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Dell Adamo XPS review: Dell Adamo XPS

Dell Adamo XPS

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

6 min read

Editors' note: This review is part of our spring 2010 retail laptop and desktop roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.

OVR
7.5

Dell Adamo XPS

The Good

Superslim chassis; inventive design.

The Bad

Weak battery life; large footprint; no SD card slot.

The Bottom Line

Dell's high-concept Adamo XPS deserves credit for taking some serious design risks. It's a cool conversation piece, but poor battery life keeps it from being terribly useful.

For a brand known for mainstream, middle-of-the-road laptops (and now inexpensive Netbooks), Dell has put a surprising amount of effort into creating high-end products. The company acquired gaming PC leader Alienware, launched the XPS and Studio lines, and created the Adamo, its ultrahigh-end laptop.

The original Adamo was a thin MacBook Air competitor, but the revamped version (which has been long-discussed, but only sporadically available to the public) is even more extreme, with a unique design and a 9.99mm body.

Like the HP Envy and the Sony Vaio Z116, we call these $2,000 (or more) systems "CEO Laptops," as they seem most likely to be used as high-end showpieces by those who don't mind paying premium prices for essentially the same components as lower-cost laptops.

As a work of technological art, the Adamo XPS is a real conversation-starter. It works fine as an everyday laptop as well, as long as you don't need an optical drive or lots of ports and connections. Our main complaint was the weak battery life; something so clearly designed for portability should last longer than a typical rush hour cab ride to the airport.

Our initial impressions of the Adamo remain largely the same after getting our hands on a final review version (we briefly had some hands-on time late last year). The system is ridiculously thin, especially for a 13-inch laptop, but at the same time the Adamo feels slightly heavier than it looks, even with a solid-state hard drive.

Though very thin, the Adamo XPS also has a larger-than-expected footprint. Viewed when closed, it looks like a 14- or 15-inch laptop, and when open, its 13-inch display feels slightly dwarfed by the wide lid.

The Adamo opens in an unusual way, with the lid shut tight until you swipe a finger on a heat-sensitive strip centered on the front edge. Then the lid lifts up, tilting the screen back and lifting the keyboard on its unusual inset hinge. We worried (as did many of our colleagues) that the lack of a flat bottom surface would make it impossible for this laptop to actually sit on your lap. It doesn't feel as comfortable or as stable as a traditional laptop design when resting on our legs, but it isn't unworkable in that situation, either.

When fully opened, the keyboard sits at about a 20-degree angle. It's an unusual setup, but one that provides a better raised typing experience than the average flat laptop keyboard (although some readers have told us they dislike angled keyboards). We also liked the solid-feeling metal keys and the reasonably large touch pad. The right Shift key is smaller than the left one, but not horribly so, but the row of Function keys is both small and set flush to the keyboard tray surface, making them hard to hit. Still, the overall typing experience is good, and we quickly adapted to the layout and its flat, widely spaced keys.

The 13.4-inch wide-screen LED display offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for an upscale 13-inch system. Screen images were bight and clear, although the overly glossy screen coating picked up plenty of glare. The stereo speakers, mounted on the bottom surface (which would be raised off the ground when the laptop lid is open) are tinny and underpowered; we suggest headphones for almost all audio use.

The system's components seem to be located behind the screen, as the ports (two USB, a headphone jack, power connection, and DisplayPort) are on the side edges of the lid. Two dongles are included. One that turns the DisplayPort connection into a DVI port, and one that connects a USB port to an Ethernet jack. Say what you will about the sparse connections on the Adamo XPS, it's still got twice as many USB ports as the MacBook Air. At the same time, the lack of an SD card slot is unconscionable.

The 1.4GHz Intel ULV processor is starting to look a little dated with Intel's current generation of Core-series CPUs, and we wonder if the power-efficient Core i3 could fit into this slim chassis. That said, though the Adamo XPS couldn't match the performance of systems with newer CPUs, or even HP's Envy 13, it was perfectly fine for everyday multitasking, and never felt sluggish or underpowered in anecdotal use.

Juice box
Adamo XPS Avg watts/hour
Off (60%) 0.61
Sleep (10%) 0.79
Idle (25%) 9.34
Load (05%) 24.92
Raw kWh Number 35.27
Annual power consumption cost $4

Annual power consumption cost
Dell Adamo XPS
$4 
Asus G73jx
$14.98 

Unfortunately, with a body this thin, there's not much room for a battery. In our video playback battery drain test, the Adamo XPS ran for only 1 hour and 23 minutes, a score we'd expect to see only from the biggest of desktop replacements. Considering this system had an SSD hard drive and a ULV processor, that's especially poor. In anecdotal testing, however, we got a little between 2 and 2.5 hours of general use from the slim battery pack when surfing the Web, working on office docs, etc.

Dell does include a second, larger battery with the Adamo, but that breaks up the clean lines of the system (and is more than twice as thick as the Adamo itself), and our default is to always test with the battery that fits the overall design best when there are more than one.

Dell includes an industry-standard one-year parts and labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, and Dell's collection of support tools, including online chat, a Flash-based question widget, knowledge base, and driver downloads. As this is a retail-specific version of the Adamo XPS, note that retail stores offer a variety of extended warranty plans with your laptop purchase, but they're generally expensive and hard to use, so we do not recommend them.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Adamo XPS
1,664 

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Adamo XPS
219 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Adamo XPS
280 

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Dell Adamo XPS
83 

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Dell Adamo XPS
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Dedicated)/1759MB (Total) Intel GS45; 128GB Samsung Solid State Drive

Sony Vaio VPCS111 FM/S
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.26GHz Intel Core i5 M430; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 128MB (Dedicated)/1755MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 500GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio VPCF115 FM/B
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M; 500GB Samsung 5,400rpm

Asus G73jx
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5870; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm

OVR
7.5

Dell Adamo XPS

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7Battery 5Support 7
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