Hands-on with the Dell Adamo

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive)

One of the most buzzed-about new laptops of 2009 is Dell's Adamo, a high-end, ultra-thin 13-inch model that starts at AU$3,699 and shares a design sensibility with the MacBook Air and HP Voodoo Envy 133.

After teasing the system at CES 2009, Dell formally announced its online availability starting 17 March, and we've managed to get our hands on a pre-production version of the hardware to bring you our initial impressions.

At first glance, the Adamo is a stark break from Dell's recent laptop designs, built into an aluminium case with unibody construction — similar to the current MacBooks. The model we have is black (Dell calls it "onyx") and a white "pearl" version is also available. The back of the lid and the keyboard tray are split between brushed metal and a fingerprint-attracting glossy finish.

About 16.5mm thick, Dell claims this is the thinnest laptop in the world. It's certainly thin, but going toe-to-toe with the MacBook Air, the true "thinnest" title is open to interpretation. The tapered Air is thinner at its narrowest point, but slightly thicker at its widest point. In either case these are both very slim systems.

Picking up the Adamo, we were surprised at how heavy it felt. At a hair under 1.8kg, it's certainly lightweight, but based on the size, we were expecting something closer to the 1.36kg MacBook Air.

Dell is pitching the Adamo as a "luxury brand notebook design for the luxury conscious consumer", which may not seem like the most timely of ideas, considering the current economic climate and the resultant growth in low-cost netbooks. While the timing may be unfortunate, products such as this generally have long, multi-year production cycles, from concept to release.

As a luxury laptop, the Adamo has plenty of high-end visual touches. The pearl finish has a wavy pattern etched into it, while our black model has a more traditional brushed metal look. Notably, the usual brand and regulatory stickers have been removed, in favour of etching the information directly into a panel on the system's bottom.

Instead of the typical Christmas tree of lighting effects found on laptops in all price ranges, the Adamo has only a handful of small LEDs — for the power button, the touch-sensitive media controls, and the caps-lock button, as well as a backlit keyboard. Besides Adamo-branded desktop wallpaper, Dell also created a custom Windows Vista theme for the system, called Adamo Ice. Along with branded accessories Dell plans to offer, it's all part of a concept for the Adamo "brand ecosystem".

The keyboard itself is a big change from the typical Dell laptop keyboard, which has always had tall, tapered keys. This borrows more from the Dell Mini 9, with flat, closely spaced keys, similar in style to what you might find on a MacBook or Sony Vaio. We found the keyboard easy to use, but there's a little wasted space at either side of the keyboard tray that could have been used to space out the keys more. The keyboard itself has too much flex in the middle, and the keys are a little clacky — but these could be issues with our prototype hardware. The metal touchpad was very good — sometimes using non-traditional surfaces on a touchpad can add uncomfortable friction and finger drag, but that was not the case here.

The 1366x768 LED display is behind a sheet of edge-to-edge glass, again similar to the current MacBook line. It's a sleek look, but very susceptible to glare and reflections. The screen hinge is set back about an inch from the rear of the system, leaving what looks a little like a small handle when the display is open.

Other than a headphone jack and a user-accessible SIM card slot (the first time we've seen that on a laptop) on the right side, all the other ports and connections are on the rear edge. There are two USB ports, a USB/eSATA port, and an Ethernet jack, plus a DisplayPort video output (although dongles to other video connections will be available).

Inside, this prototype unit has a 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9300, 2GB of RAM, and a 64GB SSD hard drive — these could change in the final shipping version of the Adamo, and we hear a 128GB SSD will be standard.

With a low-voltage version of Intel's Core 2 Duo, it's not meant to be a speed demon, however, in anecdotal hands-on use, we found the Adamo to be perfectly fine for normal multitasking — web surfing, working on office docs, and media playback — and we'll run a complete series of benchmark tests on the final shipping version. We haven't had time to run a full battery drain test yet, but the battery icon in the system tray claims more than three hours of battery life on a full charge at the default power settings.

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mayxanh_131286 posted a comment   



Sarah posted a comment   

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.




canberra_photographer posted a comment   

I like Apple products. I'm no fan boy but they work well for me so I like them. The Macbook Air though is a real dud, even Apple employees who get them provided for work use hate them. They overheat, suffer from faulty system boards and are generally toys. Hope the Adamo offers something the MBA doesn't... a real laptop experience.


katofreak posted a comment   

'The macbook air ultimately looks thinner'

Behold the majesty of tapering! Another apple innovation!

but seriously, that is one fine looking machine, dells are seriously making me drool! (all over my macbook, hopefully it might be time to update soon!)

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