Dell Adamo 13: Industrial Design and Build Quality

The Adamo is stunning to behold. There simply is no better word to describe it. And oh man, is it thin. Best comparison: when closed, the Adamo is roughly as thick as the bottom casing of the 13” MacBook Pro. Yeah.

Dell really outdid themselves with the Adamo. Every exterior surface is either glass or machined aluminum. The bottom casing is a single piece of aluminum, a la Apple, and it’s less than a half inch thick. The LCD lid is half glass, half aluminum and surprisingly rigid for something so thin.

All of Apple’s products follow the design principles laid out in Dieter Rams’ 10 Commandments, which pretty much condenses to “Thou shalt be minimal, thou shalt be elegant, thou shalt be functional.” Dell took those design principles and then added some bling to it. Where Apple’s laptops feature clean surfaces and body panels, the Adamo has a visually interesting pattern on the aluminum part of the lid and the bottom of the notebook, not to mention the polished aluminum strip in the middle of the lid. Remarkably, even with the gloss and the aluminum brightwork, the Adamo doesn't look overdone. It has just enough glitz to be eye-catching, but not too much to be a distraction.

The chassis is just a single piece of aluminum, milled out from a thick sheet of aluminum. However, it appears that Dell's engineers reduced the thickness of the aluminum beyond normal levels, presumably to create as much space for the internal components, but they went far enough to allow for a fair amount of flex throughout the chassis. The body of the notebook and the LCD lid are both fairly sturdy given the thinness, but overall when compared to the similarly thin MacBook Air, the Adamo isn't as rigid or as solid structurally. There's some perceivable flex, which is unexpected in such a premium-level device. Also, the screen shows quite a bit of ripple effect under pressure. Again, given the thinness, it's not unexpected, but don't expect this to be a particularly rugged system.

What the thinness can't explain away is the quality of the keyboard. I was pretty hopeful about the backlit keyboard, with it's full size keys, logically laid out keys, and stylishly modern font on the keys. As with the rest of the notebook, it's one of the most elegant looking of its kind. However, the feel is pretty poor - the keys themselves feel plasticky and cheap, and there's perceptible flex. Not a lot mind you (how much give could there be on a .65" thick laptop?), but it just doesn't feel particularly well put together or built to last. The backlighting is pretty weak, so against the silver keyboard it makes it pretty difficult to see in higher light situations. But in the dark, the backlighting is a great feature to have. 

The touchpad is pretty nice, I like how the metallic surface feels and the multitouch works well. The buttons themselves are nothing special, they work. The real story with the touchpad is the detailing - the subtle pattern of concentric circles machined into the touchpad surface, how the touchpad buttons integrate with the rest of the touchpad, the polished aluminum ring around the touchpad, etc. It's beautiful, and the detailing is marvelous, which is the Adamo's raison d'etre.

Ports are sparse, but not as limited as on the MacBook Air. In comparison to the almost laughable single USB, micro-DVI port, and headphone/mic combo jack on Apple's superthin portable, the Adamo has a pair of USB ports on the rear panel, joined by a DisplayPort video out, an eSATA/USB combo port (a rarity on ultraportable computers), and Gigabit Ethernet. On the right side, we have a combination headphone/mic port and a built in SIM card slot for 3G data. Interestingly, the SIM slot is designed the same way as the iPhone's SIM card tray and rendered in anodized aluminum, evoking memories of the original iPhone's SIM slot. There's also a 1.3MP webcam and a mic, which work well for Skype.

The speakers are mounted on the extrusion beyond the LCD hinge, presumably because they wouldn't fit anywhere else in the chassis. Unfortunately, this means everyone else around you can hear what's going through your speakers better than you can. The speakers aren't that great, and frequently you want more volume from them. This likely has more to do with them being behind the screen and less to do with the speakers themselves. More impressive is the actual speaker grille, with laser cut holes to let the sound through and a single status light concealed in the middle. The grille is attached magnetically (though it needs to be pried off and doesn't remove easily) and covers the Windows COA sticker along with some of the chassis screws. Putting that much engineering and design thought towards a normally minor piece like the speaker grille again just goes to show how much attention Dell paid to every painstaking detail during the design process of the Adamo.

Dell Adamo 13: Introduction Dell Adamo 13: High Brightness Display
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  • FATCamaro - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    Yeah looks just like a mac!! Amazing. Except its pricey and crap. Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    My friend just bought one of these days ago. One thing you didn't mention is that the fan seems to go off even with just light web browsing, and also seems to have too few modes to choose from (off, medium, jet engine). Now, maybe I'm micro-autistic or something, but fan noise of any sort just drives me up the wall :-P

    Even with all its flaws though, considering that the price has dropped to half its original price and half the price of the Macbook Air, if you absolutely need an ultraportable it isn't a bad choice for what you pay. The SSD does make a noticeable difference, despite being far from the fastest SSD's out there (speaking of which, some storage benchies would have been nice!).

    Nice review though.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    The MacBook Air is $1399 which is not 2 X $999. You get what you pay for.
    This laptop is actually better compared to a 13" Macbook Pro which starts at $1099 but is a dramatically better buy.

    http://www.appleinsider.com/mac_price_guide/

    Why people constantly compare these to a mac is beyond me since this runs Windows. i understand that Apple is the gold standard for industrial design, quality, and customer service though.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    I stand corrected. The rest still applies though. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    Why oh why does it come with a G1 (probably got a great deal on the old drives)? With no TRIM on an aging drive, and at this cost I'll pass... Reply
  • StanTech - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    7Enigma: "With no TRIM on an aging drive, and at this cost I'll pass..."

    For the price, I think I can accept a scheduled http://www.anandtech.com/show/2865/3">"manual trim" compromise, which I think is http://downloadcenter.intel.com/Detail_Desc.aspx?a...">now supported on G1 drives.
    Reply
  • 8steve8 - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    pathetic that this doesn't have a i3/i5/i7 ULV cpu. Reply
  • Friendly0Fire - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    I really hope that Anand's 13 and below laptop review will give us a good comparison. Between the Adamo 13, the M11x, the Vaio Z and Asus' myriad of thin and light laptops (U30Jc, UL30Jt, etc.), there are a lot of choices. I'll be looking forward to more about this! Reply
  • afkrotch - Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - link

    I sport a 12.1" HP TM2T tablet. Wondering how it compares to the rest. Granted, you pay more for the tablet features, but a lot of killer deals are out there for it. Reply
  • freeman70 - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    Wait for the i3/i5/i7 CULV or later processors. You are just wasting money buying a stylish case with an old processor. I am perfectly happy to wait for something really great like sandy-bridge based CULV laptops. Until then I will be content using my Acer 1410 with 4GB of RAM and an Intel 80GB G2 SSD. Don't bother telling me the screen is average. I already know. But considering I paid US$450 (4GB RAM included) when I bought it, I think it's good enough for the time being. I won't upgrade until I can get a decent 32 nanometer CULV CPU, nVidia Optimus graphics, a good 13.3 inch screen, USB 3.0 and still get 8 hours of battery life. Reply

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