by Jerry Jackson
If you’re a student or a teacher and have been looking for a durable, ultraportable laptop for the classroom, Dell promises they have the perfect solution in the form of the new Latitude 2100 netbook. This low-cost, durable, and Internet-ready netbook was designed to meet the specific needs of K-12 students, teachers and school administrators, but is this really the perfect laptop for schools? We recently spent some hands-on time with the first Latitude netbook to find out if it’s as impressive as it sounds.
Dell designers worked closely with hundreds of students, teachers, parents and administrators to create an education netbook that focuses on helping students learn. With the Latitude 2100, students can access enhanced learning resources and digital content on a school network or via the Internet. As a result, the Latitude 2100 blends into student life, from lesson plans to homework, increasing time spent learning versus managing technology.
The 10.1-inch screen is large enough to get work done without taking up too much space in a crowded classroom. The screen might not look special compared to every other 10-inch netbook on the market, but an 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. We were impressed by the accuracy of the touchscreen in the pre-production unit we tested, but the limited resolution of the 10-inch screen makes it a bit difficult for large fingers to move the cursor to small icons on the screen.
The Latitude 2100 includes:
- Your choice of Windows XP Home, Windows Vista Home Basic or Ubuntu Linux
- Intel Atom processor (N270)
- 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity coupled with a full suite of wireless communication options
- 2.91lb (1.32kg) starting weight with 3-cell battery
- Standard hard disk drive or solid state drive for increased durability
- Three-cell or six-cell battery
- Three-in-one Media Card Reader
- Optional External DVD+/-RW via USB
- VGA port
- Clean bottom is vent-free to avoid any intrusion from spills
- Dual security lock slots for use with a standard cable lock or for a carrying strap
- Options: webcam and a keyboard featuring antimicrobial protection (U.S. only)
Port selection is pretty basic, but perfectly sufficient for student needs. Build quality is extremely impressive and this education-oriented notebook is easily the most rugged netbook we’ve ever held in our hands. The antimicrobial keyboard features reasonably large keys with good spacing and a nice textured finish that makes typing easy and enjoyable. The touchpad is a little small, but that’s pretty common for 10-inch netbooks. The touchpad buttons have relatively deep feedback with cushioned clicks. Dell even included dedicated volume up, volume down, and mute buttons so students and teachers can easily adjust the volume for webcasts or video presentations.
The “student-rugged” Latitude 2100 is designed to withstand the daily bumps and bruises of a crowded playground or backpack. Offered in five colors – School Bus Gold (yellow), Chalkboard Black, Ball Field Green, Blue Ribbon and Schoolhouse Red– the Latitude 2100 comes with a rubber casing, making it easy for big or little hands to grip the netbook. Since the base of the netbook doesn’t have vent holes rubberized bottom of the netbook keeps the internal components safe from spills in the classroom or at home.
The system is also available with a personalized window on the back of the battery pack where the school logo or name can be displayed, allowing schools to personalize or easily identify the owner of the netbook.
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 is or isn’t paying attention in class.
The rugged, rubber-coated exterior, antimicrobial keyboard, and durable solid state drives are clearly designed to handle use and abuse from students, and in their press materials Dell even went as far as to compare the Latitude 2100 netbook to products like the Latitude XT tablet and fully rugged Latitude E6400 XFR. Schools and businesses looking for a durable business-class netbook will likely be attracted to the Latitude 2100 for everything from student activities and employee training to order processing on location.
The durable design allows IT administrators to lower overall ownership cost because of a longer product life, but the Latitude 2100 was also designed with remote management in mind for easier administration and software updates. Coming soon in the U.S., the Latitude 2100 is available with a “Mobile Computing Station” — a cart to securely store, recharge, manage and network up to 24 Latitude 2100 netbooks with one Ethernet and power cord.
We will have a full review of the Latitude 2100 netbook, complete with performance benchmarks and battery life tests as soon as Dell can provide us with a production-level unit for testing. Be sure to check back with NotebookReview.com for a full review of this tough little laptop.