Hands On With Dell Adamo Notebook

I'm a big fan of what Apple is doing with the 13.4-inch Adamo laptop. Oh, wait, did I say that out loud? Dell has been taking a couple pages from the Apple playbook as of late. A cryptic ad surfaced for this mystery machine around CES time, with no real details. A sexy design. A high price....and the name? Adamo? Is that a slick little joke about he who took a bite out of an apple?

Dell Adamo laptop
This particular bite 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 (0.65 inch 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 I can tell you that the Adamo is slimmer than the Envy, for sure. And while I wish that the Adamo had an internal optical drive, you can lug around an external one.

The svelte-but-boxy Adamo comes in two colors, "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 Adamo also feels way more substantial than the Voodoo Envy 133's chassis: I could use the Envy 133 for a couple minutes, and it would look like a crime scene with all my scuffs and fingerprints. And if I was eating Cheetos at the time--fuhgeddaboutit.

The 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 looked 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 unit 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; I'm not sure I'm sold on that, but I'll have to get back to you on how well it works after I've played with it some. One nifty addition: Dell has crammed a user-accessible SIM-card slot on the side (first time I've seen that in a laptop).

Dell Adamo keyboard
This isn't my formal review, but I'm going on record to say that I love this keyboard. It has wide, flat keys similar to the ones I've come to dig on the Gateway UC7807u and HP Mini 1000. A critical difference: The keys slope down, creating a little lip for your fingers to tell when you've pressed each key. And a tiny touch-inductive control panel consisting of basic multimedia shortcuts lines the top.

So how does it perform? Well, that's a question best answered after the PC World Test Center gets its hands on this laptop. 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. (Dell plans high-style ads for the Adamo in publications such as GQ.) As with the HP Voodoo Envy 133--and the Apple MacBook Air for that matter--I expect low performance numbers, like what you'd normally get 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 get all this for the low, low price of...$1999. The super-deluxe version, which starts at $2700, 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 kind of gutsy, considering the state of the economy, if you ask me.

Is the Adamo worth the money? Well, as sweet as the machine looks, I'm not passing any judgments yet. We still need a final review unit. You can preorder a machine now; expect units to start shipping March 24. Check back for our full review.

In the meantime, if I were Apple, I'd be a little flattered. And maybe a little worried.

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