When Apple launched the MacBook Air, everyone wanted the “coolness” that the new form factor exuded. At the time it was the slimmest computer you could ever have short of a piece of paper and pen. I certainly swooned over the MacBook Air until I started thinking about the limitations of the design. My wife almost bought one for me until I stopped her citing the technical limitations of the product as the showtoppper for me (USB, expansion, battery, and software to name a few).

Lenovo released the Thinkpad X301 as its answer to MacBook Air. But all Lenovo did was made the Thinkpad skinny enough to come close to the MacBook Air. But the external design remained the boxy look that is the hallmark of the Thinkpad series (until recently anyway).

Today the Adamo (which means “I fall in love with” in Latin) XPS holds the record for the thinnest laptop in the world. At 0.99cm, it is almost half the thickness of the Apple MacBook Air (1.94cm). Tough luck Steve, you had to know it was too good to last! However the Adamo XPS is wider and longer than the MacBook Air which explains why its a tad bit heavier (1.44kg versus 1.36kg for the MacBook Air) – but who can tell the difference?

How did Dell manage to make the Adamo XPS chassis so thin? Simple. Innovative design! The keyboard (which also houses the motherboard) tucks neatly inside the enlarged screen bezel. To open, you swipe your finger in the front bezel just above where you see a white LED. Done properly, a blue light flashes once, reminiscent of the Knight Rider, and the Adamo XPS releases the keyboard to reveal a full-sized aluminium-capped keys. As you pull up the screen, the hinged design raises the back of the keyboard panel that meets the LCD panel, giving you the elevated keyboard placement to counter carpal tunnel syndrome.

As with the MacBook Air, Dell managed to avoid installing noisy fans on the Adamo XPS by sticking it with an ultra low voltage (ULV) Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 CPU. To offset the under performing ULV processors, Dell bundled the Adamo XPS with a 128GB SDD. Combined with 4GB RAM on board, the configuration leaves you feeling appreciative of the speed with which this machine runs. Applications jump at you very quickly – even against my Lenovo Thinkpad X201. In fact, some applications load too quickly (no time to get a cup of water).

The Adamo XPS boasts a 13.4in, 1,366 x 768 LED display. The keyboard takes getting used but I can’t complain as the brushed aluminum keys give you that extra luxurious feel you won’t find anywhere else (not even from Apple). I am a little miffed at the rather small mouse trackpad though. This machine was built to take advantage of Windows 7 so I can’t fathom why Dell would not include a capacitative touch trackpad. How would extra would that cost?

As with the Apple MacBook Air, the thin design of the Adamo XPS means extra accessories to carry around compared to your typical laptop. There are two USB 2 ports one on either side of the LCD screen. There is also a DisplayPort socket and a headphone output. The Adamo XPS ships with a number of adaptors, including for DVI and VGA outputs, and a USB 10/100 Ethernet dongle for those times when you can’t find a wireless network. Speaking of wireless connectivity, the XPS supports 802.11 a/g/n. It also comes with a Bluetooth® 2.1 adapter and the integrated 2.0 MP webcam.

One thing I never like about most Apple consumer products is the company’s insistence on embedding the battery inside the machine. This means you can’t replace the battery in the event you run out od juice. Despite the limitations that a thin formfactor presents, Dell still designed the Adamo XPS to have a user replaceable battery. The unit ships with a 6-cell battery which gives you a pathetic 2 hours if you have WiFi and the screen on bright. Thankfully, it ships with two (2) such batteries. Make sure you buy the extended battery that will give you about five hours. Be warned this battery is almost double in thickness. A neat trick that Dell accomplished with the XPS is the ability to change batteries even when the computer is powered on. Apparently there is an internal battery on the laptop which allows you just enough time to replace batteries. Now that is cool!

Dell also included a cigarette-lighter adapter for those times when you need to work with your laptop while on the road in your car. Now if only I have a car.

WHAT I LIKE

I like the overall build of the Adamo XPS. It is sturdy and I didn’t see any flexing of the keyboard – something I find very common with many netbooks and laptops. The 13.4″ LCD screen is bright and vivid. The 16:9 format plays beautifully when you watch a movie. The 128GB SSD coupled with the 4GB RAM gives you very goodperformance despite the handicap of a ULV processor.

The overall build is solid for such a slim laptop. Together with the raised keyboard, this machine was an eye turner at coffee shops and public places where people saw me using it.

Despite the relatively weak processor, the Adamo XPS’ fast boot time and even faster loading time for applications continue to amaze me. How they do that? It can’t be all because of the 128GB SSD drive, could it?
WHAT I DONT LIKE

The Adamo XPS comes with two small speakers placed underneath the keyboard (center front). I was under the impression that this is a multimedia laptop particularly as Dell bundled a number of audio enhancement software. Still, the speakers were weak. Always keep a pair of headsets handy if you want to watch a movie or listen to your favorite music.

While I really love the aluminum case of the Adamo XPS, I always have this sense of dread holding the laptop. I worry the thin formfactor would slip through my fingers. Luckily that never happened. 

I am a firm believer in the advantage that a touch screen brings to the table. The second best option is a trackpad that supports multi-touch. I read somewhere that the Adamo XPS does have a multi-touch trackpad feature but the test unit I was handed didn’t seem to have this active.

Somehow the unusual and unique but highly functional industrial design isn’t enough to convince me this is worth its HK$23,999 price tag. But then again, some women are willing to fork out HK$10,000 for a piece of leather (yeah, a Louie Vuitton wallet costs HK$5,000). I will have a hard time justifying the Adamo XPS price tag. Dell, how much for a refurbished Adamo XPS?

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

There is a class of consumers who buy products not because they are the fastest, the biggest, or most powerful products in their category. For them, bragging rights are worth any price. The Dell Adamo XPS will certainly appeal to these people. 

I read from a number of bloggers that Dell has discontinued the production of the Dell Adamo XPS. Apparently this is not true. A Dell executive who responded to a TechCrunch writer clarified that the Adamo XPS was meant to have a “limited edition” label on it. Still, if you live in the US and want to order the Adamo XPS direct from Dell, you will find it impossible to do so. However, you can buy the laptop at BestBuy. In Hong Kong, you can purchase the same model direct from Dell. And this is where Dell’s pricing strategy confounds me. In the US, you can buy the Adamo XPS with a starting price of US$2,449 (with 2 batteries and 3 years premium service) whereas in Hong Kong, the price tag from Dell direct is US$3,077 (HK$23,000) for the same. So why should I pay the extra US$628 for a product that is “made in China”?

I will need a lot of tissue to wipe myself while forking that much money to buy a laptop that will become obsolete in six months’ time. Actually I can buy a hell of a lot of tissue with that.

OTHER REVIEWS

PC PRO
Laptop Mag
IT PRO

ADAMO XPS vs MACBOOK AIR

Throughout this article I compared the Adamo XPS to the MacBook Air. While the MacBook Air comes with an option for an internal harddrive, the Adamo XPS only offers an external harddrive. I am always cautious about claimed battery life. In many cases the rates are based on a pre-defined setting like no backlighting, no WiFi, and no BlueTooth among others. That said Apple claims a battery life of 5 hours per charge for the MacBook Air. Dell says the Adamo XPS can give you 2 hours and 38 minutes.

One more thing. In case you don’t like the Dell brand but are still in the market for a very thin laptop. Watch this video comparing the Apple MacBook Air with the Lenovo X300 laptop. It’s worth your two minutes and 35 seconds.

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