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

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

Enlarge / Dell XPS 13 Plus clamshell laptop.

Charon Harding

Specs at a Glance: Dell XPS 13 Plus (9320)
Worse Better As reviewed
Filter 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
SE 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 16GB LPDDR5-5200
Storage 512GB PCIe 4.0 x4 Solid State Drive 2TB PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD 512GB PCIe 4.0 x4 Solid State Drive
GPUs Intel Iris Xe
Networking WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.2
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4
Cut 11.63 x 7.84 x 0.6 inches
295.30 x 199.04 x 15.28mm
lester 2.71 lbs (1.23 kg) IPS: 2.71 lbs 1.23 kg)
OLED: 2.78 lbs (1.26 kg)
2.78 pounds (1.26 kg)
Battery 55Wh
guarantee 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, Ubuntu-based developer edition available

Dell’s XPS 13 laptop is 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 (alongside a more traditional XPS 13 2022), it’s a revamped version of the XPS 13 that puts performance above everything else.

Wild design choices allow the system to support a 28W processor. With the XPS 13 2021 sporting a 15W chip and the XPS 13 2022 supporting up to 12W, this is a a notable achievement. But it is also a case of function over form. To put it simply, using the XPS 13 Plus felt weird. From its tightly spaced keys and row of capacitive touch functions 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 a performer, the XPS 13 Plus has its advantages. But as the go-to laptop, certain design choices can push you toward other powerful, thin, and light laptops.

Touch Bar-esque feature bar

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

Charon Harding

Dell hasn’t given up on the soft-touch entry above its laptop keyboards. You can find a similar setup on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, though all other MacBooks have reverted to real keys. Dell’s take on the Capacitive Touch Array is more limited than Apple’s Touch Bar, however.

It’s not programmable, to begin with. It can show Esc, media keys (including a handy mic mute button that lights up), brightness controls, the Windows Project button, and some navigation keys. Alternatively, pressing Fn causes the function line to show Esc and F1–F12, and you can lock this layout in place by holding down Fn + Esc.

Dell didn’t introduce 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 of vertical space that would be required with traditional buttons. The move saves space and allowed Dell to move the hinges to wider points for better system cooling, the company said. But when you pushed the laptop to maximum performance for extended periods, the row of features got so hot it was uncomfortable to touch.

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

Since the function line has defined controls, there is no need to customize it. But it still feels like there’s room for more functions. 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 that the webcam is off. There’s also no indicator light when the volume is muted.

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

That said, there’s a lot worse than a row of ho-hum functions, especially if the rest of the keyboard is fantastic. Unfortunately, it is not the case.

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