party. Upgrading was easy, and even before that performance was nothing to complain about. Performance is not lightening fast, but still very good. Multitasking isn't an issue except under extreme load while on battery power.
While the 9-cell does mean you'll probably need a 15.4" bag, the life is very good, especially when you have a decent power saving level set. Tossing a heavy load on it and cranking the brightness is tempting, but best saved for near an outlet. The 'Max performance' power preset delivers that at a cost.
I have mixed feelings on the NVS card. It handles an external monitor seamlessly and powers through university software as well as I would expect a laptop (It's not bad, but heavy CAD programs will always run better on a no-compromises desktop), but back in the dorm in the evening it doesn't game very well. Not an issue to business users, but since it's fairly popular with students on my campus (as well as the Thinkpad), it's feels worth mentioning. Only the latest AAA titles will give it a major problem, but it will get HOT on the left side running lesser games for a decent session.
Screens seem to be highly personal preference. For what it's worth, I wear mild reading glasses and have no issue with the 1600x900 panel. Speakers are underpowered if you listen to music while you work.
Reliability has been off the charts, and is where the price difference shows. Mine has been dropped, shaken, and stuffed into a backpack while running, and nothing has managed to phase it. Hinges were a little loose out of the box, but a half turn on the screws on the back fixed that right away. No one else on campus had that issue though, so that one falls on QC and not the design. Business hinges are worth the money. Not sure if I like Latitude or T-series Thinkpad hinges better, but I don't think I can use a Inspiron/Vaio/Pavilion again.
Dell support manages to fail in the most friendly way possible. Factory default BIOS requires a RAID driver when installing Windows or else the installation fails, and 4 techs managed to not know this. On two installs I stumped the tech, got escalated to another tech who credited it to a bad HDD (even though diagnostics cleared it), the got express mailed a pre-imaged one. During the upgrade to the aftermarket 750gb HDD I finally found my answer in an owner's forum. Nice they did something, but disappointing that the 'premium' support had to fall back to the last resort on something as basic as an OS re-install TWICE! Still, 3 years hardware/accidental damage is a nice peace of mind.
In the end, like all Latitudes, it's a workhorse. You pay a premium and trade bleeding edge features (although, Sandy Bridge was new when I bought mine) and elegant styling for reliability, ease of service (and the premium Latitude/Precision service), and solid but not earth-shattering performance. A number of little things could be done better, but nothing is done game-breakingly wrong. Dueling specs and performance, I'd say it's an equal machine to the T420 (If one offers an option, the other probably does too), but among Latitude owners I know, price tipped in favor of Dell.