Hands-On with Dell Adamo XPS--and Prototypes You’ll Never See

Get the scoop on Dell’s 0.4-inch thick ultraportable, and check out prototypes you'll never see anywhere else.

The Plan Behind the Adamo XPS

Dell’s ridiculously slim and cleverly designed Adamo XPS has been teased over the past few months. Pictures have been leaked. Information has been dribbled. And this morning, the gag orders lift for us to reveal what this machine is all about. It's about stylish new design approaches. It's ludicrously thin (0.4 by 13.39 by 10.78 -inches). It ain't cheap -- selling for $1,799 by the coming holidays. It's funny, this 0.4-inch thick frame makes a MacBook Air look downright big-boned.

Nicolas Denhez, Senior Industrial Designer for Dell, sat down to not only explain to me what went into the creation of this laptop, he gave me a couple quick glances at versions of the Adamo XPS that barely made it off the drawing board. You can read on for a couple looks at what could've been or skip toward the last few slides for a close up look at the final machine, Inside and out.

Ditching the Clamshell Design

The mission, according to Denhez is to "push the envelope with a stylish leadership product." He explained that Ron Garriques, president of the Global Consumer Group, envisioned new product categories, and challenged a team with creating a thin machine and to creatively rethink the clamshell laptop archetype. According to Denhez, Garriques was the driving force behind bringing this machine to market. They hired outside engineers and created a huge hardbound bible that encapsulates all the research that went into the layout and components. In this shot, you're looking at some of the early shell prototypes. If you ask me it looks kind of Road Warrior retro.

The Multitouch LCD Panel Prototype

The first machines were conceived as a hybrid all-in-one PC. Just way smaller. "We split the motherboard components to squeeze them into every empty corner of the chassis," says Denhez. Originally, they had some ideas around using a multi-touch LCD touchpad. Think of what Fujitsu attempted with its' LifeBook N7010. That laptop hides a 4-inch LCD touch panel above the keyboard. The potential here is pretty cool. Dell could put applications into the tiny console window, for example multimedia controls or give you the ability to digitally sign your name. You get the idea. Ultimately, Dell didn't think the cost could justify how much you'd use the panel.

The 'Too Thick' Prototype

This colorful variant of the Adamo XPS didn't spread out the components as much as the original prototype. However, it did cleverly place all the computer's ports into a concealed pop-up panel and still maintained a propped-up easel hinge. Of course, with less electronics going from the screen to the base, this version was a little thicker. This model was deemed as 'not thin enough, it's a couple millimeters thicker than what is in the final design' -- even though it’s about as beefy as the MacBook Air.

The Capacitive-Crazy Prototype

One of the big-buzz worthy points that the tech press has been fawning over is the touch-capacity strip on the Adamo XPS. Imagine if the whole notebook was a collection of capacitive touch points. Put your finger on the right spot on the lid and the machine opens and starts to boot-up while the lid gradually lifts open. And when you open up the notebook you see a crazy sci-fi looking keyboard with no moving parts -- the entire keyboard area a collection of capacitive-touch buttons. Out of all the models, I'd say that without a doubt, this was a fairly flashy competitor to the final version. Ultimately, though, the glossy metallic coating attracted too many smudges and they felt that people might not get the benefit of a keyboard that doesn't move. I wouldn't mind, but no doubt some touch typists would have problems trying to know when they hit the keys.

The Final Designs of the Adamo XPS

In this very early final build, you can see from this under-the-hood shot how the motherboard got split with components laid side by side instead of stacked. The fan's embedded into the motherboard and designers removed the SSD's outer case in order to fit everything inside. As a result, the keyboard can drop deeper inside the machine. And speaking of the keys, Denhez was quick to emphasize that the keyboard keys are aluminum button caps. Don't forget the other cool hardware tweaks I've alluded to a couple times: The lid unlocks by swiping your hand over the touch-capacitive strip on the panel. The hinged layout keeps the Adamo XPS cool and tilts up the keyboard to a usable angle. In short, geek cool.

The Adamo XPS Loadout

In case you can't identify every component from a board shot, the machine offers:

A Core 2 Duo 1.4Ghz ULV (SU9400) CPU; 4GB DDR3 800MHz RAM; a 128GB SSD;A 13.4-inch WLED screen (1366 by 768 native resolution); Intel GS45 integrated graphics (whoopee); 2 USB ports; 802.11n and Bluetooth; DisplayPort video out; Dongles for Ethernet and VGA video-out get included in box. That's the base-level configuration that sells for $1,799. Want to buy the external optical drive or upgrade the SSD? It'd going to cost you. (spokespeople didn't have final numbers ready on all the extras).

The Battery Life (and Battery Swapping)

The standard juice on board, a 20Whr user-replaceable battery will run for 2 and a half hours, according to Dell spokespeople. With the configuration from the previous slide, the Adamo XPS weighs 3.2 pounds. A 40Whr battery will cost a little more and lasts a little over 5 in Dell’s internal tests. Now here's something I found a little interesting, the battery is technically hot-swappable. Or, at least, lukewarm swappable. If you’re running low on power, you can go into sleep mode, close up the machine, swap batteries within about a minute and there’s enough residual power in the machine for you to keep everything you were doing.

The Adamo XPS: A Couple Parting Thoughts

Obviously, this isn't any kind of review. We only had a few minutes to tinker with the final PC before getting pulled away. However, this notebook is an improvement over the first Adamo. Thinner, lighter, retaining most of the ports (or through dongles), the little hardware flourishes mentioned in previous slides and built-in location awareness. That's taking advantage of Windows 7 functions, but you can use it automatically pull up local maps or suggest places to go nearby -- you get the idea.

The original Adamo, on the other hand, was a pricey competitive poke at Apple. It had good intentions, but looking back, it was a boxy me-too machine in the end. This, on the other hand, brings something new to the table. So long as that table takes into account a gimpy CPU and a still-high price tag. Will someone tell me when, exactly, Dell became the expensive PC maker? While we wait for that answer, stay tuned. We hope to get a final review unit into PC World's labs soon.

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