The rugged notebook market has long been ruled by Panasonic and its ToughBook range, and with good reason. Panasonic saw a gap in the market and created notebooks that could survive pretty much anything in order to fill it. But now it appears as though Panasonic won't have the rugged market to itself anymore with Dell throwing its hat into the ring.
Dell has come up with the Latitude ATG range, where ATG stands for All Terrain Grade. The first machine out of the blocks is the ATG D620, which is based on the Latitude D620 which impressed me when I reviewed it last year. I wouldn't necessarily call this machine All Terrain though, since it is only a semi-rugged notebook. So heavy hitters like the Panasonic CF-29 and CF-19 don't have much to worry about - Dell isn't going after the seriously extreme environment market.
Compared to a standard D620 this ATG version definitely looks like it has spent some time in the gym. The lid is far thicker with protective padding on all the corners, while the hinges are now constructed from solid metal to ensure maximum durability. Unfortunately those strong hinges aren't anchored particularly well, with the right hinge freely moving while taking some of the plastic keyboard surround with it. The left hinge didn't move quite so freely but it nevertheless didn't feel as solidly mounted as I would have expected. Likewise, the front corner of the wrist rest was not properly secured to the rest of the chassis - whether this would compromise the resilience of the casing is debatable, but this still shouldn't be happening. Even the latch securing the lid didn't feel quite as strong as I would have liked on a machine with rugged aspirations.
The aforementioned build quality issues aside, the ATG D620 felt pretty solid, just like the standard D620 in fact. And when you consider that Dell puts its standard latitude notebooks through a pretty demanding test regime, I would imagine that the extra padding and cladding seen on the ATG will allow it to adequately live up to its semi-rugged moniker.
Opening up the hefty lid reveals a 14.1in screen with a native resolution of 1,280 x 800. This is a lower resolution than the standard D620 that I reviewed last year - the screen on that machine had a native resolution of 1,440 x 900. However, I can see why Dell has gone with the lower resolution screen for the ATG, after all this machine is designed to be used outdoors as well as inside, where the smaller icons and fonts of the higher res screen could be a problem. Obviously you can tailor Windows to use larger fonts and icons, but then you may as well not pay for the high res panel in the first place.