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Dell Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet (hands-on): Meet the tablet that thinks it's a tank

This tough, ruggedized tablet can survive some of the world's most extreme, hostile environments.

Zack Whittaker
Zack Whittaker Writer-editor
Zack Whittaker is a former security editor for CNET's sister site ZDNet.
4 min read

Kicked, thrown into a hedge, and dropped repeatedly. I put Dell's latest rugged tablet through its paces -- falling short of asking a New York cabbie to drive over it -- and, remarkably, it passed with flying colors.

The Dell Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet isn't like any of the clamshell and svelte slate tablets on the market. In fact, this 11.6-inch Windows-based tablet doesn't try to be. This tablet is tough at its core. Its rubberized edges, strong display, and durable design makes this tablet ready to face some of the toughest environments humans venture to, from both extreme heat to frigid cold, as well as withstanding knocks and scrapes, bumps and drops.

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The Latitude 12 talks the talk, but can it walk the walk? Is it as tough -- and secure -- as Dell says? It almost begs to be thrown about. (Spoiler alert: I did just that, and it survived.)

Starting at $1,999 in the US for entry level 128GB storage model, it isn't for the everyday user, nor would you want it to be. Because it has one mission in mind -- to stay intact -- it's built to adapt to a number of environments. Because of that, the tablet is noticeably heavy and chunky, and difficult to carry even in a satchel bag. Weighing in at 3.6 pounds, the tablet isn't easy to hold for even a few minutes at a time.

Zack Whittaker/CNET

Dell says the tablet can withstand dust and water intrusion, humidity and high altitudes. With its sturdy, rubberized corner protectors, the tablet can be dropped and bumped about with minimal worries.

We dropped the tablet at a number of angles on concrete from about three and four feet, simulating Dell's own drop tests. After a series of waist-high drops and throwing, the tablet had just a few scrapes and abrasions to show for its hazardous treatment. It worked without a hitch afterwards and didn't even get a scratch on the screen.

The Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet comes with a fifth-generation Intel Core M dual-core processor and up to 8GB of memory, and up to 512GB solid state storage, plus an SD memory slot, all of which reduces data loss risk by not using damage-prone disks with moving parts. The 10-point multitouch display is glove capable for working in extreme conditions. And, for working on the go, it comes with a SIM card slot for 4G LTE mobile broadband. The headphone, video, and USB ports are protected by a rubberized click-lock flap that seals them shut, preventing water incursion.

Zack Whittaker/CNET

Dell's also baked in a number of security features, like its up-to-date Trusted Platform Module (TPM 2.0, as of November), helping it become compliant with government certification (FIPS 140-2) for low-level classified use. It also comes with a rear-side fingerprint reader that logs you into Windows but also works with third-party apps.

There are a couple of other stand-out features that make the tablet what it is. The first is its dual "hot-swap" removable batteries that can be easily popped out and replaced, without losing power to the tablet. The second is the stylus: though the Gorilla Glass 3 display is sharp and highly responsive to touch -- even with gloves on -- it's no match for a pen. (A fair note to Dell: yes, the tablet is tough, but that loopy, spring wire that keeps the stylus attached to the tablet? My cat went crazy for it.)

Other hardware features to note: There's a rear flash-enabled camera, which because of the tablet's weight was tricky to point, click, and shoot accurately, as well as built-in GPS for high-precision geolocation.

The tablet can be paired with a range of accessories; the best is a magnetically-attachable keyboard, which complements the tablet's rear stand, making it easier to handle in its "clamshell" mode. It's hard to think exactly where you would snap back the stand and start working anywhere, but the option is there.

Zack Whittaker/CNET

The keyboard is also rubberized and rugged, so it adds that extra layer of protection if it's dropped. The keyboard trackpad wasn't even close to par, but it's relegated to a minor annoyance when you have a touchscreen.

Bottom line

The chunky, overweight, and somewhat overkill approach to durability and security -- both in physique and data integrity -- bulk out the device to a point where general usability can suffer in the long term. The tablet won't win any awards for high-intensity app performance, so don't expect to be able to run games well.

But, if you're an adventurer (or are accident-prone), or your work takes you to some far-flung remote destination where any other tablet would struggle or suffer, this beasty tablet will keep you in business.

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