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Dell Latitude 2100 review

Verdict

Expensive, but a robust chassis and touchscreen option make it a good choice for classroom use

Review Date: 29 Jul 2009

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £329 (£378 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
3 stars out of 6

Dell has been on board the netbook express for a while now, but its products have had mixed success. We liked its first - the Mini 9 - with its dinky dimensions and curvy profile, but were less keen on the Mini 10 and its horror of a touchpad. The Mini 12 we found sluggish to use. Dell has now added to the line-up with the business and education-focused Latitude 2100, which takes about as different a tack as it's possible for a netbook to take.

This isn't a product designed with the consumer in mind. It's large for a 10in netbook, measuring 43mm thick, and weighs a little more than we'd like at 1.32kg. Yet despite all this it isn't an unattractive device. The lid features an embossed rubberised finish (available in a number of bright colours at a £16 exc VAT premium) and is capped with a subtle white light, set into the front edge.

Open up the 2100, and though the matte-black plastic finish is far from luxurious it does exude a certain appropriateness. We can imagine it being used in a classroom and still looking good after a couple of terms. And that robust feel extends to the rest of the chassis.

Try to twist and poke the screen and you'll find remarkably little give, thanks to the resilient plastic backing and a thick, 2.5mm coating of solid rubber (not simply soft-touch plastic). Together they feel well up to the job of protecting the E2100's 10.1in 1,024 x 576 resolution panel. The base is covered with rubber as well, the hinges feel like they'll last, and the 2100's solidity extends to the keyboard, which has a very firm feel to it. For classroom use we'd like to have seen further rugged features added - such as drop protection for the hard disk and a spill-resistant keyboard - but the Latitude 2100 is more robust than most netbooks we've come across, including the education-specific Classmate PC.

The keyboard is where things begin to go wrong, though. The keys feel too small, and the key action is a little too light for comfortable typing at speed. And we're none too keen on the proximity of the touchpad to the keyboard. We found ourselves constantly brushing it while typing, and frustratingly there's no way of switching it off.

There is an alternative to using the touchpad - the screen, which on our review model was touch-enabled. It's fine for manipulating large buttons and icons, and we're sure kids will take to it straight away. However, with no stylus, selecting, clicking and navigating through Windows Vista Basic's menus and options screens can be a little fiddly.

The touch overlay inevitably dulls the vibrancy of the LED backlit screen, with the result that the 2100's colours look knocked-back and wan, and whites a little greyish and grainy, compared to the best netbooks on the market. The touchscreen is an option, fortunately, although cutting it out doesn't represent a huge saving at £12 exc VAT.

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