Starting at 2.3kg (with the smallest battery option), the all-black Dell Latitude E6500 somehow manages to produce both the sombre design notes of business along with the style of consumer-oriented notebooks. While the plastic/magnesium alloy chassis is all angles, little touches like the blackened brushed aluminium finish on the back push the new Latitude into new directions.
A key part of business design seems to be matte, and here Dell delivers. Matte screen, matte keyboard, matte surface, the only thing that really qualifies as gloss is the Dell logo itself — a good thing for usability as the usual cavalcade of fingerprints and obnoxious screen glare are kept to a minimum.
You won’t find the raft of multimedia buttons here either, with only volume up, down and mute buttons being present. You can, however, create your own hotkeys to do the job using Dell’s included software. The usual status lights are along the same plane as the volume buttons, and otherwise things are kept to a minimalist aesthetic.
The Latitude E6500 offers navigation options for both trackpad tragics and joystick junkies, including appropriately positioned mouse buttons for both, and a middle button so scrolling is easy with the joystick.
A few useful trackpad extras we haven’t seen before have crept in here through Dell’s own software — one being circular scrolling, a technique that allows you to run your finger in a circle either clockwise or counter clockwise for continuous, unbroken scrolling. It’s a handy trick that makes life a little easier for those super-long documents. Another trick is using the left-hand side of the control pad in a similar way to the scroll zone in order to magnify the screen.
On the negative side, we often found when using the trackpad that when our finger would stray across the horizontal scroll area the cursor would completely stop and switch to horizontal scroll mode, interrupting our efforts.
Like other trackpad software, Dell allows you to set the scroll zones, but the functionality is nowhere near as customisable as that offered by other vendors, only allowing you to set them to “narrow”, “normal” and “wide”. You either have scroll zones, or none at all, as opposed to turning off just horizontal or vertical scroll. Dell uses an ALPS-branded trackpad here, although the competing Synaptics solution and software offers a considerable advantage.
The 15.4-inch matte screen is high resolution, weighing in at 1,920×1,200, a resolution usually reserved for 24-inch stand-alone monitors. Despite this, text is sharp and readable, the extra screen real estate is a boon for those working with CAD, 3D, design or video.
It also features an ambient light sensor, this is the second time we’ve seen this technology on a laptop, which automatically sets the brightness of the screen depending on your surrounding light. In high light situations the screen grows brighter, in low light it grows darker. It’s a handy addition that will likely save some extra battery time, and can be turned off if you find it annoying.
Also tied into the ambient light sensor is the keyboard, which can either turn on white backlighting when things get too dark, or simply respond whenever you use the keyboard or mouse. It also means doing work on those long-haul plane trips can be done a little more discretely, without waking up your neighbour by having to turn on the “personal” light above you.
Speakers flank either side of the keyboard, however, their contribution is token overall (despite the huge grille there’s only a single tiny cone on each side), and we’d prefer to see them either reduced or moved elsewhere in favour of a full numeric pad.
Our review sample came with a nine-cell battery which jutted out the end, but thankfully didn’t get in the way. Smaller options of four- or six-cell are available, as well as a 12-cell “battery slice”, which, working in tandem with the nine-cell, sits under the entire base of the laptop and clips into the dock extender should you need as much battery time as possible.
Finally, the power pack has gone on a diet, opting for slim but wide, instead of something you could kill a small child with. This makes it handier to slip inside a carry case and carry with you.