First Look: Dell's Studying Pays Off With Latitude 2100

Like the Dell Mini 9, its first netbook launched last year, the Latitude 2100 runs on Intel's Atom processing platform and can be had in either Vista, XP or Ubuntu flavors. Like the earlier netbooks, the Latitude 2100 is priced at less than $400 to start. While our impression of the Mini 9 was that it was frustratingly slow for many general uses, Dell's adaption of the netbook platform to primary education has been nicely done.

At a glance (we had a chance to look briefly at a preproduction model a few days ago), the Latitude 2100 is a natural fit for schools. What is striking about Dell's game plan for the 2100 is how the company draws on a menu of technologies and features that have already been available and assembles them into a small, 3-pound device that appears innovative.

Those features, now wrapped in a package for schoolkids, provide:

Simple, touch-screen capability as an option. This would seem ready to support education applications that incorporate touch sensitivity for children.

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An optional anti-microbial keyboard that works to prevent the spread of bacteria and germs in netbooks that are shared between students.

A rubberized casing that acts as a sort of "book cover" for the netbook that also makes it easier to grip. Its texture is actually nice to the touch.

A "tattletale light"--on the outside of the netbook case-- that alerts teachers to when a student is connected to the Internet, without the teacher having to actually walk up to the student's netbook and personally take a look.

Dell is also making a simultaneous announcement of a mobile netbook station--the Dell Mobile Computing Station --that can house up to two dozen netbooks at a time inside a classroom, locking them for security. The computing station allows teachers to charge two dozen netbooks at the same time, and give VARs, MSPs or administrators the opportunity to run upgrades, patching and management all at once.

If a concern by VARs has been that netbooks are simply cheap pieces of hardware without much of an opportunity to add value, Dell's tailoring of the 2100 for schools and its introduction of the computing station should ease that concern.

Get ready for the Latitude 2100 to spawn other customized netbooks for markets like health care and more if it proves successful in the education vertical market.