The Latitude 6430u is at the high end of the size and weight class for an Ultrabook, but it's lighter and svelter than many other business-class notebooks. It also gets terrific battery life, doesn't burn your lap, and manages to work decently well with Windows 8 in the absence of a touchscreen.
Visually, the unit doesn't have the wow factor of some of the other Ultrabooks (Samsung's models come to mind), but as a white collar machine, the Latitude 6430u might not need the panache. That said, peek closer and you see good ideas and suave design decisions all around. The soft-touch cladding on the body brings to mind Lenovo's ThinkPad line, while the CPU heat exchanger grille at the rear of the unit recalls the Acer Aspire S3 -- no more Baked Lap Syndrome.
[ Check out these other Ultrabook reviews on InfoWorld: Acer Aspire S7 " Acer Iconia W700 " Lenovo X1 Carbon " Dell XPS 12 | Ultrabooks duke it out in InfoWorld's slideshow | Stay ahead of advances in mobile technology with InfoWorld's Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]
In a break from typical Ultrabook design, the battery is removable. It's also huge -- half of the entire bottom panel of the machine -- and long-lasting. My Netflix rundown test delivered 4 hours, 45 minutes of playing time on the "high performance" battery setting. Note that one feature common to other Dell notebooks, the external battery life meter, isn't found here. (I miss it.)
Another feature vaunted by Dell is the spill-resistant keyboard and protective LCD seal. The former probably isn't spill-resistant to the degree of, say, the Lenovo ThinkPad T410s, which has drainage vents on the underside of the unit, but what we have here ought to keep off the occasional coffee slosh. The keyboard is also pleasantly reminiscent of the ThinkPads: a spacious layout, full-motion key action, and good tactile feedback. I also appreciated having actual, distinct F keys, as opposed to functions being invoked via a special key plus one of the number keys. My only gripe: The Home and End keys are up at the top, instead of down near the arrows and PgUp/PgDn keys. Why?
Even though the 6430u can ship with Windows 8 as one of its OS options (ours did), it doesn't come with a touchscreen. Like other Win8 business notebooks we've seen, it partly compensates with a multitouch touchpad. I was grateful to note that Win8-specific touchpad actions (swiping from right to activate the Charms bar, for instance, or swiping from left to switch apps) have far less of a hair trigger than I've experienced on other machines. For those not fond of the touchpad, an in-keyboard pointing stick can also be used, another nod toward ThinkPad-style design.
The business-class features on the inside are also impressive. A self-encrypting 256GB SSD comes standard, as does TPM and Intel vPro management hardware. Optional features include fingerprint and smart-card readers, although our model didn't ship with these, and WWAN connectivity for all major providers in the United States (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon) and other countries, too.
Dell has wisely avoided shoehorning too much of its own software into the system. Aside from the system backup manager and the touchpad tray app, the only other Dell program that calls attention to itself is the Smart Settings tray application. This lets you toggle three modes that affect both battery life and general system behavior: Outdoor Mode (bright display), Presentation Mode (no screensaver or other distractions), and Video Mode (similar to Presentation Mode).
The Dell Latitude 6430u isn't the flashiest Ultrabook on the market. True to its intended audience of workaday professionals, it's a well-designed and well-built laptop that gets excellent battery life and is a pleasure to use. It's a great choice for anyone whose first priority is getting things done.
This article, "Dell Latitude 6430u review: A no-nonsense Ultrabook," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in computer hardware and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.
Read more about mobile technology in InfoWorld's Mobile Technology Channel.