A laptop with a sexy design, and a high price, the Dell Adamo is aimed squarely at potential Apple MacBook Air purchasers

Dell's luxury notebook, the Dell Adamo, is plucky - we'll give it that. The up-and-comer packs on ports... and takes some not-so-subtle jabs at Apple's MacBook Air.

Neither company entirely positions their ultraslim ultraportable as a high-performance hot rod. And both of them sacrifice optical drives to stay lean and mean. And they're both expensive - in the case of the Dell, very expensive.

Unusually for the value-oriented brand, Dell is not promoting the Dell Adamo in the UK to regular notebook users. It seems to be aiming more towards affluent style merchants. No review samples were available, we were told, as Dell was looking beyond traditional marketing.

Instead, it's chosen to concentrate on ‘other areas of marketing' to get its message across for this luxury lifestyle product. So we turned to our colleagues in the US at PC World magazine, to hear of their experiences with a sample of the elusive Dell Adamo.

Imitation - sincere flattery?

Since it first showed up on the scene, Apple has updated the MacBook Air by providing even better processors and an honest-to-goodness graphics card, nVidia's GeForce 9400M. That means, and in stark contrast to your typical ultraportable, it can actually play some games.

The Air we last reviewed offered a 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and 2GB of RAM, and scored a useful 78 in WorldBench 6. In the PCA battery-life tests using MobileMark 2007 productivity, the Air survived for about 3.5 hours off the mains. The entry-level version at £1271 includes a 120GB hard disk (our more-expensive model at £1761 came with a 128GB solid-state drive).

The Dell Adamo, on the other hand, offers lesser parts and charges.. more? Maybe we should call it ‘Adamo Tax'. Dell's high-style notebook costs between £1649 and £2249, depending on processor, storage and RAM. The Dell Adamo we tested was maxed out with a 1.4GHz CPU and included 4GB of RAM to help it make the most of the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium.

Supposedly the Dell Adamo's battery will last 5 hours, if we're to believe promotional materials. In the PC World battery life tests, it lasted 4 hours. Still, that's better than how the MacBook Air fared.

But - and not much of a surprise here perhaps - the Adamo got slapped around by our WorldBench 6 suite: it scored only a 64. As far as ultraportable performance goes, that's quite sad, but closer to the performance of the Samsung X360, which hit 68 WorldBench 6 points in its SSD guise.

So real-world performance is probably the biggest mark against the Dell Adamo, up front. But other features in a laptop are worth consideration besides horsepower.

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For starters, the Dell Adamo uses a nice display. You get a little bit of a glare from the glossy coating, but this screen is worth perservering with. The Dell Adamo offers edge-to-edge glass that's securely locked into place on its 13.4-inch widescreen. Its white LED display one-ups the Air's slightly with a 1366x768-pixel resolution (translation: 720p-friendly). To our eyes that screen looks pretty sharp.

But one thing we keep being drawn to is Dell's all-too obviously Mac-esque dock that sits on the Windows desktop. It provides clean, quick links to all the main apps you'd use on the computer. And it's easily customizable.

Turning to the keyboard, one editor referred to the little dip in the middle of each of the wide keys as ‘finger buckets'. The fancy-pants Dell marketspeak for it is scalloped keys. The point is, the Dell Adamo keys are flat-ish and wide, as we've grown to love on a number of laptops (the HP Mini 1000 being among them), and they have a little lip for your fingers to rest in.

The Dell Adamo also finds room to accommodate a couple of multimedia shortcut keys next to the power button. The only drawback is that making out some of the keys without the ambient backlighting turned on can be difficult.

The Dell Adamo's touchpad is on the average side. It's not bad by any stretch; the buttons are firmly in place and requires a comfortable amount of pressure to use. Following Apple laptops, this Dell model tries to provide some multitouch functionality as well.

But Dell does get it right with the I/O options on this machine. The Dell Adamo has two USB ports, ethernet and a headphone jack, plus eSATA connector, DisplayPort, and a user-accessible SIM-card slot for 3G broadband service.

Of course, there's the design itself. As slim as the Dell Adamo may be (13 x 9.5 x 0.65in and weighing 4 pounds, in old money; or 331x242x16mm and 1.8kg), it's still a bit boxy. The dotted grillwork on the back grabs attention, and the two-tone top makes the Dell Adamo look more like a fashion accessory than most laptops on the scene do. And for that, we must give Dell some credit.

