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Hardware: Dell Makes Two High-End Laptop Plays

Computer maker introduces design-driven Adamo and heavy-duty Latitude E6400 XFR.

At a time when netbooks command the high ground in terms of industry buzz and sales growth, Dell Inc. is doubling down on higher-end, higher-margin mobile PCs. The Round Rock, Texas-based computer giant fired shots across the bows of both Apple Inc. and Panasonic Corp. in March.

The release of the Dell Adamo laptop took aim at Apple's dominance of design-intensive laptops such as the MacBook and MacBook Air. On the other, function-dictates-form end of the spectrum, the new Dell Latitude E6400 XFR provides Dell's latest answer to Panasonic's line of Toughbook products.

High Fashion
Dell launched the Adamo with a fashion-inspired print magazine campaign featuring models carrying the laptop while wearing clothing straight off the fashion runway. In addition to the accessories you might expect for what Dell calls the "world's thinnest" laptop-a USB stick, an external hard drive, a Blu-ray disc drive-is an exclusive bag by Tumi, a maker of luxury travel items. Given that a bag is a featured accessory, it's no surprise that the other accessories are color-matched in the laptop's onyx and pearl options.

While netbooks bring screen sizes of 9 inches or less, the Adamo features a 13.9-inch display with a high-definition, edge-to-edge glass display. Also standard in the laptop, which starts at $2,000, are WiFi, Bluetooth, solid-state drives, DDR3 system memory and Intel Core 2 Duo processors with Intel Centrino technology.

Like Apple, Dell is paying attention to detail, right down to the packaging. According to Dell's announcement of Adamo, the purchase includes: "Artful packaging in which the product arrives 'floating' in a clear box with minimal clutter-a beautiful experience for a sophisticated product."

It's a far cry from the "Dude, you're getting a Dell" campaigns of years past. The shift at Dell toward more attention to design has been evident for more than a year, according to industry analyst Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group. Enderle says he believes the Adamo laptop will draw buyers to the Dell brand.

High Impact
Dell is also taking another run at Panasonic for the dust, drops and bullets crowd.

Dell released the Latitude E6400 XFR, the latest entry in the fully rugged laptop category that Dell first entered a year before with the Latitude XFR D630. The new version is 5 percent lighter than the D630, 15 percent thinner than the D630 and can fall from 25 percent higher than any computer in its class, according to Dell. Dell doesn't brag about this next percentage, but it's also 10 percent more expensive than the D630, with a starting price of $4,299.

The system debuted at Federal Office Systems Exposition in March in Washington, D.C., which is an appropriate venue given the many military, homeland security and other government fieldwork applications for heavy-duty laptops.

The exterior, which Dell dubs the Ballistic Armor Protection System, features a material called PR-481. Dell claims the case materials bring twice the impact strength of magnesium alloy, which is the major component of the Panasonic Toughbook cases. According to Dell, the E6400 can withstand a drop of four feet when powered down and closed and up to three feet when the system is open and operating.

While Panasonic has a big lead in mindshare in the rugged category, Dell is playing up the compatibility of its laptops for government organizations and companies that standardize on Dell systems. "The fully rugged laptop shares common images and components with the Dell Latitude E6400 laptops for easy integration into existing environments, and enables low ownership costs," Dell materials state. As Gartner Inc. analysts have said for more than a decade, there's much more to cost of ownership than the price of the initial system purchase.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.