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Dell Adamo: All dressed up with nowhere to go?

Dell debuts a stylish, expensive new laptop it hopes will make it known for its design chops over its ability to sell a low-cost PC.

Dell Adamo
Dell's sleek, pricey new Adamo: love it, or leave it?

Just over two months after Dell first showed off Adamo at the Consumer Electronics Show, the company says the notebook will be available for order starting Tuesday.

Adamo is Latin for "to fall in love with" or "covet." And of course that's what Dell hopes consumers will do when they see the sleek lines and extra attention to design details it's showered on this notebook.

It also adds up to an incredibly high price tag, one that 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 company, even if it won't say that publicly. The Adamo itself is not a guaranteed money-maker as much as it's a statement about how Dell wants to be perceived from now on.

"This is not necessarily a product that's designed to sell a lot of units. It's much more a showpiece product to demonstrate Dell's commitment to upgrading the level of design in its products," said Stephen Baker, an analyst for the NPD Group who keeps tabs on the electronics retail and PC industries.

Dell Adamo packaging
Dell thinks differently when it comes to packaging for the Adamo. Dell

It's safe to say that it's achieved that here. Whether the approach is too heavy-handed is more of a matter of personal opinion, but for Dell, it's clearly the most emphasis on design of any PC it's made. Every conversation with Dell about Adamo up to now has been entirely about the designand materials used, despite completely respectable interior specs. (For more on that, be sure to check out CNET's hands-on first take on the Adamo.)

The company is certainly proud of what its designers have come up with: unibody construction; superthin profile, .65 inches at its thinnest; etched aluminum; and a razor-thin bezel around a 13.4-inch glass wide-screen display. Proud, even if Adamo's design inspiration isn't disguised all that well, especially when it comes to the packaging--iPod circa 2007, anyone?

Overall, Adamo isn't revolutionary (we've seen thin, aluminum notebooks before) except in terms of Dell's own aspirations. Put more plainly, "The value they get out of the product is in the halo effect they hope it brings to the entire product line and to the entire company," said Baker.

Print ad Adamo
Print advertisement for Adamo Dell

Where Dell is planning on placing its first series of print ads telegraphs exactly what the company wants out of the Adamo. High-fashion style ads have been placed in standard publications for tech products like The New York Times and Wired. But Dell also adds the entertainment trade Variety, and goes after the female market in a big way with Cosmopolitan, In Style, and Vogue. The ads depict a model striking a pose with the Adamo, and a few specs are listed at the bottom, a total departure from Dell's years of straight-laced "Intel Inside"-centered selling.

The entire exercise is representative of how Dell is repositioning itself. The company has been in the throes of a hard-fought internal makeover for the past two years, which is also being expressed in a new breadth of products. During a recent trip I took to company headquarters in Round Rock, Texas, one of the senior design managers for enterprise summed it up best: "There's been a concerted effort in the last five years to not be regarded as a maker of cheap PCs."

Of course, Dell still pays plenty of attention to performance, but the change in emphasis on looks is just not the Dell many of us are used to. The company was flying high for many years allowing consumers to buy their computers directly, customized with the exact specifications they desired, for less. But it completely missed the computer-as-extension-of-personality trend, and now appears to be making up for that ten-fold.

The best symbol for the change in philosophy at Dell can be found on the company's Web site, where when ordering a computer these days shoppers are prompted to pick color/design first, processor and hard drive capacity later--a classic tactic ripped straight from the car salesmen's manual meant to get consumers to connect emotionally with the product.

You can draw a straight line from that to the Adamo and what Dell has planned for the future, which is even more Adamo-branded products that are heavy on style, according to Alex Gruzen, senior vice president of consumer products, who told CNET: "This is just the beginning."