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.
Dell has had a long history of ultraportables, but when Apple released the MacBook Air in early 2008, it underscored a wide gap in terms of design: while Latitudes have always been functional, they've rarely been alluring to home (or simply design-centric) users in the way the Air was. The Adamo 13 is Dell's attempt to rectify this with an ultra-slim profile and attention to quality. But is it a case of improving on what's come before or just a Latitude in better packaging?
design and expansion
There's little doubt that Dell's primary concern for the Adamo was its body shape. At 0.65 inches thick, it's one of the few Windows-based notebooks to truly be thinner than the MacBook Air. Some might argue that the Mac is thinner overall, but in a bag, it's that maximum dimension which counts. The consistently flat shape might not be as easy to hold but is better when fitted into a tightly packed case.
Perhaps the most important advantage Dell can claim is expansion -- namely, it exists. Apple's computer has just one USB port, no eSATA or FireWire, and no Ethernet without an adapter. The Adamo has a cleverly designed area behind the display hinge that is thick enough and sufficiently open enough to include an Ethernet jack as well as three USB ports, one of which doubles as an eSATA connector. Unlike its most obvious counterpart, the Adamo can be used as a primary computer without depending too heavily on USB hubs and adapters. And while we love Apple's LED Cinema Display, the full DisplayPort input does give Dell's machine a wider choice of monitors, at least for now.
In use, the notebook is very reassuring. We didn't encounter any of the build issues encountered by early testers, and the system was extremely sturdy. As you'd expect from an almost exclusively aluminum chassis, everything has a pleasing tactile feel and comes without any signs of flexing or creaking. The trackpad is also metal and produces a solid clicking action. Prospective buyers may want to opt for the Pearl (silver/white) model instead of Onyx (black), though: both are attractive, but Onyx is liable to show fingerprints and other smudges on the smoother top half of its lid.
The keyboard produces mixed if generally favorable impressions after extended use. With a 16:9 aspect ratio display to give Dell a large amount of room, the individual keys are very large and easy to strike with a short, satisfying amount of travel. They're also dynamically backlit and very handy in a dark meeting room. However, the layout is slightly odd, making some of the right-hand non-letter keys easier to reach. It takes a mild amount of retraining to adjust. We'd also add that the keys are slightly cheaper-feeling, albeit not enough to be a serious drawback.
Where the Adamo's construction struggles the most is in its weight. Despite being thinner than the MacBook Air, the Adamo is exactly one pound heavier and feels as much. It's not an extreme strain, but it's significant; why produce an ultraportable when it's almost as heavy as conventional notebooks? Even the Studio 14z is only slightly heavier and is potentially faster. Here's hoping Dell finds new building techniques that could reduce the weight, as some may rule out the Adamo based on the strain it could put on their shoulder on a long commute.