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

Dell XPS 13 Plus open, forward
Enlarge / Dell’s XPS 13 Plus clamshell laptop.

Sharon Harding

Specifications at a Glance: Dell XPS 13 Plus (9320)
The worst Best 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 touchscreen
OX Windows 11 Home Windows 11 Pro Windows 11 Home
CPU Intel Core i5-1240P Intel Core i7-1280P
RAM 8GB LPDDR5-5200 32 GB LPDDR5-5200 16 GB LPDDR5-5200
Storage 512 GB PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD 2TB PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD 512 GB PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD
GPU Intel Iris Xe
Network Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4
Size 11.63 x 7.84 x 0.6 inches
295.30 x 199.04 x 15.28 mm
Weight 2.71 pounds (1.23 kg) IPS: 2.71 lbs 1.23 kg)
OLED: 2.78 pounds (1.26 kg)
2.78 pounds (1.26 kg)
Battery 55 Wh
Guarantee 1 year
Price (MSRP) $1,300 $2,360 $2,000
Other USB-C to 3.5 mm and USB-C to USB-A 3.0 adapters included, Ubuntu based developer edition available

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

Apparently that wasn’t enough for Dell, so it took the Dell XPS 13 Plus. Launched this year (alongside a more traditional 2022 XPS 13), it’s a revamped version of the XPS 13 that puts performance above all else.

Wild design choices allow the system to support a 28 W CPU. With the 2021 XPS 13 carrying a 15 W chip and the 2022 XPS 13 supporting up to a 12 W one, this is a notable achievement. But it’s also a case of function over form. To put it simply, using the XPS 13 Plus felt weird. From its tightly spaced keys and capacitive touch function row to its minimal port selection, questionable build quality and extremely high temperatures, this machine can be frustrating to use for day-to-day tasks.

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

Touch Bar-like function row

The most interesting feature rides in ages.
Enlarge / The most interesting feature rides in ages.

Sharon Harding

Dell hasn’t given up on soft-touch input on top of its laptop keyboards. You can do a similar setup on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, though every other MacBook has gone back to real keys. However, Dell’s take on the capacitive touch drive is more limited than Apple’s Touch Bar.

It is not programmable for one. It 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, pressing Fn causes the function row to display Esc and F1–F12, and you can lock that layout in place by holding down Fn + Esc.

Dell does not have a Touch Bar-like top row just to be different. Because the keys use capacitive touch, they are 1.4mm thick instead of the 3.2mm vertical space required with traditional buttons. This decision saves space and allowed Dell to move the hinges to wider ends for improved system cooling, the company said. But when the laptop was pushed to maximum performance for prolonged periods, the function row became so hot that it was uncomfortable to the touch.

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

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

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

That said, there are a lot worse things than a ho-hum function row, especially when the rest of the keyboard is fantastic. Unfortunately it is not.

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