Review: Dell’s XPS 13 Plus pulls high performance from a frustrating design

Enlarge / Dell XPS 13 Plus Laptop.

Scharon Harding

Specs at a Glance – Dell XPS 13 Plus (9320)
The worst Better as reviewed
Screen 13.4-inch 1920 × 1200 IPS non-touch screen 13.4-inch 3840 × 2400 IPS touchscreen or 13.4-inch 3456 × 2160 OLED touchscreen 13.4-inch 3456×2160 OLED touch screen
operating system Home Windows 11 Windows 11 Pro Home Windows 11
CPU Intel Core i5-1240P Intel Core i7-1280P
RAM 8GB LPDDR5-5200 32GB LPDDR5-5200 16GB LPDDR5-5200
Storage 512GB PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD 2TB PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD 512GB PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD
GPU Intel IrisXe
networks Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2
ports 2x Lightning 4
Size 11.63 x 7.84 x 0.6 inches
295.30 x 199.04 x 15.28mm
Weight 2.71lbs (1.23kg) IPS: 2.71lbs 1.23kg)
OLED: 2.78lbs (1.26kg)
2.78lbs (1.26kg)
Drums 55Wh
Warranty 1 year
Price (MSRP) $1,300 $2,360 $2,000
Other USB-C to 3.5mm and USB-C to USB-A 3.0 adapters included, Developer edition based on Ubuntu available

Dell’s XPS 13 laptop has long been a staple among Windows ultralights, generally offering decent performance for the price, extreme portability, and good looks.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough for Dell, so it released the Dell XPS 13 plus. Introduced this year (along with a more traditional 2022XPS 13), is a revamped version of the XPS 13 that puts performance before everything else.

Wild design choices allow the system to support a 28W CPU. With the XPS 13 2021 sporting a 15W chip and the XPS 13 2022 sporting a 12W chip, this is a remarkable achievement. But it is also a case of function over form. Simply put, using the XPS 13 Plus felt weird. From its closely spaced keys and row of capacitive touch features to its minimal port selection, questionable build quality, and extremely high temperatures, this machine can be frustrating to use for everyday tasks.

As an actor, the XPS 13 Plus has its advantages. But as a laptop, some design choices can push it towards other powerful, thin and light laptops.

Touch Bar-esque Feature Row

The most interesting feature row in years.
Enlarge / The most interesting feature row in years.

Scharon Harding

Dell hasn’t given up on soft-touch input over its laptop keyboards. You can find a similar configuration in the 13-inch MacBook Pro, though all other MacBooks have reverted to real keys. However, Dell’s version of the capacitive touch row is more limited than Apple’s Touch Bar.

It is not programmable, for example. You can display Esc, media keys (including a handy microphone mute button that lights up), brightness controls, the Windows Project button, and some navigation keys. Alternatively, when you press Fn, the function row displays Esc and F1–F12, and you can lock that layout in place by holding down Fn + Esc.

Dell did not introduce a Top row similar to a touch bar just to be different. Because the keys use capacitive touch, they are 1.4mm thick instead of the 3.2mm of vertical space that would be required with traditional buttons. This decision saved space and allowed Dell to move the hinges to wider points to improve system cooling, the company said. But when running the laptop at maximum performance for extended periods, the row of functions got so hot that it was uncomfortable to touch.

The feature row isn’t an area that sees frequent innovations, and I’m glad Dell redesigned it in the name of performance and not just as a gimmick. But as someone who prefers mechanical keyboards, it’s hard to love the capacitive touch input. During my weeks with the laptop, I occasionally mis-pressed keys on the top row when I probably wouldn’t have if I had standard buttons. On rare occasions, I accidentally brushed the row slightly, registering an input or two, when I was trying to use the number row.

Since the function row has controls set, you don’t need to customize it. But it still seems like there is room for more features. For example, there are no fast-rewind or fast-forward media controls, and unlike many recent ultralights I’ve tested, there’s no button or light on the keyboard to indicate the webcam is off. There’s also no light indicator for when the volume is muted.

The bright illumination of the function row was distracting at times, but it’s impossible to turn it off. An ambient sensor near the webcam automatically adjusts the brightness of the row based on the lighting in the room.

That said, there are a lot worse things than a row of boring features, especially if the rest of the keyboard is fantastic. Unfortunately, it is not.

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