Many school districts now offer students a dedicated laptop or tablet, but that makes for some major decisions on which platform and devices to offer. Laptop or tablet? Windows, OS X, iOS, Android or Chrome? Dell has many of these bases covered, at least for Windows, Android and Chrome products, with its new early 2015 lineup of devices for the education market.
The flagship is a new 11-inch Chromebook, which Dell says is designed to be "schoolyard tough," using a semirugged plastic chassis and Corning Gorilla Glass for its display. This model has the same name as the previous version, called the Dell Chromebook 11, but the new 2015 version has a hinge that opens a full 180 degrees, a Bay Trail-generation Intel Celeron platform, faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi and what Dell calls an "activity light" on the back of the lid.
That light, in the top right corner, can indicate if students are ready, raising their virtual hands to answer a question, or represent any meaning one wants to assign to its three available colors, which are controlled through an app. Previous Dell education systems have had a similar light, but it only indicated network activity.
Hands-on, the new Chromebook 11 felt solid, if slightly clunky when compared with slimmer consumer models. A touchscreen option is available, and potentially important for touch-compatible education software. This isn't a Chromebook you're going to go out and buy for yourself (and we're currently testing the Intel Core i3 version of Dell's consumer 11-inch Chromebook), but it's one you may conceivably see sometime soon if you have school-age children.
Besides the Chromebook 11, Dell also has a revamped rugged Windows laptop, called the Latitude 11, with a sealed, spill-proof keyboard (with touch and non-touch versions). A pair of 10-inch tablets round out the early 2015 Dell education push, with the Windows Venue Pro 10, using Intel's Bay Trail quad-core processors, and the Android Venue 10. Both have keyboard add-ons and an optional active stylus, and the Android version includes an NFC chip near-field connections.
The Dell Chromebook 11 starts at $249 in the US and is available starting today. It will also be available in what Dell calls "select countries around the world," but we don't yet have final price and region details. The other systems are coming in March, with prices to be determined.