Microsoft announces $189 classroom laptops and Office 365 dictation

Microsoft wants to keep the next generation of computer users familiar with its products as mobile devices become increasingly valid options for more use cases. Apple has always been Microsoft's competitor in the educational sector, and now the company must also do battle with Google's Chromebook platform in the classroom. The software juggernaut from Redmond took a moment today to announce some new inexpensive portable machines from its manufacturing partners and publicize some of its efforts at creating software especially for young minds. The company announced a pair of Windows laptops starting at $189 and a second duo of 2-in-1 devices at less than $300 each.

Lenovo 100e notebook

Two of the new machines come from well-known manufacturer Lenovo. The 100e notebook carries an Intel Apollo Lake Celeron as its beating heart. The $279 300e has a touchscreen, pen support, and a 360° hinge that allows it to be used as a laptop or a bulky tablet. The other pair of machines announced today come from lesser-known maker JP, a company Microsoft calls one of its "largest partners in emerging markets." JP will offer up the Classmate Leap T303 with Windows Hello for $199 and the Trigono V401 2-in-1 with pen and touch input for $299. Microsoft didn't provide any details about the hardware in any of the machines beside the Lenovo 100e or what software they'd be using, but we suspect they might be based on Intel Apollo Lake or Gemini Lake SoCs and run the Windows 10 S operating system.

The machines from Lenovo and JP join two existing options from HP. All six machines are spill-resistant and have rugged chassis to handle the rigors of classroom use. The computers have what Microsoft claims to be "long battery life" and wireless connectivity to prevent classroom floors covered with extension cords and networking cables.

JP Classmate Leap T303 with Windows Hello

Microsoft also announced a handful of software projects designed for young learners. Starting next month, the company will roll out a voice dictation feature in Office 365 to help struggling typists write more easily. The company is also expanding its OneNote Class Notebook software to include assignment and grade integration capabilities. Teachers will be able to lock pages as read-only after marking them with feedback. Microsoft also added PowerPoint features to make it easier for instructors to integrate interactive ink, video, and narrations to online Teams presentations.

 JP Trigono V401 2-in-1

On the STEM front, the software company announced several new computer science learning tools, a Minecraft: Education Edition add-on for chemistry lessons, and a partnership with the BBC to bring its Oceans: Blue Planet documentary series to classrooms and museums worldwide. Microsoft will also team up with Lego on software to help students learn the Pythagorean Theorem and develop and visualize transportation systems for a fictional island natural park.

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