In the past, I’ve praised Dell for mastering the art of the fine tweak. In the past few iterations of XPS 13, the company has focused on refinement –– shaving off a few tenths of an inch here, expanding something else there –– you know the deal. For CES 2022, the company earns my kudos for doing something totally different. The beloved XPS 13 has gone Plus and with its new designation brings a new design that will undoubtedly be polarizing. This will also be Dell’s most powerful flagship with the Plus sporting a 28W Intel 12th Gen processor –– a first for the line.
I had a chance to get a brief hands on with the new Dell XPS 13 Plus and I’m left with more tantalizing questions than answers.
This is by far going to be one of the most polarizing designs we’ve seen coming from the XPS 13. Even more so than the infamous nose cam. And before you get worried, the webcam is right where it’s supposed to be in the top bezel. At first glance, the Plus looks like your typical XPS 13. A minimalist chassis made of anodized aluminum with nothing but a shiny chrome Dell logo in the center of the lid to let you know what it is. It’s sleek and modern as befits a premium laptop.
The system will be available in two colors: Platinum and Graphite. The former reminds me of the Frost White finish of previous XPS 13.
Alright, now here’s where things start getting interesting. The name of the game here is streamlining and Dell took a scalpel to the Plus. Open the notebook, and you’ll notice a couple of things right off the bat. First, there’s no Fn key row and second, the touchpad has disappeared. In lieu of the traditional Fn keys, you have a backlit row of capacitive touch keys that can toggle between Fn and media keys.
Without the Fn row in the, Dell made the Plus’ fans bigger and gave them the extra space. Dell claims that this will deliver up to 55% more airflow, which allows for more powerful components without altering the ultraportable’s dimensions too much. The Plus only weighs 2.7 pounds and cuts a slim profile at 0.6 inches. That’s a bit lighter than the XPS 13 OLED (2.8 pounds) as well as the MacBook Pro 13 (3.5 pounds) and the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (2.8 pounds).
Premium systems need premium features, starting with security. The Plus has ExpressSign-in, which paired with Windows Hello makes for a quick, seamless login. The laptop also features an IR camera for Windows Hello-enabled facial recognition.
The missing Fn key row and touchpad might be strange, but this disappearing act might be the most polarizing. Dell has sent the headset port to the great beyond leaving only a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports. They even nixed the microSD slot we’ve come to know and love. And yes, it’s all in the name of design and performance, but I can’t help but wonder if Dell’s gone a step too far with this one.
Dell rarely leaves consumers wanting for options with its system and the same goes for the Plus. The system will offer several display options including some FHD (1920 x 1080) panels and an OLED option. However, pricing and exact specs have yet to be released. I’m not going to lie. I was so gobsmacked by the rest of the design to really zero in on the screen. I’m looking forward to seeing what Dell has to offer this time around.
What I can say is that the company has retained its four-sided InfinityEdge design which features some of the slimmest bezels available on a laptop. And yes, they’ve managed to make the bezels even smaller.
Keyboard and touchpad
The XPS 13 Plus has a host of surprises, some more obvious than others. For instance, the laptop has larger keycaps which should hopefully help with comfort and accuracy. I didn’t have a lot of time to play with the keys, but they felt plenty springy. The keyboard sits flush with the palm rest giving off the impression that everything was hewn from one piece of aluminum.
And now for the elephant in the room. Where in the world is the touchpad? Gone. Well, not so much gone as it’s more invisible. Instead of placing a depression in the center of the palm rest, Dell has gone with a seamless glass design which uses force pad haptics to communicate when you’re performing your traditional touchpad interactions.
It takes a bit of getting used to and might be too futuristic for some people.
Although Dell hasn’t given specifics as of yet, we do know a couple of things. For instance, the flagship will have a 28-watt, 12th Gen Intel processor. And since previous XPS 13s have only had integrated graphics, it’s a safe bet that the same can be said for the Plus. At the very least I’m thinking it’ll be an Iris Xe GPU. And since this is a premium system, I’m guessing that the system will be configured with up to 32GB of RAM and at least 1TB of SSD storage.
This is the beginning of a new era for the Dell XPS 13. With the introduction of the Dell XPS 13 Plus, the company is looking to redefine the meaning of premium. Instead of a slew of bells and whistles, the Plus offers power by way of laser-precision streamlining. The result is a laptop unlike anything we’ve seen from the brand which is great. However, I’m just not sure if all of the changes will go over so well, particularly when it comes to the headset jack and touchpad. But if the performance lives up to Dell’s claims, consumers might be open to such a drastic change. Either way, I can’t wait to review this intriguing new laptop.