Dell's Latitude 2100 is designed specifically for school students, but it's available for everyone. It's the first netbook we have seen to feature a touch screen as well as a ruggedised case. It's a little heavier than a typical netbook, but it doesn't have atypical specifications for a netbook. It comes with an Intel Atom N270 CPU and a 10.1in screen. You can choose from a variety of configurations.
Check out our slideshow of the Dell Latitude 2100.
Windows XP, Windows Vista and Linux Ubuntu are all options for the Dell Latitude 2100, with the most inexpensive being the Linux Ubuntu unit. We tested the Windows XP version. The specifications of our model include a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU, integrated Mobile Intel 945GSE Express graphics (which share 8MB of system RAM), 1.5GB of DDR2 SDRAM and an 80GB, 5400rpm hard drive. It also came with a 6-cell battery, a webcam and a touch screen, although these are all optional.
The Dell Latitude 2100 can be configured with up to 2GB of DDR2 SDRAM (1GB is built-in to the motherboard and there is a slot for another module), and you can select from a conventional hard drive or a solid-state drive. You get three USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, a D-Sub port and an SD card slot. Our unit came with 802.11g wireless networking, but there is an option for 802.11n.
In our tests, the Latitude 2100 performed quite well. Its 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU took 7min 51sec to convert 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s, which is a shade faster than the MSI Wind U120, for example. Its hard drive recorded a file transfer time of 19.38 megabytes per second, which is a similar result to the MSI Wind U120 but faster than the ASUS Eee PC 1000H (which also has an 80GB drive).
You won't be able to use the Dell Latitude 2100 for advanced content creation, but it's fine for typing documents, performing basic image manipulation and browsing the Web. It will be slow when it comes to file encoding, any type of video work, or any photo manipulation more advanced than cropping and adjusting contrast or brightness.
The Latitude 2100 has a 10.1in screen. It's 26.5cm wide, 20cm deep, 5.8cm thick. The netbook weighs 1.6kg without its power supply (and with the 6-cell battery installed). This is slightly heavy for a netbook, but the extra weight is a result of the case's stiffened plastic (polycarbonate/acrylonitrile butadiene styrene or PC ABS) and rubberised panels (which use a material called elastomer). The rubberised panels are designed to prevent the unit from slipping out of students' hands, but we still managed to drop it. Thankfully, we dropped it above a carpeted floor and the unit wasn't actually switched on. Even though it fell about 1.5m and landed on one of its corners, it survived and booted up without any issues.
Its 6-cell battery lasted 4hr 27min in our video rundown test, which is a little less than the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE. We conducted the battery test at full brightness, in performance mode and with the wireless radio enabled. If you employ a power-saving scheme and turn down the brightness it might last longer, but that will depend on how much CPU power is required to run your applications.
The screen has a LED backlight and is very bright. It can be adequately viewed from the sides, but its vertical viewing angles are narrow; when viewed from too high up, the screen will look too pale. It has a relatively low native resolution of 1024x576, which means that many dialogue boxes won't have their OK and Cancel buttons visible (such as iTunes, for example). We would have liked a resolution of at least 1024x600, just to make it a little more comfortable for students.
The screen rests on L-shaped hinges and tilts back approximately 135 degrees until it rests on the battery. The netbook is well balanced in this position and won't fall off your lap. The 6-cell battery sticks out of the unit and acts as a gripping point when you carry the laptop with the screen closed, but you need to be careful when you open it because the screen will swing over the battery and jam your fingers between it and the battery. We don't think this is a good thing for a laptop designed for kids.
We like the touch screen option, which makes it easy to drag and drop files. It works best if you use your nails to navigate. Dell doesn't supply a stylus as it is just one more thing that can potentially get misplaced, but the company says that a rounded pen can be used instead. We used a rounded pen but found the accuracy to be inferior to using our fingers. The touch screen is most accurate in the middle, but you cannot use it to scroll Web pages, for example, as it is not responsive at the edges. You should calibrate the screen before you use it in order to make sure it's as accurate as possible.
Some of the school-specific features of the Latitude 2100 include an indicator light, window label, restricted access to the BIOS and a lack of bottom-panel vents. The indicator light sits at the top of the screen and can inform teachers if the wireless radio is on. It would be more useful if the light specifically showed when a student was accessing the Internet. Dell says that this functionality will eventually be available: the light will flash when the Internet is being used.
A sliding window on the battery can be used to attach labels to each netbook, which makes identifying them easier. There are no vents on the underside of the laptop, which minimises the risk of dust and lint being accumulated. Being a netbook for kids, the BIOS can't be directly accessed. When students press the F2 key to try and get in, they will be greeted with a system information screen, where they can see all the particulars of the hardware, but they won't be able to change anything.
The keyboard itself is a good size. It's approximately 26cm wide, and each key is 17mm wide, which is 1mm narrower than a regular laptop keyboard. This makes it quite a comfortable keyboard to type on. There aren't any awkwardly placed keys (such as the unconventional apostrophe key on the Dell Inspiron Mini 9) and the only undersized buttons are the function, arrow, tilde and page keys. The keyboard feels very solid, and it's spill-resistant. There are no drainage points, so you will need to tip the Dell Latitude 2100 upside down if you accidentally knock over your can of Coke.
The Latitude 2100 netbook lacks a keyboard light or backlit keyboard for using it in the dark, and there is no way to temper the bright blue LEDs for the power and volume buttons (they can get annoying in the dark).
After a long period of use, the Dell Latitude 2100 starts to get a little warm on its left side — where the CPU sits — and then eventually warms up towards the front. It gets a little uncomfortable after a while, but in cold weather it won't be too bothersome.
A couple of annoyances that we noticed are the draglock function, which is enabled by default, and the lack of an on-screen volume indicator. Draglock can be disabled through Dell's touchpad utility in the Control Panel. The touchpad can be disabled through there, too, which can be beneficial if it gets in your way when you type. The speaker volume can be controlled through the illuminated buttons above the keyboard, but there is no on-screen notification of changes to the volume level. Even the Caps Lock key gets its own on-screen display to inform you when it gets enabled or disabled.
The hard drive versions of the Latitude 2100 don't have any motion-sensing technology to park the hard drive heads when there is excessive movement. Nevertheless, these are minor grievances and overall the Dell Latitude 2100 is a decent netbook that should be bale to withstand some bumps and spills during its lifetime.