Dell’s XPS 13 Plus Is a Risky Evolution of the Best Windows Laptop

Dell’s XPS 13 Plus Is a Risky Evolution of the Best Windows Laptop
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Dell’s XPS 13 has been the most important Windows laptop of the past decade, serving as the flag bearer in the battle against Mac. It has topped countless “best laptop” pages and is a straightforward recommendation to anyone searching for a premium Windows PC. Its claim to fame was debuting ultra-thin display bezels — a feature now adopted by gadgets across the consumer tech industry. Since then, Dell’s tactic has been to tinker and refine, making minor but meaningful changes to its flagship clamshell laptop.

This year, Dell is taking bigger risks by introducing a new XPS 13 Plus.

Photo: Sam Rutherford/GizmodoPhoto: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

To be clear, the XPS 13 Plus will sit alongside the XPS 13, not replace it. It is, though, much more than the same laptop with a buzzword lopped on the end. The XPS 13 Plus has, in Dell’s words, been built from the ground up. That might not be apparent at first glance because the new model has the same general design as the previous one, but closer inspection reveals several differences.

Most of those are found on the inside, where Dell thought of ways to reimagine the traditional laptop by simplifying and streamlining. One method was to replace the discrete touchpad with a glass sheet that spans the entire length of the deck. The new uninterrupted touchpad uses haptics to replace a click with a vibration, a method familiar to anyone who has owned a recent MacBook.

Photo: Sam Rutherford/GizmodoPhoto: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Above the touchpad is what Dell calls a “zero lattice” keyboard, or in less jargony terms, one with no wasted space. Taking a page from the bezel-free screen, the keyboard spans from one edge of the deck to the other, with practically no gaps between the sharply-angled keys, which offer a measly 1-millimetre of travel.

This keyboard is purposely missing a key element: the function row. Replacing the Fn keys are touch capacitive ones flush with the deck, a change Dell says will make it easier to swap between function and media keys.

Photo: Sam Rutherford/GizmodoPhoto: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Other updates to the chassis are less visible but equally significant. Those include improved speakers by way of a quad setup with two beneath the keyboard firing upward and a pair of drivers down below. By enlarging the XPS 13 Plus’s dual fans, Dell gave it the cooling needed to run on 28W processors, up from the 12W TDP chips in the previous models.

This brings us to the components. The XPS 13 Plus will run on 12th Gen Intel P-series processors, an intermediate chip between the high-powered H-series chips and low-power U-series ones used in previous XPS models. The result should be a substantial performance boost, though how much 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 it stacks up to AMD and Apple chips.

Photo: Sam Rutherford/GizmodoPhoto: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

For now, all I can say is that the XPS 13 Plus will come with four CPU options ranging from a 12-core Intel Core i5-1240P CPU (4.7 GHz) to a 14-core Core i7-1280P (4.8 GHz) processor. These can be paired with up to 32GB of DDR5 RAM and up to a 2TB PCIe SSD. Graphics are unsurprisingly limited to integrated Iris Xe. One perk of the new CPUs is support for Wi-Fi 6E and the XPS tacks on Bluetooth 5.2 for good measure.

Best of all, you get the additional power without sacrificing portability; the CNC aluminium and glass laptop measures 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches and weighs 1 kg, or about the same as the standard model. And there remains a bounty of display options to choose from, starting with a 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200-pixel panel (16:10 aspect ratio) at 500 nits and 100% sRGB coverage up to a 4K, DisplayHDR 400 panel or an OLED touchscreen display.

Image: DellImage: Dell

Dell didn’t provide battery life estimates, but we’re eager to see whether the more power-hungry processor affects runtimes. The non-replaceable 55WHr battery will need to last for at least 10 hours of normal use for the XPS 13 Plus to steal its siblings’ spot as the best alternative to the MacBook Air, especially since Apple’s latest systems are getting closer to the 15-hour mark.

There is a lot to unpack here, and I’ll reserve my judgments for my full review, but I applaud Dell for taking chances. There is no denying that these changes have the potential for being divisive, and the company seems to welcome the chaos (even openly claiming the XPS 13 Plus was “inspired by Gen-Z,” whatever that means).

I do worry the shift from tactile inputs to capacitive ones could be offputting to some, and that removing some of the XPS’s signature materials might damage the brand. But at least Dell is doing more than re-releasing the same laptop with new specs. Instead, it took time to think about how to move the traditional clamshell laptop forward. All that’s left is to find out whether the XPS 13 Plus is indeed heading in that direction. We’ll know soon enough; the XPS 13 Plus running Windows 11 or Ubuntu will ship this spring at a starting price of $US1,199 ($1,655).

Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.