February 12 2010
Last year, Dell launched a big, glossy ad campaign for a sleek-looking slim black laptop called Adamo – Latin for, says Dell, “to fall in love with”. Sadly, I didn’t.
I’m fond of Dell – really admire its business model, people and amazingly priced PCs and servers. But the Adamo, which was pitched as a kick in the smug teeth for Apple, was one of the worst products I’ve ever seen. It was like something designed by State Smokestack Industrial Unit No 22 in pre-Perestroika Kharkov as a half-hearted attempt to imitate the decadent western hyenas of the evil Apple.
The Adamo was heavy and awkward to use and had sharp edges everywhere to make working as uncomfortable as possible, a 2004-style specification and a pathetic battery life. Perhaps worst of all was a disastrous keyboard, on which the keys were marked only faintly and also reflected light to eradicate any remaining possibility of seeing what letter you were pressing. For all this joy, we were expected to pay several hundred pounds more than the MacBook Air cost. Whoever was responsible for this abortion deserved to be exiled to Irkutsk for a few decades’ re-education, perhaps running the latrines. So I declined to review it here, suggesting, while not really meaning it, that I’d be happy to look at any improved model.
Now this was in July, and them ole Texan hound-dawgs must have known that they already had this new version, the Adamo XPS, ready to go into production. The Adamo XPS is as magnificent as the senior model is garbage. From the sexy black, slightly rubberised packaging onwards (it’s insane that this should matter, but it does), the XPS is amazing. It’s flatter and thinner overall than the MacBook Air, with all the old Adamo’s sharp edges smoothed and sensualised.
The design, furthermore, is entirely new and original. As you will see from the photo, the keyboard pops out from the screen to form an unusually desk-friendly construction, with the keys seductively tilted towards the typist. (It’s only fair to point out that this makes the XPS less than lap-friendly.)
The method of opening the XPS is genius, sex in aluminium – you swipe a finger along a lighted blue strip and it clicks open. For once, Apple must be kicking itself that it didn’t come up with this first. The XPS specification is otherwise similar to the Air, but with Windows 7, which is fine.
OK, now a brief return to Planet Earth. First, it’s possible that you will find the flatter, but slightly bigger shape of the XPS a bit unwieldy. The XPS is 1.5cm wider and a sizeable 4.67cm deeper than the Air, while the screen is 2.5cm bigger. Second, the keyboard is still poor and too shiny – so not much different, so far as I can see, from the original Adamo’s. For the XPS keyboard not to be lit is a serious downer. Try it, you may be fine with it, but I’m not.
Third, while the Adamo XPS is a true luxury product compared to any other PC laptop bar some Sony Vaios, it still feels just a leetle bit cheap compared to an Apple. If the original Adamo was every inch Soviet Lada and Apple’s range is top-end German BMW/Mercedes, then the Adamo XPS is a mid-range British-made Jaguar. Fourth, the Adamo XPS does still cost £400 more than the top-spec MacBook Air, which isn’t quite insane, but is a bit over-optimistic. You’d have to hate Apple or badly need Windows to justify this. A terrific attempt by Dell at stardom, nonetheless, and a most interesting – possibly iconic – computer.