capsule review

Dell Latitude 2120: Slightly Rugged, Wildly Overpriced

At a Glance
  • Dell Latitude 2120

    PCWorld Rating

    No one should pay over $400 for a heavy, Atom-based netbook with only a 10.1-inch display and mediocre battery life.

Dell Latitude 2120 netbook
Photo: Robert Cardin
Dell touts the Latitude 2120 as the ideal netbook for business. That engenders the question: Is an old-school, underperforming, underscreened netbook really an ideal product for business computing? The question becomes even more puzzling when you see the prices that Dell is asking for the 2120 in its various incarnations. Even given the slightly ruggedized exterior, they're exorbitant.

The least pricey 2120 configuration has a single-core Atom N455 CPU, 1GB of memory, and the free Ubuntu operating system for $414 (as of September 19, 2011). That's positively cheap compared with the $746 you'll pay for a 2120 with a 1366 by 768 resolution, 10.1-inch display (1024 by 600 is standard), plus the Atom dual-core N550 our test unit came with, 2GB of memory, and Windows 7 Home Premium. All units ship with a 250GB hard drive.

Other than the absurd pricing, the Latitude 2120 offers nothing surprising other than its textured/rubberized top and bottom, and its hefty 3.1-pound weight. Much of the heft is due to the large, 56-watt-hour battery hanging off the back of the unit. The battery gives the 2120 a nice forward rake for typing when placed on a flat surface, but enables the system to run for only 6 hours, 24 minutes, making the weight/endurance trade-off questionable. The textured surface makes the netbook easy to grip and promises to last well in a backpack, but it also grabs dust and starts to look dirty rather quickly.

On the upside, the 2120 has a better-than-average netbook keyboard. The keys are close to full-size, and they feel pleasantly crisp. The touchpad is rather small but ultimately workable. Dell might have been better off forgoing the scroll strips with this little space to work with, but the response to swipes and taps is smooth.

As per usual with the Intel Atom N550 and its integrated GMA3150 GPU, the Latitude 2120's overall performance proved mediocre. A score of 33 in WorldBench 6 is fine if all you want to do is read email, do some light Web surfing, or type the occasional letter.

I had high hopes for video playback given the dual-core CPU; unfortunately, while the system played Big Buck Bunny at 1080p just fine, it suffered from periodic short pauses when trying to play back a high-bit-rate version of Star Trek at only 720p. Your HD video might play properly, or it might need re-encoding to a lower bit rate or a different format to play smoothly on the 2120. Even when the video was smooth, the Latitude 2120's tinny-sounding speakers spoiled the effect, sounding slightly distorted even at medium volume levels. The one bright spot is the 2120's HD webcam, which is as good as they get.

The ports on the Latitude 2120 are the usual netbook array: three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA connector, audio in and out, plus an SD Card slot. Connectivity is up to snuff, with both gigabit ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi.

Though available with a higher-resolution screen than many netbooks, the Dell Latitude 2120 is still a netbook and suffers all the drawbacks of the breed's small size, while failing to offer the light weight and low cost that made netbooks popular in the first place. Look instead to Dell's own Vostro V131, Lenovo's X120e, or any of a myriad of other units that offer far more bang for the buck.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    No one should pay over $400 for a heavy, Atom-based netbook with only a 10.1-inch display and mediocre battery life.

    Pros

    • Decent performance for an N550-based netbook
    • Rugged, textured upper surface

    Cons

    • Heavy with mediocre battery lfe
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