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Dell Adamo: a bulldozer in a boutique?

LaptopLuxury goods will continue to sell, even in the depths of an economic recession. As they say in the restaurant business, people still need to eat. But we're less familiar with products aimed at the overtly affluent within the PC world.

Dell has taken aim at the richer laptop buyer with its Adamo notebook computer. It's no ordinary machine, with pretensions of desirability well beyond those of a bog-standard laptop. And, as Dell's marketers know, the element of desire is the Adamo's trump card. After all, in terms of specs, it does nothing that a laptop half the price couldn't do just as well.

Dell Adamo review
Apple MacBook Air review

Apple has traditionally been the company accused of placing style over substance, and its MacBook Air provided the inspiration for Dell's Adamo. At first glance a wide netbook with a premium price tag, the Air proved to be surprisingly desirable - and on technical and price grounds as well an aesthetic level.

Whereas other slim-and-light laptop manufacturers are using low-power 1.2GHz or 1.4GHz CPUs, Apple has slotted in a fast 1.86GHz processor. And while those laptops run anaemic Intel graphics chips, the Air capitalises on an nVidia card. Its chassis milled from alloy feels all of a piece, rather than cobbled from bits of plastic. In short, I found the Air to be far and away the most desirable ultraportable in its category - and that's without figuring in the Mac's less troublesome operating system.

Dell, too, is trying to whip up some excitement for a highly priced laptop, explicitly playing the style, desire and design cards. But it's trying just a bit too hard. Do people prize luxury clothes because the designer says he makes the coolest dresses? No. They wait for the style press and the fashion world's movers and shakers to start fawning over the new creations first.

Maybe this explains why the UK computer press has struggled to get hold of an Adamo Admire (entry-level, from £1,649) or Adamo Desire (from £2,249) for review. After all, we just care about specs and ports, right? Or finding a netbook for just £249, since spending any more on a laptop is a futile exercise in catwalk posturing.

That's not necessarily so, but I do question the bulldozer-in-a-boutique approach that Dell's adopting for this new range. It's certainly quite at odds with the value-first background of the Texan computer giant.

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