Dell offers its first multitouch rugged laptop

The Latitude XT2 XFR is also the company's thinnest and lightest rugged laptop

Dell on Tuesday started shipping its first rugged laptop with a multitouch display, which can operate in extreme environments and withstand drops, dust and spills.

The Latitude XT2 XFR is also the company's thinnest and lightest rugged touch-screen laptop, the company said. The laptop measures 1.2 inches (38.1 millimeters) at its thinnest point, and weighs 5.4 pounds (2.45 kilograms) with a four-cell battery and solid-state drive.

Dell already offers a rugged single-touch-screen laptop, the Latitude E6400 XFR, which has a 14.1-inch screen and weighs 8.5 pounds (3.87 kilograms).

The Latitude XT2 XFR laptop, priced starting at US$3,599, comes with a 12.1-inch four-finger-input multitouch display that can be used to record data, manipulate images, zoom into maps or scroll through documents. The screen has a protective layer so that it resists impact damage.

The laptop is designed to meet the U.S. military's MIL-810G standards, which define a minimum set of conditions under which such laptops can operate.

The laptop can withstand rain and a 3-foot (30.48 centimeters) drop and will operate in temperatures ranging from -10 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 degrees Celsius) to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). The screen also can be flipped for use like a tablet PC.

Touch and stylus interfaces could help field workers such as sales and service technicians complete forms, create status reports or obtain customer signatures, said Jeremy Bolen, a Dell spokesman.

"Touch screens come in very handy in patrol cars and service vehicles where users can easily interact with the system without it becoming a distraction, unlike a keyboard or mouse," Bolen said.

"Essentially, touch makes data accessible and collection faster in many cases."

Companies like Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard are shipping PCs with multitouch displays for businesses.

The laptops are designed to input or retrieve customer data or manipulate objects that require higher levels of precision, such as sharply edged images in engineering and design applications.

Dell's laptop is powered by an Intel ultra-low-voltage Core 2 Duo SU9600 chip, which runs at 1.6GHz and includes 3MB of cache. It supports up to 5GB of RAM with solid-state drive storage of up to 160GB.

With a six-cell battery the laptop can run for up to six hours. The laptop includes multiple wireless communications options including Wi-Fi networking, mobile broadband options and GPS.

The laptop comes with Microsoft's Windows Vista OS for now, but the recently released Windows 7 will be added as an option "very soon," Bolen said.

The XT2 XFR has started shipping in U.S., Canada, France, Spain, the U.K., Germany and Italy, Bolen said. Dell did not immediately comment on worldwide availability.

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