The keyboard really highlights the difference between Dell’s Latitude and Inspiron ranges – not that I’m suggesting that the Inspiron notebooks are substandard, just that the Latitude keyboards exude a bit more quality. Even though this is a very small notebook, the keyboard feels deceptively large. The keys themselves are a good size, while there is a very impressive amount of travel, coupled with a solid and reassuring break. The Tab, Caps Lock, Shift, Return and Backspace keys are all large, while Dell has also made sure that the Ctrl key is at the bottom left where it should be.
The D420 doesn’t have a pseudo-ThinkPad seven row keyboard like the D620, but it manages to squeeze pretty much everything you need into its six rows. The cursor keys are also dropped away from the main keyboard for easy access. I had no problem achieving a fast typing rate on the D420, with each key stroke feeling completely separated from the surrounding keys. It even sounds like you’re typing on a much larger notebook, without the slightest hint of a rattle, even when hitting the keys hard.
The pointing devices are impressive too, especially since Dell has provided both a trackpoint and a touch pad. If you read my notebook reviews regularly, you’ll be well aware that I much prefer trackpoints to touch pads, and things are no different with the D420. The trackpoint worked well, but it wasn’t quite as smooth or tactile as the example in the ThinkPad T60p that I reviewed recently. There are two buttons below the Spacebar that correspond with the trackpoint – they worked flawlessly, but I think I would have preferred them to have clicked when pressed. The touch pad is also a fine example and anyone who prefers this type of pointing device won’t be disappointed. There are two selector buttons below the touch pad, but again these didn’t respond with a click when depressed.
Nestling between the touch pad’s selector buttons is a fingerprint scanner. As always, I’m glad to see a device like this on a notebook, especially a business notebook. Even though biometric security isn’t infallible, it is easy to use, which means that users might actually implement it, rather than choosing to employ no security at all.
Taking a tour around the chassis reveals a lot of connectivity squeezed into a very small space. On the right you’ll find the power button and the hardware switch for the wireless adapters. This switch also doubles as a Wi-Fi sniffer, so you can seek out wireless networks without having to boot up the notebook. You can even configure the sniffer to only report if there is an open hotspot, to save you booting up and realising that you need an encryption key.