Dell makes its first attempt at a designer ultraportable. (June 13th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Dell
Price: $1,999 (as tested $2,699)
- Extremely thin, well-crafted design.
- Much more expansion than MacBook Air.
- Attractive LCD.
- Solid-state drive as standard.
- Dell Dock a useful software add-on.
- Just too expensive for the performance.
- Short battery life; battery pack isn't replaceable.
- Multi-touch implementation more maddening than helpful.
- A full pound heavier than competitors.
- Fan is often too loud.
More PC builders these days are opting for 16:9 displays both because of production necessities (many of their contractors are switching en masse) but also because they're aiming for a more cinematic effect, whether or not the computer in question can play movies. It's likely a combination of both that has driven Dell to opt for a 13.4-inch, 1366x768 display instead of the slightly smaller, but taller, 13.3-inch 1280x800 display of the Air and many other 13-inch notebooks. This cuts down on the amount of vertical resolution available, but in practice we don't mind; the wide aspect is better for putting a small app like a messaging contact list or a Twitter client alongside the browser without overlap. Frequent flyers may also like that the dimensions are easier to handle in an economy seat on an airliner.
Color-wise, the LCD is fairly (though not spectacularly) vivid and, befitting the LED backlighting, bright. Only the viewing angles suffer. They're clearly a step up from truly poor panels in the same size category, but veering more dramatically from a head-on view still quickly shows inverted or washed-out colors. We wouldn't see it as a major flaw since few ultraportable owners are liable to view the screen from anything but a head-on lap or desk perspective.
The chief weakness is in Dell's choice of a glossy glass cover and its particular amount of glare. Trying to use the Adamo in bright sunlight was all but impossible until we found just the right angle. It seemed noticeably worse than for a 13-inch aluminum MacBook (now MacBook Pro), which can sometimes suffer from the same problem but seems more tolerant of this. Again, this isn't fatal to the Adamo, but it does reduce the computer's utility.
multi-touch and built-in software
Dell makes much ado of the Adamo being one of its earliest non-netbook designs to have a multi-touch trackpad. With software in place, it's possible to swipe to navigate or to pinch in and out for zoom. In theory, this is a tremendous help; in reality, it's irritating. The software that enables multi-touch is extremely sensitive and, in our experience, regularly misinterpreted single-touch movement on the trackpad as a multi-touch gesture. Whether this is a flaw in the software as we used it or something endemic to the trackpad itself, it's hard to say, but in either circumstance we had little choice but to disable multi-touch to use the system properly.
Thankfully, trackpad edge scrolling and tap-to-click work very well, although we'd note that Apple's two-finger omnidirectional scrolling is still the best we've seen.
Outside of this, the Adamo's primary software inclusion is Dell Dock. A slightly rebranded and customized version of Stardock's ObjectDock, it provides a (not coincidentally) Mac OS X-like row of icon shortcuts to either individual apps or their sub-categories, like Internet and music apps. ObjectDock has its fans in the enthusiast community and we're glad to see this pushed into the mainstream; it's much quicker and cleaner than using either the Start menu or regular desktop shortcuts. It can also be customized and so isn't locked into official Microsoft apps in the way that other utilities tend to be.
Dell Video Chat is less useful. It's intended to present a friendly face for video conversations, but it's always felt redundant when we've used it before. Most users are more likely to already use the interface Windows Live Messenger or Skype has for video chats, and anyone who uses an IM client that Video Chat doesn't recognize (such as Google Talk) simply doesn't have a choice in the matter.