A Laptop for Business and Beyond

If you like your notebook PCs basic, black and boring, then the Dell Latitude D820 is not for you. But if you want a machine with all the bells and whistles that can serve both for work and for play, then the D820 is a perfect fit. At about six pounds and more than 14 inches wide, it’s a little bulky for a true road warrior to carry constantly. But people who travel less frequently, or who simply carry it to and from the car, won’t mind the extra heft to gain the added features.

That Glorious Screen
Chief among those features is the gorgeous 15.4-inch widescreen display, which gives you more screen real estate side-to-side, without adding height that would make the laptop unwieldy on airplane tray tables.

Thanks to the panel’s1920-by-1200 resolution, you’ll also be able to have two applications open and visible at once (say, a Word document in one window, and a view of your e-mail in the other) for increased productivity. But be warned: That high resolution also makes for fairly small text and icons, so anyone with aging eyes will want to enable large fonts in Windows and use higher zoom levels in applications.

And if you’re thinking the screen is perfect for watching a movie when work is done, you’re right. Pop a DVD into the D820’s DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive and the included Cyberlink Power DVD player applet springs to life. The screen delivers rich colors for movie viewing, though there is some motion blur during action scenes. And the stereo speakers (mounted on each side of the keyboard) deliver good sound quality for a notebook.

Comfortable, Quiet Keyboard
The widescreen display also means there’s plenty of room in the dark silver chassis for a full-size keyboard. The keys are fairly responsive and very quiet. If you remember the rather clackety Latitude keyboards from a few years ago and have stayed away, know that the D820 is one of the quietest laptop keyboards we’ve tried to date.

You’ll also find both a pointing stick and a touch pad (no need to choose one or the other), with dedicated mouse buttons for each. We also like the dedicated volume and mute buttons above the keyboard, which make for quick access to those functions.

Security-conscious business owners will appreciate the built-in fingerprint reader nestled below the touch pad. A simple utility walks you through registering several of your fingerprints. After that (depending on the security settings you choose), all files and applications on the hard drive are locked unless you swipe your finger. The application can even replace all your online passwords with a fingerprint login instead.

The large chassis also let Dell include just about every port you’ll need (except for the all-but-defunct parallel port). There’s a SmartCard reader, FireWire port and an Express Card PC Card slot on the left side; a modular media bay (for an optical drive, hard drive or extra battery) and two USB 2.0 ports on the right; and you’ll find an RJ45 port for an Ethernet connection, RJ11 for a telephone cable, USB, Serial and VGA ports on the back.

Connect Virtually Anywhere
As with most laptops today, the D820 includes built-in 802.11 a/g Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as a handy utility that will help you find and connect to wireless networks. But you can also order the D820 with either an EV-DO (a $179 option) or HSDPA ($225) wireless broadband built in. This gives business travelers access to either Verizon Wireless (with EV-DO) or Cingular (HSDPA) 3G cellular data networks in most major (and many secondary) metropolitan areas around the country.

Wireless broadband lets you connect at near-DSL speeds (400- to 800-Kbps) anywhere you can get a signal. The services aren’t cheap (around $80 a month, or $60 a month if you also sign up for a qualifying phone plan), but frequent travelers can easily justify the cost thanks to the money they’ll save not having to pay daily connection fees at hotels and Wi-Fi hot spots. The convenience of using your own connection at a client site, and not having to ask for a guest log-in for their network, makes the service that much more valuable.

Since the D820 is built to go, you’ll be happy to learn that it delivers a host of durability features. The chassis uses magnesium alloy in the base and behind the screen for added rigidity compared to the typical plastic used in most notebooks. The keyboard is spill-resistant, and the hard drive is shock-mounted (but there is no active system that parks the hard-drive heads if the system senses it is falling, as you’ll find in Lenovo ThinkPads and other business portables).

The Dell Latitude D820
Sleek Good Looks: The Dell Latitude D820 looks sharp and delivers a host of cutting-edge features.

A Fit for Every Budget
As with other Latitudes, the D820 is available in a wide range of configurations to match just about every computing need (and budget). All feature the beautiful 15.4-inch widescreen and Intel’s Core Duo processor family, which lets you run multiple applications at once (say, word processing in the foreground while performing a virus scan in the background) with no noticeable hit to performance. Here’s an idea of what your money buys:

• The entry-level model ($1,049)
512MB RAM, 40GB hard drive, a quaint 24x CD-ROM drive

• The midrange model ($1,335)
1GB RAM, 60GB hard drive, DVD-ROM drive

• The model we tested ($1,413)
1GB RAM, 80GB hard drive, DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive

As with most Dell PCs, you can custom-configure to your heart’s content: 4GB of RAM, a 120GB hard drive, an 8x DVD burner and so on. All this adds up to fairly affordable luxury. So if you want a machine that can be more than just a business workhorse, the Latitude D820 is worth a look.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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