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Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Dell unveils heavier, more expensive MacBook Air rival

Dell on Tuesday took aim at Apple's high-end portable computing dominance with a new design-focused Adamo notebook, but the PC maker is already facing questions about the machine's viability in a slumping economy.

The Round Rock, Texas-based PC maker has been teasing the public for months, and has now finally taken the wraps off the the notebook and begun accepting preorders for shipments due next week. At a weight of four pounds, it's a pound heavier than the MacBook Air.

The LED-backlit 13.4-inch, 16:9 HD-screened notebook is being touted as the thinnest in the world. Dell claims the new Adamo brand was "inspired by fashion, luxury brands and timeless design" to "challenge people's perceptions of what a computer is." For $1,999 customers get an ultra-low voltage 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo with integrated Intel graphics, 2GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Dell refers to this option as "ADMIRE" on the website.

A higher-end model dubbed "DESIRE" is priced at $2,699. The speed increases to 1.4GHz, memory is doubled to 4GB, and a 3G modem is included. All machines have Ethernet, DisplayPort, and three USB connectors along with a claimed battery life of five hours and a MacBook Pro-style backlit keyboard. (One USB port is also a combo eSATA port.) The Adamo runs 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium Edition SP1.

"Style-minded people who place a premium on precision craftsmanship and design can now add Adamo to their list of must-have items for 2009," Dell says.

Adamo


The company is also being careful to avoid the Intel and Microsoft stickers typically found on most Windows-based notebooks. The stickers are gone from the top case, moved to the bottom with monochrome-printed logos, and the Crave blog at CNET News reports the Adamo's magnetic coverplate is intended to hide Microsoft-required certification on the bottom.



"We are definitely trying to shift the perception of Dell to one of fashion and style," said director of consumer marketing John New. "But we're not going to do a piece of jewelry just to do one. We're focusing on the fashion instead of the IT [information technology]. We want the user to be presented with this and feel special about what they're getting."

Dell offers "optional luxury packages", such as a Jet-Setter bundle that adds a DVD burner, Tumi case, Microsoft Office Home and a year of premium service for $389. The Entrepreneur bundle ($339) removes the burner and Tumi case for a 250GB external hard drive. An external Blu-ray drive and 500GB external hard drive are also available. Like the MacBook Air, the notebook has no built-in optical drive, and the internal battery can only be replaced by sending the machine to a depot for an unspecified period, according to Macworld UK.

Adamo


Dell claims the Adamo is the first product under a new brand, also called Adamo. While this machine hasn't been given an official name, a Dell support document dug up by Engadget refers to an "Adamo 13" and "Adamo 9", hinting a nine-inch version is on the way soon. Orders placed on the website currently are for the "Adamo Thirteen."

While Dell is pushing its 0.65-inch thinnest point, the title of "thinnest notebook" is likely to be subjective to each buyer, as the Adamo does not share the tapered design of the MacBook Air that Apple says ranges from 0.16- to 0.76-inch. Dell's latest offering conceals a webcam behind an edge-to-edge glass display. Also like the MacBook Air, it's made from a single piece of aluminum. The device packs 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth. Customers can choose between black ("onyx") or white ("pearl").

Adamo


"Great design needs to be timeless and evoke emotion in people," said Dell senior vice president of consumer products Alex Gruzen. "While a premium computing experience was assumed for Adamo, the intent was for people to see, touch and explore Adamo and be rewarded by the select materials and craftsmanship you would expect in a fine watch."

The unboxing experience has also taken a cue from Apple. Dell refers to "artful packaging" in which the "product arrives 'floating' in a clear box with minimal clutter."



Interestingly, Dell also provided comments from analyst (and previously an undisclosed paid Dell consultant) Rob Enderle, who praised the machine as a "showcase" of Dell's design and "a flagship product that will draw buyers to the brand."

Adamo


Reaction

Dell's campaign uses a "fall in love" motif, given that the word "Adamo" means just that. Visitors to the website, Adamo by Dell, are first greeted with artfully posed models sliding across the screen before the viewer is invited to "prepare to fall in love." The site is divided into four sections: Encounter, Discover, Admire, and Commit. It's clear that Dell is seeking to change its image as a budget PC maker, but the timing could be problematic.

Crave: "[The price tag] seems entirely out of touch with the current economic reality. Debuting a $1,999 Windows PC right now is questionable at best, but make no mistake: whether Dell actually sells a lot of these makes little difference to the comapny, even if it won't say that publicly...it's a statement about how Dell wants to be perceived from now on."

Engadget: "It looks like you're spending the majority of that cash on high-end design flourishes like a magnetic cover that hides the Microsoft-required Windows authenticity sticker. Hopefully this thing will be joined by some higher-powered siblings when it arrives...keep your fingers crossed."

AP: "The leap Dell is asking consumers to make from its core brand would be a risk in any economy, let alone the worst recession of the personal-computer age. [An analyst said] the PC maker may have a hard time gaining credibility for a high-end product that still carries the budget-friendly Dell name. He compared the move to Mariott's decision to keep its name away from its Ritz-Carlton hotels, or Toyota's choice to launch Lexus as a separate brand."

ZDNet: "Adamo arrives as netbooks are the fastest growing portion of the PC market — because they are cheap. Check Dell's Adamo site out. Holy Vogue Batman. It's all so 2006 and 2007, maybe first half of 2008 before everything unraveled. The irony: Dell's fashion statement comes as high end retailers like Nordstrom are pitching value. Something is amiss here. But let's give credit where it's due. Dell is good at design now and Adamo proves it."

According to Reuters, shares of DELL have fallen 13 percent since the start of the year, while AAPL has seen a jump of 12 percent. Dell is outperforming HP's stock, however, which has slid 20 percent since New Year's Day.

Specifications
  • Intel Core 2 Duo processors with Intel Centrino technology
  • DDR3 system memory
  • 13.4-inch 16:9 HD display
  • Draft-Wireless N
  • High-performance solid state drives standard
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Mobile Broadband option
  • Up to 5+ hours of battery life (preliminary)
  • 2 USB ports, 1 USB/eSATA combo port, Display Port, RJ-45 port
  • Genuine Windows Vista® Home Premium Edition SP1, 64-bit

Pricing and Availability

The Dell Adamo is available for preorder now for shipping worldwide beginning next Tuesday, March 26, starting at $1,999 with customizations topping $4,000.