Suddenly, it seems like everyone's trying to get in on the affordable educational laptop game. Not so long ago, we took a look at the new Intel Convertible Classmate initiative, which didn't have a specific product so much as a global push for manufacturing durable kid-oriented tablet Netbooks. The Dell Latitude 2100 also explored this territory last year.
HP has now entered the game too with the HP Mini 100e, a thick, ruggedized variation on their existing Netbook series. Its price seems to be one of the chief advantages, coming in at $299. Other products such as the Intel Classmate and last year's Dell Latitude 2100 have been priced a little more expensive.
With a 10-inch matte screen, a "spill resistant" keyboard, and an LED indicator on the back lid that lets teachers know whether kids are online or not (which could be a good or bad thing depending on the class), the Mini 100e also has a rugged though not retracting handle and various software programs pre-installed, ranging from Microsoft Office Starter to a basic PDF reader. The Mini 100e also comes with a modem in addition to Ethernet, in the event it's used in developing countries with older internet options. 802.11b/g Wi-Fi isn't automatically included; it's listed as optional. Available OS options include Windows 7 Starter, XP and SUSE Linux Enterprise 11.
The specs inside are largely Netbook standard: Atom N455 CPU, 1 GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. The Mini 100e can be fitted with either a three or six-cell battery. The keyboard is wide and 92% full-size, while the track pad was at least a little larger than on other budget Netbooks.
The unit felt reasonably sturdy if slightly heavy in our brief hands-on with a prototype. At about 3.2 pounds, it was a bit heavier than some Netbooks, but still easy enough to carry. Plain off-white matte plastic curved around the outer case, though HP also says a variety of customizations are possible with logos or colors. The Mini 100e will not be sold to general consumers, but will instead be available for institutional purchases.
$299 is certainly a reasonable price, though we wonder if we'd miss the potential usefulness of a touch-screen convertible tablet. The Mini 100e is expected to be available in July, just in time for the back-to-school rush.