Very bright, polarized screen. Long-lasting batteries are hot-swappable. Extensive selection of accessories.
Keyboard cover is a pricey extra. Unresponsive touchpad.
- Bottom Line
The Dell Latitude 7212 is a well-designed, tough detachable Windows tablet that can take pretty much anything you (and nature) can throw at it. And compared with the rugged competition it's a relative bargain.
Thick cloud cover, heavy rain, and blustery wind are commmonplace in New York City in January. These truly miserable midwinter days are ideal for testing the Latitude 7212 Rugged Extreme Tablet (starts at $1,909; $2,687.02 as tested). Dell claims that this detachable Windows tablet is equally at home in blinding sunlight, driving snow, extreme heat, biting cold, and pretty much anything else nature can dish out. Even better, the tablet's rugged enclosure protects pleasingly capable components, including a surprisingly bright full HD touch screen and hot-swappable batteries. And considering that rugged competitors from the likes of Panasonic and Getac fetch serious premiums, the whole package is suprisingly affordable. That makes the Dell Latitude 7212 Rugged Extreme our new Editors' Choice rugged laptop.
No Shortage of Add-Ons
The Latitude 7212 isn't actually a laptop. Like the Panasonic Toughbook 33 from which it steals the Editors' Choice award, the Dell is actually a detachable Windows tablet, a form factor that's probably better suited to the rugged tasks its owners will often perform. With its optional keyboard cover, the Latitude 7212 can reap information in the field—pictures of malfunctioning power transformers, or perhaps data collected from a remote weather-monitoring station—and be ready to type up a quick report once you get back to your truck and attach the keyboard.
In an ideal world, that keyboard would be included instead of a pricey $373 add-on, but the total price is still far enough below what you'd otherwise expect to pay for a rugged laptop (the Toughbook 33 we tested is $4,099, for example) that we're not complaining. Some of the other pricey but potentially necessary accessories you can order for the Latitude 7212 include an active pen ($36.46); a kickstand ($73.85); a battery charger ($174.57); a chest harness ($45.80); a shoulder strap ($45.80); a rigid handle ($174.57); a desktop dock ($326.24); a scanner module for barcodes and magnetic stripes ($399.63); and a module with Ethernet and two extra USB ports ($232.77).
Our review unit came with only the kickstand and the keyboard cover, which means it's similar to the legions of other less-rugged detachable tablets that we test here at PC Labs in that it can be propped up on a desk to use as you would a conventional laptop. The kickstand is incredibly sturdy and grippy, which means no slipping or bouncing when you tap on the screen at nearly any angle.
How Tough Is It?
All told, with the kickstand and keyboard cover attached, this review unit weighs 4.98 pounds, or 3.2 pounds for the tablet by itself. That's by no means light—most detachable Windows tablets weigh less than 3 pounds—but neither is it out of the ordinary among the Latitude 7212's rugged competitors. The Toughbook 33 weighs 3.37 pounds without its keyboard, while the Xplore XSlate R12 is a bit lighter at 3.09 pounds alone and 4.09 pounds with its kickstand and keyboard.
When you add in the Latitude 7212's measurements of 8 by 0.96 by 12.3 inches (HWD), the general feeling is one of reassuring heft, which in turn makes you feel comfortable carrying this thing everywhere you go. Even an iPad clad in the toughest of OtterBox defender cases doesn't feel as invincible as this.
Of course, the Latitude 7212's heft is a bit of a placebo, since the real protection comes from the way Dell has engineered the case and components. The outside is a tough black plastic shell, augmented by grippy corners that resemble oversized versions of the triangular mounts that hold photos to the pages of an album. The edges are grippy as well, and slightly springy, which means that if you drop the Latitude 7212, it will bounce.
Speaking of drops, the tablet is designed to meet the MIL-STD-810G durability standard, which translates to the following capabilities, according to Dell's own testing: surviving a drop from 4 feet while it's off, or 3 feet while you're using it; withstanding blowing rain, dust, and sand; and surviving explosive changes in atmospheric pressure, vibrations, shocks, and extreme temperature changes. It's worth noting that if you drop it with the keyboard attached, the two components will probably split, which happened on two out of my three drop tests.
The operational temperature range extends from minus 20 degrees to 145 degrees, and you can store the tablet from minus 60 degrees to 160 degrees. Dell even says the Latitude 7212 can withstand electromagnetic interference, which is covered by a separate MIL-STD-461F standard.
In spite of all these standards, certifications, and Dell's internal testing, the Latitude 7212's warranty options are no different than any other business PC that the company offers. In other words, you'll still have to pay an additional fee to add accidental damage service on top of the included warranty. If you do, Dell will repair damage caused by accidental drops, spills, screen breaks, and the like.
That's the same approach that many rugged PC manufacturers take with their damage protection, and it's the primary reason why we test the functionality of the tablet in inclement conditions like rain and wind rather than trying to replicate the MIL-STD-810G testing here at PC Labs.
