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Dell Unveils Rugged Laptop For Education

Dell's lineup for education now includes Chrome OS, Android, and Windows.

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Dell on Thursday announced the Latitude 13, an education-geared notebook built to withstand the knocks and tumbles to which kids often subject their devices. With the new announcement, Dell's products for students now range from Chromebooks to Windows 8.1 convertibles to Android tablets to Windows 7 laptops -- a variety with which the newly private company hopes to combat the falling PC market.

Starting at $539 and available immediately, the Latitude 13 offers a 13.3-inch 1366-by-768-pixel screen, up to 8 GB of RAM, and processor options that range from an Intel Celeron Dual Core chip all the way to a Core i5. Buyers can choose between Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 configurations, as well as touch and non-touch options, the latter of which includes scratch-resistant screens protected by Corning Gorilla Glass.

The device includes a rubberized trim and sealed keyboard to help it survive inevitable spills in the cafeteria. The lid offers more than 180 degrees of motion, which Dell says not only makes the hinge more durable, but also allows the notebook to be laid flat, potentially lending touch-equipped models to tablet-like classroom collaboration scenarios. The back of the screen features an LED that lights when the Latitude is online, alerting teachers to any students who might be checking Facebook instead of taking lecture notes.

The Dell Latitude 13 notebook can lie flat thanks to screen hinges that support more than 180 degrees of motion.
The Dell Latitude 13 notebook can lie flat thanks to screen hinges that support more than 180 degrees of motion.

Dell offers two battery options: a 4-cell battery that should make it through the school day, or a 6-cell battery that goes longer between charges. Depending on the battery and screen configuration, the Latitude weighs between 3.7 and 4.3 pounds. It includes USB, HDMI, Ethernet, and Mini DisplayPort connections, as well as an SD card slot and an HD webcam. It is not available with an optical drive. However, buyers can upgrade from the base 500-GB conventional hard drive to various SSD options. Dell offers the notebook with its management and security add-ons, including Dell Data Protection.

Dell also announced its Mobile Computer Cart, which can hold up to 30 netbooks, ultrabooks, or tablets. The company said the cart is compatible with non-Dell brands and should support most devices with screens up to 14 inches. It is available with an optional upgrade kit that allows schools to dock devices to Ethernet connections and power sources, enabling overnight IT updates and potentially simplifying device maintenance. It will be available in April for $799 for the basic version and $3,999 including the upgrade kit.  

Dell's new Mobile Computer Cart for schools can hold and charge up to 30 devices.
Dell's new Mobile Computer Cart for schools can hold and charge up to 30 devices.

In the months since founder and CEO Michael Dell took the company private, Dell has announced a number of cloud partnerships intended to bolster its identity as an enterprise services provider. Heading into the buyout, however, Dell's revenues still relied disproportionately on its PC business. The research firm IDC forecast this week that PC shipments, which declined an unprecedented 9.8% in 2013, will fall 6% this year.  

[Google Chromebooks are more popular than you might think. Read Where Are All The Chromebooks?]

By focusing on education, a market in which there is reliable demand for PCs, Dell could bring some balance to its device efforts. But even in classrooms, the landscape is changing; Windows is no longer the only operating system customers care about, and device preferences range from tablets to two-in-one convertibles to conventional laptops. For that reason, Dell has diversified its lineup for schools, which includes recently introduced models such as its Chromebook 11 notebook and Venue and Venue Pro tablets, as well as accessories ranging from attachable keyboards for the Venue Pros to the new Mobile Computer Cart.

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
3/6/2014 | 4:53:45 PM
I wonder what Microsoft's reaction was to the Chrome OS option.
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/6/2014 | 4:49:45 PM
Re: Rugged?
Certainly not as rugged as the ones built for field use, but Dell says they meet military drop specifications, so it sounds like the new notebooks should take a decent beating. I've never taught a class of computer-toting elementary school students, so I'm not sure how often devices get damaged, and how important the extra durability is. Ruggedness is certainly a factor to consider, but if I were buying for a one-to-one classroom deployment, I'm not sure it's the first thing I'd prioritize. But as the article mentions, that's why Dell is also selling Chromebooks and several different kinds of tablets.
Thomas Claburn
IW Pick
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
3/6/2014 | 4:42:49 PM
Is it really "rugged" or is it just less easily broken than the typical laptop? I'd like to see a line of "fragile" or "dainty" laptops for high tea.
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