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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  • afkrotch - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Remember back in the day when the Longhorn Alpha came out? Then those same features showed up in OSX. Then Longhorn got canned and had to be rebuilt all over again. Why not a single word from Mac fans about how they stole Windows features? I'm sorry, but both Apple and MS will steal whatever from each other. Apple is probably the worst of the two. Everything they build is just someone else's work, shined up to be pretty.

    OSX is the preferred platform in the Art profession? Really? When? 1990s? The only ppl you see bothering with it is stupid college kids or just regular home consumers. Go out into the real professional world and tell me how many ppl still bother. Even all your big companies have long since dumped Apple.

    Unix underpinnings. What's the point even mentioning it, when they took all that was great about Unix and threw it out the window. I played with OSX a while ago. Ya, a toy for home. I can't possibly see it being used for any real production work. Right now, I'm a sys ad for our Solaris 10 workstation/servers, Linux google server, Trusted Solaris 8 server, and a couple Windows 2003 servers. Guess what our custom built software is now being created for? I'll give you a hint. It's created by Microsoft.
  • jkostans - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I work for an engineering firm, and no one uses OSX. Linux for some engineering apps, and windows for everything else. This is the way 99% of the world works, get used to it. OSX is not superior to windows. If it was businesses would use it more.
  • mojohacker2010 - Saturday, July 10, 2010 - link

    "The Lenovo may be a nice machine but... (other than fanboy nonsense) Windows 7 definitely does play second fiddle to OSX in the majority of serious comparisons"

    LOL...please cite some sources or you sound just like a fanboy yourself. Rather you sound like a very defensive and angry fanboy. Almost all of the head-to-head comparison articles/tests I've seen show windows 7 beating OSX overwhelmingly...

    "Anyhow, one can just do a simple poll of satisfied, hassle free OSX users vs Windows (xp/vista/7). "

    Really? So you're gonna compare an ecosystem with billions of users vs. OSX, which no one uses, and use that as an argument? LOL
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - link

    "More reliable? A cheap plasticky Lenovo? Puh-lease. Plus you run the archaic Windows OS on it"

    Uh.. Yes, Lenovo is the most reliable in the buz, and that included Apple. The X301 rocks. Its solid, lightweight and Has Win7, which is far better than OSX in my opinion.

    Also, the MAcbook air is its competition. THe X301 is a thin CULV notebook and has an internal DVD player. Yes, its FAR better than the MAcbook air, or regular 13 inch macbook, or dell.
  • chrnochime - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Didn't really want to waste time reading when your name even includes osx. Guess the more patient commenters out there took your bait and wasted their time LOL
  • IvanAndreevich - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    I find it offensive when someone calls a high end Thinkpad "cheap and plasticky". If a Thinkpad and Macbook Pro knock heads I'm sure the Thinkpad would survive more often than not.
  • erple2 - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - link

    The Envy's suck? Huh. I like mine just fine. It runs circles around any MBP that's available today. And runs quite a bit cooler at that. Granted, that's comparing the 15" MBP...

    The MBP doesn't get that good of battery life in Windows, btw. At least not significantly better than other C2D based laptops with NVidia processors...
  • adhan - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - link

    I'm not trying to be too much of a fanboy here, but how about a MacBook with Windows running via Boot Camp.
  • sleepeeg3 - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - link

    Both colossal ripoffs.
  • Wander7 - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - link

    thanks for all the comments. I know about boot camp and also the crappier battery life running windows under it. I don't like the Envys because of the bad touchpad ( I have a dm3 now...). My main attraction to the MB Pro are the hardware aspects of the machine and the battery life.

    I found out Sony makes some nice laptops, but WAY overpriced tho.... I'll just keep waiting.

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