Chris Drage finds that Dell listened to schools for its Latitude 2100 netbook
The nifty Latitude 2100 from Dell is clearly aimed at education users and, for me, that looks like a sea change from a company that, I must confess, had always looked like a rival box-shifter to HP.
I remember when the Acorn laptop caused a stir in education in the late 1980s, when laptops were as innovative as the current netbooks. Today however, netbooks, as popular as ever, have settled into a fairly routine existence, sporting thin plastic shells, Intel Atom CPUs, Linux OS or Windows XP and 10-inch screens. Dell has taken these foundations and incorporated extra, unique features in its Latitude 2100 model (typical price from £200).
I wanted to get my hands on one of these ever since I saw them for the first time at BETT 2010 and finally I have. The first aspect that impressed me was its thick, rugged shell, with a rubber coating on the top of the lid and the bottom surface. I quizzed Dell to see if they were happy with it undergoing the DDT (Drage Drop Test from desk height) – and it did with flying colours.
The 2100 feels as though it could certainly stand up to the rigours of a full day in the classroom, or a rough trip in a bag. A plastic insert on the rear case is available in several colours so group or class/department sets can be easily identified. Another feature unique to the 2100 is a network activity light on the back of the lid – an aid for teachers to keep track of who may not be listening or concentrating in the classroom.
The keyboard is somewhat on the small side, but students should find it easy to type on while adults may struggle a bit until they get used to it. It features smaller, tapered-key design you don't see very often these days with netbooks. I found that the small touchpad is usable, but the tiny left and right mouse buttons beneath it feel a little flimsy. The 10.1-inch widescreen display offers a 1,024x576-pixel resolution, which is a little less than most netbooks where, on a small, low-resolution display, every little helps.
In use the Latitiude 2100 doesn’t set the world alight with its performance but then I wouldn’t expect it to – horses for courses. I would have preferred to see a brighter screen for outdoor use although this would obviously run the battery down more quickly. I was pleasantly surprised to find that in sensible, normal use I could get it to run for nearly five hours before the machine announced its low battery alert, so it could make it through a full day in the classroom.
'A machine created from listening and reacting to education users'
Its connectivity is very good too with all the usual ports a school requires including Ethernet LAN and WLAN. The review model came with Windows 7 (a breath of fresh air after Vista) but did not sport any specific software other than McAfee Security Scan plus. A quick download and install of Open Office and Mozilla Firefox provided me with all the tools necessary to put it to work immediately. You may need to consider purchasing an external USB optical drive if you intend to install educational software from disc. Network deployment of software shouldn’t prove a problem though.
What impresses me most about the Latitiude 2100 is the fact that here is a machine which Dell has created from listening and reacting to education users. OK, it has a small keyboard and some may consider it bulky and heavy for a netbook, but this is partly due to its rugged design. The rubber cover will help preserve its longevity.
Many of my reservations appear to have been answered in the new Latitude 2110 due to reach UK shores later this month (June) as part of Dell's Connected Classroom strategy (see 'Only connect – Dell ramps up services for schools'). With touch-screen and rotating screen capability and an anti-microbial keyboard, I think Dell may have a winner as it aims to build on its inroads into schools. Watch this space...
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 4
Value for money 4
Dell Latitude 2100 netbook
Robust netbook designed for classroom use, with 10-inch screen, 1Gb of memory, Atom processor, 80 Gb hard disc, webcam (touch screen for extra £21), 1-year collect-and-return warranty, price £200-£280. (Watch out for discounts when new model 2110 arrives in UK.)