Dell's prestigious new Adamo is a quirky, high-concept computing centrepiece. But can you live with its haute couture design arrogance?
It seems a long time ago that Dell was known only for its highly customisable but terminally dull range of business laptops. In recent years it’s splashed out on Alienware, opened the ‘Design Studio’ and, more recently, crafted the rather beautiful premium ‘Adamo’ range.
While the original Adamo was an attack on Apple’s MacBook Air, the Adamo XPS is seemingly more interested in undermining the laws of physics. It's miraculous that Dell has crammed so much technology – or, indeed, any technology – into the Adamo's 9.99mm thin case.
As a result, the XPS is a bit wider and deeper than most laptops, and it definitely won't fit into an A4 envelope. It's also not the lightest around, thanks to its metal construction. But it's light enough to take with you, even if you're not sure you'll use it.
You inevitably will, if only to show off the ingenious opening mechanism to the rest of the café. Simply swipe your finger on the lid’s touch-sensitive bar, and it’ll unlock for duty.
The plastic catches that hold it shut do make us worry about longevity, and the system does mean you can’t open the laptop when the battery’s flat. But it still had us grinning like the PG Tips monkey.
It hinges on this
You'd think that the Adamo's hinge, which uses the base of the screen as the world's fanciest keyboard legs, would make it hard to use. But you can adjust the viewing angle a fair bit and the hinge is just about stiff enough to keep it where you want. It won't cope with any folded-flat-in-bed scenarios you may hanker after, though – laps and tables are definitely required.
The keyboard is quite simply a work of genius. Its well-spaced, metallic keys are solid, responsive and beg to be pressed. But the function keys sit flush to the case above, meaning you have to poke them through the chassis to register a press. That feels wrong, so if you're the panicky sort who's always hammering ‘Escape’ to cancel the overly aggressive email you've just sent, this might not be for you.
The Adamo's keypad also supports multitouch functions, so you're able to 'pinch to zoom' to control certain tools – which is handy if you've been won over by a popular brand of smart telephone, but unnecessary for most experienced laptop users.
Happily, your premium price point delivers a premium screen, with Windows 7 beaming out via a 13.4in WLED display that gives you 1366x768 pixels to shuffle. This is far from the browsing-through-a-letterbox experience you get on a cheap netbook, and rightly so.
Video playback performance makes the most of the screen's qualities and is superb. The 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor effortlessly handles 720p HD movies, but while sound quality is sharp and clear the speakers could do with going louder. Audio seems pegged at around seven, so a decent set of noise-cancelling headphones are a must.
Despite its impressive processing power, connectivity isn't great. Ethernet comes via a USB adaptor and, while there's a DisplayPort output and the faster Wi-Fi 802.11n variant is supported, there's no card reader for putting photos of yourself on Facebook followed by a pitiful message 12 hours later about drunkenly leaving your £1,750 laptop in a taxi.
Battery life is undeniably poor in this age of eight-hour ultraportables. The UK-spec XPS ships with a 20 Watt-hour battery, and you're lucky to get two and a half hours from it. But, considering the XPS doesn't look or feel like it has a battery at all, it's not bad a trade off.
If it does prove a problem, a 40 Watt-hour option will soon be available in the US. It'll cost you to import, but money is no option, right?
The Adamo is a design statement and one of the few laptops to give the MacBook Air a run for its money. But those who want their cash to go further may want to look at the similarly priced Sony Vaio Z31VN/X, which also has a 13.4in screen but somehow packs a DVD-RW drive into a chassis that's lighter, more portable and has a better battery.
Dell Adamo XPS review
An engineering triumph that ranks alongside the work of Brunel, but the two and a half hour battery is shaky foundation