Rugged laptops are a tiny part of Dell’s portfolio. They are looking to expand that, bringing more functionality from their other PC lines into their ruggeds to give them more feature differentiation in the rugged space.
Dell has announced a major refresh of their rugged mobile device portfolio, with major upgrades to three of the five products in it. The new products – all Latitude notebooks, incorporate technology from Dell’s many other PC lines to address specific needs within the rugged market.
“A lot of folks look at Dell PCs and know the commercial and consumer business, but rugged is one of our best kept secrets – unfortunately,” said Umang Patel, Marketing Director and Product Manager for Dell Rugged. “We are a small part of the Dell portfolio, but we have been doing this for about 12 years now.”
“We had a conversation with a government customer many years ago who said that our commercial products didn’t translate well to rugged environments,” Patel indicated. “We knew how to make a commercial product. So we developed a very rugged product that had the typical defects of rugged products. The analogy I like to use is three-day old pizza. You couldn’t get the latest Intel technology, or the latest features, and you were locked into an environment. Over time we learned what the market wanted, and about six years ago we doubled down to bring our commercial experience to the rugged space so that we would serve fresh piping hot pizza, and bring mainstream advances in technology into a ground-up design. We threw everything we knew about rugged out of the window, and we designed what became this line, and over the last six years we have had tremendous growth.”
Dell is not the market leader in rugged PCs. Panasonic is, according to VDC Research, the leading analyst firm tracking the rugged mobility market.
“We are a solid number two position though in many markets, even though our portfolio is very lean,” Patel indicated. “We have only five devices across the board. The competition has many more. We have only one rugged tablet in our portfolio, and are number three in tablets, with 12 per cent share, with just the one product.”
Historically, most of Dell’s rugged devices have been sold direct.
“We are building stronger relationships with the channel to sell these,” Patel said. “Big resellers like CDW do things in rugged as well. There are also a lot of small partners who do very intimate integrations with customers like local police departments. They all benefit from our ability to custom configure to any specification and deliver it in about 15 days.
Three of the five items in the portfolio – all Rugged Latitude Laptops – are impacted with this release, the Rugged Latitude 5420, the Rugged Latitude 5424, and the Rugged Latitude 7424. The 5000 series are semi-rugged while the 7000 is fully rugged.
“The Rugged Latitude 5420 is lean and mean, with a 10 inch screen,” Patel said. It is 22 per cent lighter and thinner than before. “The 5424 is its bigger brother, a 14 inch legacy box, while the 7424 is the fully rugged 14 inch model.”
The new models have up-to-date feature functionality imported from other Dell PC lines, as well as standard rugged features like MIL-STD-810G testing and operating thermal ranges that cover extremes of heat and cold.
“We have bought the Alienware technology over to the rugged side with multi-colour programmable Alienware keyboard backlighting,” Patel said. “Having the ability to customize the keyboard to different colours fits with some customers’ desire to employ these for night use. It’s also more differentiated and customers value that. This generation of ruggeds also benefits from our partnering with the Precision workstation team to put that graphics card. We have compensated for the extra heat with design modifications to bring the technology advancement in.”
The screens are also state of the art.
“We have bumped all of the LCDs up so they have darker, crisper displays, and are much more in line with our XPS line for colour and clarity,” Patel noted. “They have some of the brightest panels in the industry, as well as anti-glare shielding. We have also introduced swappable dual batteries in the 14 inch models, which are useful in supporting the Precision Graphics, and which effectively give perpetual battery life.”
For the public safety sector, Patel said that the Dell Rugged Latitudes are the first in the segment to adopt the AT&T FirstNet first responder broadband network.
“These are FirstNet-ready out of the box,” he stated.
The two 14-inch models also have the ability to have legacy features provided to fit specific use cases.
“These are things most customers won’t need, but which are critical for some,” Patel said. “One is the ability to have an optical drive instead of a USB. In the U.S. military, USB drives are a no-no, and an optical drive is still a very sacred thing. They can also come with PCI Express cards, which are long out of date in mainstream machines but can be critical in some use cases for uploading and doing diagnostics. For customers who need or want processor consistency, we can provide these with Intel processors back down to the 6th generation Skylake, not just the latest technology, although the standard is the 8th generation Intel Core processor.”
The Latitude 5420 Rugged Notebook starts at 4.9lbs and comes with up to 2TB of solid state storage, at a starting price of $USD 1399. The Latitude 5424 Rugged Notebook starts at 5.5lbs, with up to 4TB of solid state storage, and starts at $USD $1449. The fully rugged Latitude 7424 Rugged Notebook has the same 4 TB of storage, but is much heavier, starting at 7.6lbs. Its starting price is $USD $3499.