The Dell Latitude 2100 is a lot like a box of Froot Loops: It’s clearly meant for kids but also easily enjoyed (sometimes secretly) by adults.
The 2100’s most striking feature is the matte, rubber-like coating that envelops the netbook. Its grainy texture lets tiny, slippery fingers get a firm grip. It also repels dirt, grime and the occasional candy collision. When one get-gadget editor put it to the test by grinding a peanut M&M into the façade, we were able to brush the chocolate off with a quick swipe of a damp cloth.
This colorful, fun exterior sets the tone for the rest of the device. With most netbooks, the keyboard and trackpad usually amount to a crummy, cramped joke. Not in the Latitude 2100. Ironically, a netbook designed for kids has a generously proportioned keyboard for even plus-sized adult fingers. The buttons are well-spaced and there’s enough of the “clickety-clack” tactile feedback to make touch-typists happy.
The 10.1-inch display is bright and does well in both bright sunlight and under the harsh fluorescent lighting typically found in public school classrooms. And with the 80-GB hard drive there’s just enough storage space to toss in pictures, homework and maybe a Hannah Montana video or two.
Speaking of downloading Miss Montana, the Latitude 2100 also has a network-activity light built into the top of the lid. This small rectangle illuminates when you are connected to a Wi-Fi network or an ethernet connection. It also flickers (albeit weakly) when we browsed the net. The idea? Making sure kids are not surfing the internet when they should be working on a math problem.
But when the 2100 hits the interwebs, it does so with gusto. The Atom N270 processor and 1-GB memory lets the rig zip through YouTube clips and other video with fairly fleet-footed ease. Multitasking performance was about average compared to other netbooks. Though just 2.91 pounds, the Latitude 2100 feels stocky because of its design and the little bulge near the battery cave. But it’s light enough to be stuffed into backpacks and certainly weighs a lot less than a stack of textbooks.
The Latitude 2100 does well with its battery life — we got about six hours out of it with ease — and is quick to wake up from hibernation mode and resume wireless connectivity.
The 2100 also sports a limited (optional) touchscreen. With Microsoft XP’s staid user interface and (surfing, e-mail, chat, word processor) there’s not much use for it. Dell also has extras available for the netbook, such as a shoulder strap and an anti-microbial keyboard (perfect for germy little paws). Want to swap the colors on chassis? Yep, that also costs more.
But those are minor gripes. The 2100 is a fantastic netbook that would be a great addition to any classroom — or briefcase. Shhh, we won’t tell about the Froot Loop thing either.