As you would hope for a machine that’s designed to withstand a lot of rough handling, build quality throughout is excellent – in fact this is the most durable netbook we’ve come across bar perhaps HP’s Mini Notes, the business models of which have retained that amazing brushed-metal chassis despite upgraded internals.
As far as design goes, rather than looking like a children’s toy we’d call the 2100 industrial. This rugged, serious impression is enforced by its strong, aggressive lines and uniform, matte black insides with the blue-backlit power button and indicator icons.
The matte bezel surrounding the screen contains the optional webcam as well as surprisingly impressive (by netbook standards) speakers. Though inevitably on the tinny side when it comes to bass, the mid range is generally clear and they manage relatively high volume levels without significant distortion.
The 10.1in screen is yet another area where the Latitude 2100 stands out from the crowd. Admittedly, with HD screen options from almost every major netbook manufacturer including Acer, HP and of course Dell itself, the resolution of 1,024 x 576 is uninspiring to say the least and can’t be upgraded. However, for £12 (£20 including the webcam) you can opt for a resistive touch-screen, making the 2100 one of the very few non-tablet netbooks with touch-based inputs.
In our testing we found the screen’s touch functionality to be very sensitive and accurate once it was calibrated with the included application. By default the touch-display was an inaccurate mess, which isn’t ideal on a product where many of its potential users might not even realise that they need to go through a calibration process. After calibration it was easy to control and navigate Windows XP without resorting to the touchpad.
For an extra £25 you can get Vista Basic rather than XP, but our advice would be to always avoid Vista on a netbook. It’s also worth noting that you can save £24 by going for Ubuntu Linux, but only on the Education rather than Business model. Finally on the software front one can choose between Microsoft Office 2007 Basic, Small Business or Pro, but with prices starting at £99 it’s cheaper to buy the suites yourself (though you will need an external optical drive to install them).