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Are we falling out of love with the Dell Adamo?

Next Friday marks the four-month anniversary of the proper debut of Dell's Adamo luxury ultraportable laptop, and it occurred to me recently that Dell hasn't done much since then to promote or reposition the ultra-premium notebook.What happened?
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

Next Friday marks the four-month anniversary of the proper debut of Dell's Adamo luxury ultraportable laptop, and it occurred to me recently that Dell hasn't done much since then to promote or reposition the ultra-premium notebook.

What happened?

If you recall, the Adamo was supposed to be Dell's aggressive flourish of style and exclusivity. Inside the 0.65-inch aluminum chassis -- available in "Pearl" or "Onyx" -- was a 1.2 GHz or 1.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB to 4GB of DDR3 memory and a five-hour battery. Outside, a scalloped full-size keyboard, 13.4-in. widescreen 16:9 HD edge-to-edge glass display and a 128GB solid-state hard drive.

But "Adamo" means "to fall in love with" in Italian Latin, and a large part of the marketing (online, print, word of mouth) was not the technical specifications but the laptop's undeniable visual appeal, coupled with the exclusivity of a $1,999 (or $2,699) price tag in a global recession, embodied in the clever cat-and-mouse game Dell used to reveal the fashionable device over the course of several months.

"Apple MacBook Air-killer," we tech reporters called it, not without reason: it was the only system that came close, at least in sentiment.

But with each passing summer month comes a widening gap between Adamo and its competition, both in price and performance. Apple has since simultaneously upgraded and dropped the price of its MacBook Air: a 1.86 GHz model with a 120GB HDD for $1,499; and a more comparable 2.13 GHz model with a 128GB SSD for $1,799.

But Adamo, the Air's main competition, sits idle. Four months can be an eternity in the consumer electronics world, and it seems this battle of the "A"s has traded aggression for the absurd.

Why absurd? Because Dell sits on a powerful new brand built with untold thousands of dollars. Once promoted on the front door of Dell's website, Adamo languishes on its own vanity site in the web's shadows, replaced by $399 laptop deals, $279 desktop steals and promotions for Dell's "green" tech commitments.

Curiously, Dell has a history of lowering prices not terribly long after a product launch -- the opposite of rival Apple, which tends to remain firm on its prices. What has happened is the opposite: Apple is reaping the benefits of positioning the Air as a more compelling alternative to a traditional laptop (at a certain price point), while the Adamo becomes ever more the outlier.

My concern, of course, is not about the Adamo as a laptop. It's about Adamo as a vision. Focused on the bottom line and moving budget units, Dell is squandering the chance to improve its corporate consumer face with this product.

When the everyman Dell launched Adamo, it faced criticism for being tone-deaf with a deflating economy. But Adamo was in the pipeline for a considerable amount of time, long before the market floor fell out. And at the time, it wasn't drastically out of step with the Air, still quite an outlier product itself at the time: fairly exclusive, expensive and fashionably extreme.

Things are different now. The Adamo underperformed the competition then and it does even more so now, both from perspective of hardware and price point. Laptop OEMs, spurred in part by Air and Adamo, are introducing competitively-priced laptops that strike a better balance between performance, build quality (despite flaws) and price.

Take the MSI X-Slim X340, for example. It weighs 2.86 lbs. -- much less than Adamo's 4.0 lbs and marginally less than the 3.0-lb. Air -- is 0.78 in. thick, offers a 1.40GHz (Core Solo) processor, a 320GB HDD and 2GB of DDR2 memory. Price? $779 at NewEgg.

Which makes one ask oneself: Does an aluminum case, fancy name, style points and modest tradeoffs (320GB HDD for 128GB SSD; DDR2 for DDR3; an extra processor core) equal justifying another 1.5 laptop computers?

Call it exclusive, call it fashionable, call it a coveted item that's for the globetrotting jet-set, the fashionable celebrity, the cunning entrepreneur. I call it a standing example of a company that doesn't know a good thing when it's sitting right in front of it.

And as far as I can see, even fashionistas would rather direct their admiration toward a brand new MacBook Air and an extra pair of Manolo Blahniks.

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