Finicky Touchpad, Bright Screen
The 11.6-inch touch screen is so bright that it was easily visible outside on that dreary Tuesday afternoon, both while it was raining and during the brief periods of direct sunlight. It's polarized and protected with Corning Gorilla Glass and it is designed to work with both gloved hands and the included stylus, a passive one that fits into a slot on the tablet's rear when not in use. With unseasonably warm temperatures in the mid-50s, it wasn't quite cold enough during my time outside with the Latitude 7212 for gloves, but the stylus performed flawlessly when tapping on the screen, even when littered with raindrops.
I wasn't as impressed with the touchpad, however. It became unusable in the rain after about 10 minutes, and even when it's dry and turned up to the maximum sensitivity setting, it still tracks poorly. At least the backlit keyboard is the same sturdy design that we've come to expect from Latitude laptops and tablets.
The Latitude 7212 can be ordered with or without front- and rear-facing webcams, and the cost difference is trivial (about $10). This review unit has both cameras installed (a 5MP front shooter and an 8MP rear camera with flash) and they are among the best basic webcams we've tested, at least for simple needs like quick videoconferencing. Subjects filmed with both cameras indoors and out never looked washed out, and there was virtually no graininess. As an added bonus, you can close sliding doors to protect both lenses.
More doors—the flip-up kind, not the sliding kind—protect the ports, which on this unit include a microSD card slot, a USB 3.0 port, a USB-C port, a headphone jack, and even a mini serial port for backward compatibility. You can configure a Latitude 7212 without the serial port, and if you need more USB ports you can order the dock or additional port modules mentioned above.
Sound from the system's speakers is tinny, about what you'd expect from a tablet that focuses on protection, not superior audio. Still, they're loud enough that the audio track in a movie was clearly discernible outside, even above the rain and street noise.
Our review unit comes equipped with an Intel Core i5-7300U running at 2.6GHz, Intel integrated graphics, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB NVMe SSD to handle storage. Our benchmark tests showed this configuration to be likely adequate for most tasks you'll be performing in the field, although it's not the fastest rugged laptop we've tested recently. A score of 3,137 on the PCMark 8 test means that the Latitude 7212 has more than enough horsepower to accomplish web browsing, video conferencing, data entry, and other common PC tasks with virtually no lag time. The best result on this test belongs to the Getac S410 (3,349), but the difference is minimal and any result of more than 3,000 is very good.
On our specialized multimedia editing tasks, the Latitude 7212 performed about in the middle of the pack. It was noticeably slower at encoding an HD video file using Handbrake (2 minutes, 54 seconds) than the Xplore XSlate R12 (2:11) and the Panasonic Toughbook 33 (2:06), but the 3:47 it took to finish applying a series of Photoshop filters is roughly the same as the XSlate (3:34) and the Toughbook (3:45). If your work frequently involves these or other processor-intensive tasks, you'll want to consider upgrading your Latitude 7212 to an Intel Core i7. Other upgrade options include 16GB of memory and 512GB or 1TB SSDs.
One performance arena in which the Latitude struggled is 3D gaming. Its integrated graphics failed to breach the 30fps threshold we consider to be the minimum for smooth gaming, even on the Heaven and Valley simulations at medium quality settings. Chances are you won't have much opportunity for gaming in rugged conditions anyway.
You'll have to extend the kickstand or remove it entirely (a task easily accomplished without tools thanks to a single captive screw) to access the two battery compartments at the bottom rear edge of the tablet. With both 34Wh batteries installed and fully charged, the Latitude 7212 lasted 11 hours and 34 minutes on our battery-rundown test. Even with only one battery installed, it still managed to eke out more than 5 hours, and since the batteries can be removed and inserted while the system is on, you could run the Latitude 7212 unplugged for days if you had to. Dell also offers 65Wh lithium ion batteries at $104.46 each for even more juice.
The battery life is impressive enough compared with the competition (the Toughbook 33 achieved a time of 10:23), but it's even more impressive when you account for the fact that the batteries are powering an incredibly bright 11.6-inch touch screen and a rather power-hungry Intel Core i5-7300U CPU.
A Durable Bargain
If you work in the field performing tasks ranging from frequent Antarctic expeditions to trips to take readings from basement electric meters, your PC needs are far different from the average laptop or tablet shopper. You need to consider the system's sturdiness and customization options before you look at options like memory and processing power.
We think the Dell Latitude 7212 is perfectly suited for scenarios like these. Not only can it serve as both a laptop and a tablet, but it includes useful, even thoughtful features like a high-quality webcam, an extra-bright screen, and copious physical protection, from waterproofing to shock resistance. What's more, it does all of this at a price that's far lower than what some competitors cost. That should give you comfort the next time you're standing on a rainswept street corner on a bleak afternoon, pawing at your tablet's screen and knowing that it will do most everything you ask of it for at least 11 hours before it dies.
About the Author
As a hardware analyst, Tom tests and reviews laptops, peripherals, and much more at PC Labs in New York City. He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a news reporter for PCMag in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he rode in several self-driving cars and witnessed the rise and fall of many startups. Before that, he worked for PCMag's s… See Full Bio
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