NEXT PAGE: The original PC World 'First Look' >>

The Dell Adamo resembles a cross between the Apple MacBook Air and the HP Voodoo Envy 133. Dell's spokespeople claim that the Adamo is the thinnest laptop around (16mm thick, to be specific). Well, where it stands in that respect is a little up to debate depending on which part of the Air you measure, but we can tell you that the Adamo is slimmer than the Envy, for sure. And while we wish that the Adamo had an internal optical drive, you can lug around an external one.

The svelte-but-boxy Dell Adamo comes in two colours, "Pearl" and "Onyx" - the latter made me do a double-take for a sec, since it looks eerily similar to the Envy 133. The difference is that this system's unibody design doesn't smudge up as much in your hands.

The brushed-metal case of the Dell Adamo also feels way more substantial than the Voodoo Envy 133's chassis: we could use the Envy 133 for a couple minutes, and it would look like a crime scene with all the scuffs and fingerprints. And if we happened to be eating cheesy Wotsits at the time - fuhgeddaboutit.

The Dell Adamo's 1386-by-768-pixel display looks to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Air. With a fairly sharp screen and edge-to-edge glass, it looks firmly put together. Also lining the frame are two USB 2.0 ports, a hybrid USB and eSATA port, an ethernet jack, a headphone jack, and a DisplayPort output.

The Dell Adamo also has integrated Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11n wireless support.

Instead of a dedicated microphone input, a small series of dots beside the keyboard do the job; we're not sure sold we are on that feature. One nifty addition: Dell has crammed a user-accessible SIM-card slot on the side (first time we've seen that in a laptop).

We love the Dell Adamo's keyboard. It has wide, flat keys. And the keys slope down, creating a little lip for your fingers to tell when you've pressed each key. A tiny touch-inductive control panel consisting of basic multimedia shortcuts lines the top.

We haven't yet performance tested the Dell Adamo, but Dell spokespeople seemed genuinely scared that we'd try to stack this machine up against other notebooks. Why? They cautioned that they are positioning the Adamo as a fashion statement. Couture computing, if you will.

As with the HP Voodoo Envy 133 and the Apple MacBook Air, we expect relatively low performance numbers from the Dell Adamo. Indeed, this is what you'd expect from a 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo U9300 CPU (slooooooooooooow), 2GB of RAM, and a 64-to-128GB solid-state drive. And the sealed battery inside the case will run for roughly 3 hours, according to Dell spokespeople. Translation: the Adamo will be fairly in line with what the Envy offers, and you should buy it only for its style and portability.

And you get all this for the low, low price of... £1,649. The super-deluxe version, which costs considerably more, comes with a 1.4GHz CPU and 4GB of RAM, and will support 3G. Yep, Dell really is gunning for that luxury category, price tags and all. Very Apple-like. (It's also brave, considering the state of the economy, if you ask us.)

Is the Dell Adamo worth the money? Well, as sweet as the machine looks, we're not passing any judgments yet. We still need a final review unit. You can preorder a machine now; expect units to start shipping March 26. Check back for our full review.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Dell Adamo: Specs

  • 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo SU9400 CPU
  • 800MHz FSB
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 13.4in (1386x768) 16:9 glossy WLED (white LED) backlit LCD display
  • Intel Mobile 965 Express chipset
  • GMA X4500 integrated graphics
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 128GB solid-state drive
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x hybrid USB/eSATA port
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • DisplayPort output
  • Bluetooth 2.0
  • 802.11b/g/draft-n
  • SIM-card slot
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • 331x242x16mm
  • 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo SU9400 CPU
  • 800MHz FSB
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 13.4in (1386x768) 16:9 glossy WLED (white LED) backlit LCD display
  • Intel Mobile 965 Express chipset
  • GMA X4500 integrated graphics
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 128GB solid-state drive
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x hybrid USB/eSATA port
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • DisplayPort output
  • Bluetooth 2.0
  • 802.11b/g/draft-n
  • SIM-card slot
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • 331x242x16mm

OUR VERDICT

Beautiful but expensive and devoid of the greatest specs, the Dell Adamo is the epitome of the luxury laptop. Note to Apple: be a little flattered. And maybe a little worried. We can see where Dell is going with the Adamo, and while we can't exactly recommend it for computing power, this notebook may make up for it (a little) in sex appeal.

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