February 09, 2013, 7:55 AM — The Latitude 6430u is at the high end of the size and weight class for an Ultrabook, but it's lighter and svelter than many other business-class notebooks. It also gets terrific battery life, doesn't burn your lap, and manages to work decently well with Windows 8 in the absence of a touchscreen.
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Visually, the unit doesn't have the wow factor of some of the other Ultrabooks (Samsung's models come to mind), but as a white collar machine, the Latitude 6430u might not need the panache. That said, peek closer and you see good ideas and suave design decisions all around. The soft-touch cladding on the body brings to mind Lenovo's ThinkPad line, while the CPU heat exchanger grille at the rear of the unit recalls the Acer Aspire S3 -- no more Baked Lap Syndrome.
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In a break from typical Ultrabook design, the battery is removable. It's also huge -- half of the entire bottom panel of the machine -- and long-lasting. My Netflix rundown test delivered 4 hours, 45 minutes of playing time on the "high performance" battery setting. Note that one feature common to other Dell notebooks, the external battery life meter, isn't found here. (I miss it.)
Another feature vaunted by Dell is the spill-resistant keyboard and protective LCD seal. The former probably isn't spill-resistant to the degree of, say, the Lenovo ThinkPad T410s, which has drainage vents on the underside of the unit, but what we have here ought to keep off the occasional coffee slosh. The keyboard is also pleasantly reminiscent of the ThinkPads: a spacious layout, full-motion key action, and good tactile feedback. I also appreciated having actual, distinct F keys, as opposed to functions being invoked via a special key plus one of the number keys. My only gripe: The Home and End keys are up at the top, instead of down near the arrows and PgUp/PgDn keys. Why?
Even though the 6430u can ship with Windows 8 as one of its OS options (ours did), it doesn't come with a touchscreen. Like other Win8 business notebooks we've seen, it partly compensates with a multitouch touchpad. I was grateful to note that Win8-specific touchpad actions (swiping from right to activate the Charms bar, for instance, or swiping from left to switch apps) have far less of a hair trigger than I've experienced on other machines. For those not fond of the touchpad, an in-keyboard pointing stick can also be used, another nod toward ThinkPad-style design.
The business-class features on the inside are also impressive. A self-encrypting 256GB SSD comes standard, as does TPM and Intel vPro management hardware. Optional features include fingerprint and smart-card readers, although our model didn't ship with these, and WWAN connectivity for all major providers in the United States (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon) and other countries, too.