Dell sees its Latitudes as the Swiss army knife of laptops. But the market is evolving, and the multihued, kid-friendly Dell Latitude 2100 netbook models are the latest attempt to appeal to a younger crowd.

Dell is aiming to market the Dell Latitude 2100 at students and schoolchildren - and the 2100 certainly looks like it's built for that group. The spine of the netbook (the outside back of the battery) has a little plastic strip for personalising the machine. It comes in a number of candy colours. And it's rubberised.

Being purpose-built for education, these portables need to be relatively kid-proof, if not bulletproof (hey, children do have a habit of breaking things). So how does Dell intend to target the education market? Start with the Dell Latitude 2100's textured, rubberised casing. However, while the coating does resemble that of a playground ball, you shouldn't go kicking this thing around. "Ruggedised" doesn't exactly mean rugged.

Another trick to targeting the market is making sure that the kids are paying attention in class, and having a fully functional netbook in front of them is only asking for trouble. At the top centre of the Dell Latitude 2100's lid is a strip light. It's an indicator for network activity - supposedly ideal for when a student starts drifting off in class and tries going online when he or she shouldn't.

But for now, at least, the Dell Latitude 2100 won't start flashing or anything if the young user tries entering the internet's "red light" district. Dell is tinkering with the idea of specific colours and flashing patterns to help indicate what the child is doing, but at the moment it's just a basic light.

A simple resistor, one-point touchscreen (with a 1024 by 576 native resolution) is meant to cater to easy browsing, but a plain old screen is also available with the Dell Latitude 2100.

Kids also have a habit of making a mess. You can clean the Dell Latitude 2100's screen, according to Dell, by regular means (don't grab a sponge or dunk it in a bucket, though), and an antimicrobial keyboard option helps prevent the spread of germs.

Otherwise, underneath the childish exterior is a fairly typical netbook. The basic Dell Latitude 2100 sports the Intel 1.6GHz Atom N270 CPU, 512MB of RAM, a 16GB solid-state drive, and your choice of Windows Vista Home Basic (for the foolhardy), Windows XP, or the Ubuntu flavour of Linux. It also offers options such as a webcam, upgrading to 802.11n, and Bluetooth. (An optical drive is, of course, an external option.)

The Dell Latitude 2100 netbook weighs approximately 1.32kg and measures 265x187x22.5-39.9mm. And if you don't want your kids lugging that around, Dell proposes a solution for your school: a custom-designed computer carrying cart to slot-load and store 24 netbooks. It automatically plugs into charging and networking slots. In one nice touch, Dell builds a wireless router and switch right into the cart.

You probably don't have to manage a school, of course - just one or a few kids. Dell is selling the new Latitudes individually starting at £298 with Ubuntu Linux, a 16GB solid-state drive, and a three-cell battery.

Dell Latitude 2100: Specs

  • Intel Atom N270 (1.60 GHz, 512KB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB)
  • Windows Vista Home Basic SP1/XP Home SP3 available via downgrade rights, Ubuntu Linux version 8.10
  • Intel 945 GS Express Chipset
  • 10.1in WSVGA (1280 x 576) LED Display
  • Touchpad, Optional touchscreen
  • Up to 1GB DDR2 RAM (total memory up to 2GB), 800MHz
  • Solid State Drives up to 16GB, 5400rpm Hard Drives up to 250GB
  • Intel Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950
  • 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet
  • Wireless LAN (a/g/n)
  • Dell Wireless 365 Bluetooth 2.1
  • Dual Kensington Lock Slots
  • Optional 8X DVD±RW/±R External USB 2.0 Rewritable Drive
  • 2 speakers, digital microphone, optional VGA camera
  • 3-in-1 card reader
  • USB 2.0 (x3), VGA, headphone/speaker out, mic
  • 3-cell or 6-cell "Smart" Lithium-Ion Primary battery
  • 65W AC Adaptor featuring cord wrapping
  • 265x187x22.5-39.9mm
  • 1.32kg
  • Intel Atom N270 (1.60 GHz, 512KB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB)
  • Windows Vista Home Basic SP1/XP Home SP3 available via downgrade rights, Ubuntu Linux version 8.10
  • Intel 945 GS Express Chipset
  • 10.1in WSVGA (1280 x 576) LED Display
  • Touchpad, Optional touchscreen
  • Up to 1GB DDR2 RAM (total memory up to 2GB), 800MHz
  • Solid State Drives up to 16GB, 5400rpm Hard Drives up to 250GB
  • Intel Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950
  • 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet
  • Wireless LAN (a/g/n)
  • Dell Wireless 365 Bluetooth 2.1
  • Dual Kensington Lock Slots
  • Optional 8X DVD±RW/±R External USB 2.0 Rewritable Drive
  • 2 speakers, digital microphone, optional VGA camera
  • 3-in-1 card reader
  • USB 2.0 (x3), VGA, headphone/speaker out, mic
  • 3-cell or 6-cell "Smart" Lithium-Ion Primary battery
  • 65W AC Adaptor featuring cord wrapping
  • 265x187x22.5-39.9mm
  • 1.32kg

OUR VERDICT

The child-oriented Dell Latitude 2100 netbook is certainly a neat idea and is decently executed, but is it rugged enough to rise to the occasion?

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