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.
By far the most underwhelming aspect of the Adamo is what's inside. The company ultimately chose to use ultra-low voltage Core 2 Duo processors instead of the Core 2 Duo S chips found inside the MacBook Air. It consumes significantly less power and is part of what allows the extra-thin profile, but it's a decided step back in speed.
Most common tasks are actually very smooth and undistinguishable from when they're running on faster processors. However, the emphasis is on "common." Playing the near-HD quality videos on YouTube (a primarily CPU-intensive task) induces a subtle but occasionally noticeable stutter; 720p on Vimeo is just that less watchable. HD video playback in offline video formats like H.264 gets hardware acceleration from the Intel GMA 4500MHD chipset, but without a built-in (or bundled) Blu-ray drive, the likelihood this will be used is rather slim. Most modern 3D games are unsurprisingly off-limits, too, and leave the MacBook Air as, ironically, a better system for light 3D gaming or professional visual work.
Importantly, the PC is surprisingly noisy: even during regular web browsing, it wasn't uncommon to hear the fairly loud CPU fan spin up. The image of the system as elegant is somewhat lost when the cooling system shows that strain so quickly.
What saves the Adamo is its choice of a 128GB solid-state drive as the standard (in fact, only) storage choice. It's not startlingly quick, but load times were never an issue in a field where rotating hard drives are a weakness. Having said this, in-app tasks are often not affected by the SSD as much of what they need is cached in RAM rather than found only on the hard drive.
It should also be noted that these experiences were with the highest-end, $2,700 Adamo with a 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo and 4GB of RAM. We'd expect minor but noticeable performance drops using the base 1.2GHz, 2GB system; the SSD should at least prevent disk-to-memory transfers from making the RAM deficit especially evident on the cheaper model.
battery life and replaceability
The reason systems like either the Adamo or MacBook Air are possible is, ostensibly, that they have sealed-in batteries that can't be replaced in the field. Removing the latches and doors needed to safely expose the battery to the user increases the room for the battery itself. Both Dell and Apple claim 5 hours of battery life in ideal circumstances.
Neither system reaches that estimate in practice, but our tests suggest it's tangibly worse in practice. With only a very occasional amount of intense activity (such as YouTube or a large download), our example system netted between 2.5 and 3 hours of runtime with Bluetooth off, Wi-Fi on, and the screen free to automatically adjust brightness. For an ultraportable, this is fairly disappointing; the very point of an ultraportable is to always have it with you and working, and having battery life no better than an average netbook is not going to help persuade buyers.
Without the option of swapping batteries in the field, that's a potentially large liability. Dell will replace the battery if it fails, including under warranty, but it creates the risk of going without a computer for days at the end of the battery's useful lifecycle. Dell also doesn't have the luxury of a retail chain or dedicated resellers that can replace batteries in-store, as Apple does.