When Windows 10X was folded into Windows 11, Microsoft appeared to have avoided competing against Chromebooks in the budget and education laptop markets, but Microsoft was just still hard at work on the newly announced Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE.
The company announced both at its Reimagine event this week and the hardware and software represent impressive new offerings from Microsoft that could certainly sway some in the education market to adopt it over Google or Apple's options.
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Looking at the hardware first, the Surface Laptop SE's $250 price point is the biggest attention grabber but it has more going for it than that. The most compelling features aren't the specs though, it's the durability and repairability. The laptop not only has user-replaceable storage but according to Microsoft everything from the "display, battery, keyboard—even the motherboard—can be easily repaired onsite, saving time and money for IT admins and schools." That's a significant advantage compared to most modern laptops.
While the specs aren't anything to write home about, they aren't bad either. The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel display is about what you would expect in this price range and is combined with an Intel Celeron N4120 CPU, 4 or 8GB of RAM, and 64 or 128GB of storage that should be enough for the tasks that K-8 students are undertaking.
The 2.45-pound weight is reasonably portable and truly thin and light would compromise on durability and repairability. A 720p webcam ensures that remote learners will still be in on the action. The Surface Laptop SE also delivers the most critical ports with USB-A, USB-C, a headphone jack, and an AC charging port. Wireless connectivity includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0.
The hardware is just the gateway to Windows 11 SE, the real star of the show. This takes Windows 11 and strips out a lot of unnecessary extras to improve accessibility for kids, while also making it far more manageable for teachers and school IT admins. The operating system is streamlined for devices like the Surface Laptop SE to deliver excellent performance and battery life on even lower-end hardware. The full-screen app launches also make the operating system less confusing for younger learners.
For the teachers and IT admins, features like Microsoft Intune for Eduction make managing entire classrooms (or schools) of Windows 11 SE laptops possible with app installations, user profiles, and files all accessible through the cloud. Microsoft Office including OneDrive and Teams are all of course present as well, serving as a gateway to students using Microsoft products in the future.
It's a strong offering from Microsoft, but we'll need to see if it can make a dent in the overwhelming lead that Google's Chrome OS and Chromebooks have in the education market currently.