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Dell faces hurdles in luxury laptop push

PC maker's Adamo is ill-timed and may be grasping for cachet that's not there.

Updated at 9:10 a.m. PDT: correcting for refurbished Apple MacBook Air price and refurbished unit discussion.

Dell's ultra-sleek Adamo may be ill-timed and grasping for cachet that's not there.

Gizmodo summarized its review of the Adamo by saying: "Just don't dare buy this computer until Dell comes to their senses and realizes that $2,000+ is absurd for a 4-pound laptop with no graphics muscle."

Though I think Gizmodo misses the mark about "graphics muscle" (ultraportables are not designed or marketed as graphics powerhouses, or anything close to it), the reviewer is right about price--and high price implies cachet. Only Apple (and maybe the ThinkPad x301) can command the kind of cachet that demands $2,500 for a high-end laptop (i.e., the MacBook Air).

From top: Dell Mini Netbook, Apple MacBook Air, Dell Adamo
From top: Dell Mini Netbook, Apple MacBook Air, Dell Adamo iFixit / TechRepublic

But there's a greater force conspiring against the Dell Adamo and even the Apple MBA: the Netbook.

High-end Netbooks, like the just-announced 11.6-inch Acer Aspire One, are priced well below $700, making it hard to plop down $2,700 for the 1.4GHz Adamo. Yes, the four-pound Dell is a stunning, superior design (0.65-inches thick, machined-aluminum chassis) with better hardware (Core 2 processor, 128GB solid-state drive standard, 13.4-inch 16:9 HD display with edge-to-edge glass) . But is it $2,000 better? In the age of the two-pound $500 "luxury" Netbook, definitely not.

And it's going to get worse. The Netbook's cousin-to-be, the cheap ultraportable, is going to make things even more uncomfortable for the Adamos of the world. A wave of $500-$900 ultrathin MacBook Air-like laptops are expected this summer. If these become popular, they will not only threaten the Adamo but possibly Netbooks too. (The Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv2 is one of the first of many inexpensive ultraportables to come).

At the very least, this new category of laptops could push Netbooks down into the $100 to $300 price tier, instead of the typical $300 to $500 seen today.

Don't want a Netbook? Even "pricey" ultraportables can be had for under $1,300. A refurbished 1.8GHz MacBook Air with a solid-state drive is available today for $1,299 (not $1,099 as originally stated) direct from Apple (in my experience, many refurbished units are cosmetically new, but not without problems: see comments at bottom.)

Still want to fork over $2,700? Didn't think so.

(See: "Cracking Open the Dell Adamo" at TechRepublic.)

Note: the comment above about refurbished units revises the original text that said many refurbished units are "virtually new." This was stated too simplistically and did not accurately characterize the experience that I have had with refurbished laptops.