Dell Adamo XPS: We preview the world's thinnest laptop

Dell Adamo XPS: We preview the world's thinnest laptop

It isn't often that the mere sight of a laptop draws gasps, but the early tantalising glimpses of a 9.99mm-thin, MacBook Air rival from Dell had us salivating in expectation. Now, taking aim at the luxury ultraportable market dominated by Apple and Sony, the Dell Adamo XPS has arrived in the Labs.

The good news is that our hopes most definitely haven't been dashed. It really is impossibly thin, and beautiful in that special way that can draw a crowd within seconds. Brushed aluminium reaches all around - every line and edge softening into a luxurious arc - and it's light, too, weighing just 1.44kg.

Even the "on" switch will have you cooing with delight. Brush a finger over a 2in indent at the laptop's edge and the white LED glows blue to signify that the latch has been activated.

The keyboard then pops free from the Adamo's underside, and folds down to reveal the 13.4in display and a sea of dark, aluminium-capped keys. Rather than placing the hinge on the edge of the chassis, the Adamo's is indented by about 5cm, so the keyboard props up permanently at an angle.

It's certainly an off-the-wall design, but Dell has invested serious time and effort into getting it right. The keyboard, for one, is better than it has any right to be.

The design initially leaves the Adamo looking a little top-heavy, and hence prone to tipping over. But in practice it just works: we tapped away while we sat on a packed commuter train and not once did the Adamo feel unbalanced.

Those Scrabble-tile keys have a firm, crisp action, and feel both comfortable and responsive under the finger. The trackpad, meanwhile, works well: the two discrete buttons depress with a dull, muffled click, and there are both vertical and horizontal scroll zones.

The only mild annoyance is the trackpad's close proximity to the spacebar - occasionally, our thumb stole the cursor and flung it back to a previous paragraph.

The 13.4in, 1366 x 768 display is glorious. LED-backlighting gives it blinding brightness when the occasion demands it, while viewing angles are wide and colour reproduction spot-on. Contrast could be a little better, with blacks in particular looking a little grey at times, but it's still a fantastic screen.

And while you'd be forgiven for thinking a low-voltage processor spells disaster on the performance front, the Adamo feels fast compared to most CULV laptops.

Windows 7 Home Premium saunters along, booting quickly thanks to the 128GB SSD, and programs bound into life with surprising vigour. More demanding applications reveal the Core 2 Duo SU9400's limits, but that SSD helps the Adamo feel like the supercar its price tag suggests.

Compromise is a necessity when pushing the boundaries of laptop design. Impossibly thin it may be, but the Adamo XPS's skin-and-bone figure leaves precious little room for stamina, an optical drive or, for that matter, much in the way of connectivity.

Two USB ports are provided, one on each edge, and they leave just enough room for a DisplayPort socket and a headphone output. The array of adapters in the box provide for DVI and VGA outputs, while the USB 10/100 Ethernet dongle will have to suffice when there are no wireless networks within reach of the 802.11n wireless chipset.

The battery, while removable, is dainty in both size and capacity - 1800mAh - so despite the Adamo's frugal specification it lasted just a couple of hours.

Recent CULV laptops we've seen with far longer battery life have achieved this only by using higher-capacity batteries. We doubt Dell can squeeze much more life out of this pre-production hardware before launch, but there should be a 3600mAh battery upgrade on the way soon - we'd expect it to thicken the XPS by a few millimetres.

So it isn't the longest-lasting laptop away from the mains, but the inclusion of a cigarette-lighter adapter is a neat addition. This leaves a bit of scope to give the Adamo a quick recharge in the car between the office and Starbucks.

Finally, while the XPS might make the MacBook Air look like it's had one too many caramel-flavoured whipped cream lattes, Dell hasn't quite matched Apple's build quality.

The construction isn't poor by any means - every join and seam looks smooth and professional - but while the keyboard feels taut and strong, the paper-thin lid flexes noticeably, with even light finger presses causing ripples of distortion on the glossy display.

So it isn't perfect, but the Adamo XPS is a hugely impressive technical achievement. Performance is more than zippy enough for most uses, and the ergonomics are better than we could ever have expected given its esoteric design.

There's no question that its appeal takes a hit when you see the price tag, but somehow, and almost inexplicably so, the Dell Adamo XPS is still likely to inspire passion in the coldest of hearts. It isn't entirely practical or affordable, but that doesn't stop us desperately wanting one.

Dell Adamo XPS
Gorgeous, refined and instantly iconic, the amazing design masks the few flaws and a high price
• Price: 5407 • CPU model/brand: Intel Core 2 Duo • CPU speed: 1.4Ghz • Memory capacity: 4GB DDR3 • Flash drive capacity: 128GB SSD • Graphics type: GMA X4500 • Screen size: 13.4in • Screen resolution: 1366 x 768 • Weight: 1.44kg • Dimensions WDH: 340 x 272 x 10mm • Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium • Manufacturer: Dell • Supplier: Dell
This review appeared in the April, 2010 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

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