Microsoft set the stage for a battle against Chromebooks when it released Windows 11 SE late last year, and now the troops have arrived in the form of low-cost laptops designed for students.
Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Dell, and HP all announced today new budget notebooks running on the cloud-based version of Windows 11. These devices, which will join the Surface Laptop SE, were built specifically for K-8 classrooms, a market owned by Chrome OS but one seeing declining sales in recent months.
Microsoft knows it’s late to the game and is clearly hoping the simultaneous launch of some dozen education-focused laptops will help its fledgling OS make up some ground. While the success of Windows 11 SE isn’t guaranteed—as past spinoffs of Windows have proven—this new fleet of laptops gives educators a range of options to consider and put up against the robust portfolio of Chromebooks.
Now, let’s talk about those choices. HP, the leading Chromebook vendor, is debuting the ProBook Fortis G9, a 14-inch notebook with a 1080p anti-glare display, Wi-Fi 6 support, and a 3.7-pound chassis with textured surfaces to prevent it from slipping out of small hands. If it does, the laptop has “reinforced corners” and rubber trim. The keyboard is also spill-proof so teachers won’t have to worry about those unavoidable accidents.
HP is releasing an 11-inch model as well as a Chromebook version of the Fortis.
Acer is going small with the TravelMate Spin B3, an 11-inch convertible laptop whose main highlight is military-grade durability. That just means it passed a handful of tests that ensure it can withstand harsh conditions, like those in a grade school classroom. This device runs on Intel Pentium Silver or Celeron processors and promises 10 hours of battery life.
Asus is also getting into the game with the memorably named BR1100F, an 11.6-inch laptop with an optional touchscreen. This one might be good for an art class because it comes with stylus support and has a 2-in-1 design for use as a tablet. It, too, has a rubberized chassis and can be equipped with 4G LTE connectivity. Most interesting, perhaps, is Asus’s claim that this has a modular design so it’s easy to service the cover, keyboard, touchpad, and palm rest.
Several other laptops are either adding Windows 11 SE as an option to existing devices or launching new products. Dell’s Latitude 3120 and Latitude 3120 2-in-1 have new chassis with 11-inch panels and are powered by Intel Celeron and Pentium processors. Like the others, they have textured front and back covers and use scratch-resistant glass, though teachers shouldn’t put too much confidence in those claims.
With these new laptops, Microsoft is flexing long-running partnerships with PC makers to put pressure on Google. But to really compete against Chrome OS, Microsoft will need to convince educators and IT admins that Windows 11 SE isn’t just another watered-down version of Windows, but a purpose-built OS made to be as responsive, cost-effective, secure, and easily managed as the platform they’re almost certainly already using.