Take note Apple, Dell makes plastic look good

Dell is selling good-looking yet inexpensive consumer laptops. Should Apple be worried?

Maybe for the first time in its history, Dell is selling good-looking consumer laptops. They're plastic but show that Apple's aluminum design zeitgeist has its limits.

It's not an Apple MacBook Pro but it's attractive--and cheap.
It's not an Apple MacBook Pro but it's attractive--and cheap. Dell

In a visit over the weekend to a Best Buy in the heart of Silicon Valley, two things got my attention. One was the disproportionately large number of people gawking at Netbooks. The other was two gorgeous Dell laptops.

There is a design renaissance at Dell, which is encouraging, considering that for years Dell sold, very forgettable, if not ugly, pedestrian designs. The Adamo line--a luxury laptop inspired by the Apple MacBook Air--has led the way for Dell. But that line, with the exception of the recent price drop to $999 of one Adamo model, is priced above $1,500--out of reach for most people.

What Dell has done with its newest plastic models is deliver a pleasing design along with a good price and solid specifications--based on Intel's newest Core i3 and i5 processors. The 15.6-inch Inspiron (i1564-6980CRD) is slim and cheap at $649 but exudes the look of a more expensive laptop. Ditto with the 17-inch model (i1764-60750BK).

This is a feat Apple is incapable of because Apple refuses to sell laptops below $999--not to mention the fact that Apple has yet to bring out laptops based on the new Intel Core i series of processors.

And this also underscores why Apple will never completely dominate the laptop market. And why there is a kernel of truth in the Microsoft laptop hunter ads. (Thinness is key to the improved Dell aesthetics. See this 360 degree spin of the 15.6-inch model, which, by the way, doesn't do the design justice. Seeing the design up close leaves a bigger impression, at least for me.)

So, Dell deserves credit--not all the design glory should go to Apple. Dell has delivered elegant designs that don't come with a luxury laptop surcharge.

See the colorful Dell Inspiron lineup at Dell.com

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