Dell is making computers interesting again. Who would have thought?
Feast your eyes on the gorgeous tablet in the picture above. Then take a peek at the sleek laptop below. Those barely-there bezels. That premium ultrathin construction. They came from Dell.
They're not all looks, either: the new XPS 13 laptop and Venue 8 7000 tablet are among the best we've ever reviewed. And not just that. In the US at least, the laptop starts at $800. The tablet is $400. Two premium products that you could actually afford to take home.
I bought my dream computer from Dell in 2002, the Inspiron 8200. It had everything I needed: a high-def 1600 x 1200 screen, a powerful Pentium 4 processor, modular batteries for (car) camping, and discrete ATI graphics just good enough to get by at LAN parties. I was able to afford it with wages I'd saved up from a part-time job, and it made me the envy of my friends for at least a short time. Yep, Dell was cool, and it made me cool.
Dell never really stopped building great value products like my Inspiron 8200. But fandom faded as Dell became just one of many PC companies racing to the bottom with price on traditional PCs... and pushing out half-baked tablets, smartphones, and stylish ultrathin laptops in an attempt to keep pace with the growing popularity of Apple.
But it's not like Dell is all about cheap computers, you know. The new Dell XPS 13 is hardly the company's first attempt to build a stunning notebook. It's just the first stunning Dell notebook in recent memory that you'd actually want to buy.
Take the incredible Dell Adamo, circa 2009. We at the time called it "the MacBook Air designed by Batman". It's made of beautiful brushed aluminium, with a pane of tempered glass around back. It also cost over far too much, weighed a couple of kilos, was dreadfully underpowered, and had under three hours of battery life.
And then there's the Dell Adamo XPS, from later that year. See that keyboard? It runs right up into the computer's impossibly thin chassis. Blow up the picture below and take a good look at that USB port and remember this computer is from 2009. But again, £1,649 for a seriously weak computer that reviewers ultimately called disappointing.
Until today — in my mind, at least — the closest Dell ever got to a blend of "a computer you'd actually want to buy" and "a computer you'd like to be seen using" was the Dell XPS M1330 in 2007. It still started at around the £1000 mark, with configs making it even more pricey. But it set a record for skinny notebooks at just under an inch thick, could come with discrete graphics (which sadly burnt out
and sparked a major class-action lawsuit), and it looked pretty damn cool for the time.
So how is Dell suddenly building stylish computers that cost much less than you'd expect? Dell, now a private company, doesn't have to answer to investors who want to make a quick buck. Dell's now focused on long-term growth—which means the company doesn't have to push out half-baked products to look like they're doing something important.
Dell can take risks now.
"Dell used to discontinue a product if it didn't sell well in 90 days," PC industry analyst Pat Moorhead tells me. "That drove a culture of low or no risk-takers and you can't succeed in the PC market with this attitude." Importantly, Moorhead also says that Dell's current executive team now intuitively understands the importance of design.
"We have been bringing to market some amazing products for years now that most people can't afford," admits Azor. "Quite simply it was just a matter of challenging ourselves, applying all the knowledge we gained from building this class of products for several years now and focusing on the improved goal".
Your move, Apple.