Dell XPS 13 has been the most important Windows laptop of the past decade, serving as the standard bearer in the battle against Mac. It has topped countless “best laptops” pages and is a direct recommendation for anyone looking for a high-end Windows PC. Its claim to fame was to launch ultra-thin display bezels, a feature now adopted by gadgets in the consumer tech industry. Dell’s tactic since then has been to tinker with and refine, making minor but significant changes to its flagship clamshell laptop.
This year, Dell is taking greater risks by introducing a new XPS 13 Plus.
To be clear, the XPS 13 Plus will sit next to the XPS 13, not replace it. It is, however, much more than the same laptop with a buzzword cut off at the end. The XPS 13 Plus was, in Dell’s terms, built from the ground up. This may not be obvious at first glance as the new model has the same general design as the previous one, but a closer look reveals several differences.
Most of them are inside, where Dell has thought of ways to reinvent the traditional laptop by simplifying and streamlining it. One method was to replace the inconspicuous touchpad with a sheet of glass that spanned the entire length of the bridge. The new uninterrupted touchpad uses haptics to replace a click with a vibration, a method familiar to anyone who has owned a recent MacBook.
Above the touchpad is what Dell calls a “zero lattice” keyboard, or in less jargon terms, one with no wasted space. Taking up a page of the frameless screen, the keyboard spans edge-to-edge of the deck, with virtually no space between the sharply angled keys, which offer a measly 1 millimeter of travel.
This keyboard is intentionally missing a key element: the function line. Replacing the Fn keys with capacitive touch-sensitive keys flush with the bridge, a change according to Dell, will make it easier to switch between function keys and media keys.
Other chassis updates are less noticeable but just as important. These include speakers enhanced by means of a quad configuration with two under the keyboard pulling up and a pair of drivers down. By expanding the dual fans of the XPS 13 Plus, Dell gave it the cooling necessary to run on 28W processors, versus the 12W TDP chips of previous models.
This brings us to the components. The XPS 13 Plus will run on 12th Generation Intel P-series processors, an intermediate chip between the high-power H-series and low-power U-series chips used in previous XPS models. The result should be a substantial increase in performance, although the amount of one remains a mystery. Intel focused on its 12th Gen H-series chips at CES 2022 and only briefly mentioned the P-series. We expect to hear more about this new processor in the coming months, including how which it compares to AMD and Apple chips.
For now, all I can say is that the XPS 13 Plus will ship with four processor options ranging from a 12-core Intel Core i5-1240P (4.7 GHz) to a Core processor. 14-core i7-1280P (4.8 GHz). These can be paired with up to 32 GB of DDR5 RAM and up to 2 TB of PCIe SSD. The graphics are unsurprisingly limited to the built-in Iris Xe. One of the advantages of the new processors is the support of Wi-Fi 6E and the XPS tackles Bluetooth 5.2 for good measure.
Best of all, you get the extra power without sacrificing portability; the CNC aluminum and glass laptop measures 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches and weighs 2.7 pounds, roughly the same as the standard model. And there’s still a plethora of display options to choose from, starting with a 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200 pixel (16:10 aspect ratio) panel at 500 nits and 100% sRGB coverage all the way down to one panel. 4K, DisplayHDR 400 or an OLED touchscreen.
Dell hasn’t provided battery life estimates, but we’re eager to see if the most power-hungry processor is affecting run times. The non-replaceable 55WHr battery will need to last at least 10 hours of normal use for the XPS 13 Plus to steal its sibling’s place as the best alternative to the Macbook Air, especially since Apple’s latest systems are approaching the 15 hour mark.
There’s a lot to unbox here, and I’ll reserve my judgments for my full review, but I applaud Dell for taking the risks. There’s no denying that these changes have the potential to divide, and the company seems to welcome chaos (even openly claiming that the XPS 13 Plus was “inspired by Gen-Z,” whatever that means).
I’m concerned that switching from touch inputs to capacitive inputs might be off-putting for some, and removing some of the signature materials from the XPS might damage the brand. But at least Dell is doing more than reissuing the same laptop with new specs. Instead, it took a long time to think about how to move the traditional clamshell laptop forward. It remains to be seen whether the XPS 13 Plus is heading in this direction. We will find out soon enough; the XPS 13 Plus running Windows 11 or Ubuntu will ship this spring with a starting price of $ 1,199.