by Jerry Jackson
Almost every school around the globe is looking for a durable, ultraportable laptop that can survive use and abuse in the classroom, and Dell promises they have the perfect solution in the form of the new Latitude 2100 netbook. The first Latitude netbook offers a low-cost answer to the specific needs of K-12 students, teachers and school administrators. We spent a few weeks testing the Latitude 2100 to see if it indeed is the perfect classroom companion.
Dell Latitude 2100 Specifications:
Build and Design
The Dell Latitude 2100 is the first netbook from the Latitude family of business PCs and the first "serious" netbook we've seen that is so clearly focused on education. Dell claims its designers worked closely with hundreds of students, teachers, parents and administrators to create an education netbook that focuses on helping students learn. It's a little too early to tell whether schools will start filling their classrooms with Latitude 2100 netbooks, but this tough little laptop certainly has a lot going for it. The rugged, rubber-coated exterior, antimicrobial keyboard, and optional solid state drives should survive everything from a messy kindergartner to an accidental drop off the desk by a teacher.
Dell even found a way to help teachers make sure students are paying attention in class. A Network Activity Light on the top edge of the lid helps teachers monitor network use and identify students who may be surfing the Internet. The light stays constantly lit when the netbook is on and a web browser is closed, but the light begins flashing if a student opens a web browser or chat application ... so teachers can instantly see who needs to spend some extra time in detention. (Attention students: There's no easy way to disable the network activity light ... not even in the BIOS. Dell actually wants you to pay attention to your teacher.)
Our review unit of the Latitude 2100 features "School bus gold" exterior, but Dell also offers the Latitude 2100 in Chalkboard black, Schoolhouse red, Blue ribbon, and Ballfield green ... almost every color needed to promote your school colors. Build quality is quite good thanks to thick plastic construction and the thick rubber armor covering the top and bottom of the chassis. The matte black plastics used around the screen, keyboard, and palmrests show only minimal flex under heavy pressure. You can create ripples across the screen by pressing on the back of the screen lid, but other than that the Latitude 2100 feels rock solid. The keyboard is very firm and the screen hinges provide excellent tension. Sure, the design is thick and heavy for a netbook, but this bad boy will survive abuse that would probably break other netbooks. In short, this certainly doesn't feel like a $400 laptop.
The bottom of the netbook chassis shows a clean design with no easy access panels. Since the base of the netbook also doesn't have vent holes the rubberized bottom of the netbook keeps the internal components safe from spills in the classroom or at home. If the school IT manager wants to upgrade the RAM or hard drive they will have to remove the entire bottom of the netbook. That said, most schools will purchase extended service agreements from Dell for any repairs or upgrades ... so this shouldn't be an issue.
Screen and Speakers
The Dell Latitude 2100 uses a nice and bright 10.1-inch LED-backlit display panel with a 1024 x 576 native resolution. This is a little less that the standard 1024 x 600 resolution seen on most 10-inch netbooks, but the difference isn't particularly noticeable. Our review unit includes the optional touchscreen which has a semi-gloss surface similar to the screens used on most dedicated GPS devices. Vertical viewing angles are average, with obvious color inversion when viewing from below and some over-exposed colors when viewed from above. Horizontal viewing angles are okay but colors start to shift at wide viewing angles (possibly a result of the touchscreen layer).
The screen might not look special compared to every other 10-inch netbook on the market, but the optional touchscreen is a first for an education netbook and makes the Latitude 2100 something new for enhanced student interaction and easier special education teaching. The resistive touchscreen provides good accuracy, but the limited resolution of the 10-inch screen makes it a bit difficult for large fingers to move the cursor to small icons or specific lines of text on the screen. Unlike the ASUS Eee PC T91 netbook tablet that we recently reviewed, the Dell Latitude 2100 doesn't come pre-loaded with software that takes advantage of the touchscreen interface. In other words, you can touch the screen rather than use the touchpad or a mouse, but Dell doesn't include any useful applications to make the touchscreen interface more useful. I also can't help but question the usefulness of a touchscreen that cannot rotate into a tablet orientation for writing on the screen or for simplified Touchscreen use.
The built-in speaker performance on the Latitude 2100 is acceptable for a netbook but isn't particularly impressive. The built-in stereo speakers are located on both sides of the screen and are in the perfect position to direct sound toward the user. That said, audio quality is rather average with good highs but very little bass. The speakers get loud enough to fill a room with sound, but distortion starts to become obvious at higher volume levels and music sounds like it's being played from inside a tin can. On the bright side, the audio output from the headphone jack is good when paired with earphones or a good set of external speakers.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The 2100 uses a new keyboard that feels like a strange hybrid of the keyboard on the Dell Mini 10 netbook and the keyboards on the older D-series Latitudes. The antimicrobial keyboard surface features a nice textured finish that makes typing easy and enjoyable. The key size and spacing might be a little small for adult hands, but younger students should have no problems typing school papers or emails to teachers on this keyboard. The keyboard is nice and firm with zero flex.
Dell was kind enough to include dedicated volume up, volume down, and mute buttons so students (and teachers) can easily adjust the volume for webcasts or video presentations. The power button also serves as a quick Windows shutdown key, but that might prove problematic from time to time since there's no way to stop the PC from shutting down if you accidentally press the power button.
The Dell touchpad used on the 2100 is a little small, but that's pretty common for 10-inch netbooks. Still, I feel like the touchpad could have been larger if Dell moved the volume and power buttons up and shifted the position of the keyboard up just a little. Despite the small size the matte touchpad texture feels fine and offers good sensitivity and smooth movement. The touchpad buttons have relatively deep feedback with cushioned clicks.
Input and Output Ports
The port selection on the Latitude 2100 is pretty basic, but perfectly sufficient for student needs. This netbook includes three USB 2.0 ports, VGA out, Ethernet, microphone and headphone jacks, and even a 3-in-1 media card slot. One surprisingly cool feature is the inclusion of two security lock slots. This allows schools to secure the netbooks to a computer lab on either side or attach a handle/strap for students to carry the netbook between classes.
Here is a quick tour around the Dell Latitude 2100:
more than 100 focused websites providing quick access to a deep store of
news, advice and analysis about the technologies, products and processes crucial
to the jobs of IT pros.
All Rights Reserved, Copyright 2000 - 2013, TechTarget | Read our Privacy Statement