As we’ve mentioned, the Dell Latitude 6430u isn’t winning any beauty contests over at the ultrabook pageant, but for an office laptop, it’s not a bad-looking machine. It’s dressed primarily in business black, but it has a shiny silver Dell logo emblazoned on the lid as well as a silver magnesium band around its middle. Almost the entire chassis has a rubberized finish that improves a user’s grip on the laptop, and we were impressed at how well it resisted smudges. (The smudges that do appear, however, are tough to remove.)
That magnesium alloy that wraps around the Latitude 6430u is there for a reason; it acts as a bumper to help prevent damage. In fact, this computer is designed to absorb a certain level of office workplace and travel-type abuse. In addition to the magnesium bumper, the keyboard is spill proof, the LCD has a seal to keep out moisture, and the hinges are reinforced with metal plating for durability.
At first glance, the chiclet keyboard doesn’t stand out, but upon closer inspection you can see that the keys all have slight indentations for a better tactile experience and that they’re all a bit taller than they are wide. There’s a touch pad of course, as well as left and right mouse buttons just below it and three buttons above it that serve the track stick nestled between the G and H keys. You can enjoy the backlit keyboard when you need it, or you can toggle it off when discretion and battery life are paramount.
Dell did with this laptop what so many inexplicably don’t, which is to make the Backspace, Enter, Shift, Ctrl, Caps Lock, Tab, and other frequently used keys the same large size as on a regular desktop keyboard. There’s no numpad (unless you use the Fn key), but there are Page Up/Down and arrow keys, which are also sized normally. With a press of the Fn key, users also have media play/pause/skip buttons, brightness controls, and more.
The front of the Latitude 6430u is clear of any ports, which makes for a nice look. The left side has a WiFi switch, mic/headphone combo jack, a USB 3.0 port, VGA, and the power adapter input. On the right side, you’ll find a memory card slot, another USB 3.0 port, LAN port, and lock slot, and although the rear of the chassis is dominated by one large vent, it’s also home to an HDMI port and a USB/eSATA combo port.
The Latitude 6430u has stereo speakers set just above the keyboard area, and as you might expect from a laptop without a subwoofer, the sound is rather tinny. It does offers room-filling volume, but there's a bit of distortion at higher volumes. That said, the sound is very satisfactory for watching videos and the like, so unless you’re pining for sweet bass, these speakers are adequate for most typical uses.
We must note that the camera leaves something to be desired. For both snapping photos and taking video, the image was grainy and mottled, even in relatively bright light. That’s not good if you’re trying to do business in our increasingly connected and mobile workplaces where video chatting is a common means of conducting meetings.
Dell spared us almost any and all bloatware, although they did throw in a free trial of Microsoft Office and loads of CyberLink software. As you might expect, there’s also some Dell software such as Dell Backup and Recovery and Dell Smart Settings in addition to the normal Windows 8 complement of Mail, People, Music, Messaging, Camera, and so on.