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Dell XPS 13 Plus hands-on review: A risky departure

The Dell XPS 13 Plus sports a minimalist design and more power, but it makes some trade-offs in the process

Dell XPS 13 Plus graphite
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Dell XPS 13 is designed to deliver more performance with its support for 28W processors, and its minimalist redesign is absolutely stunning. But you get less ports and the new touch function row isn't as comfy as traditional keys.

For

  • Powerful 28W 12th gen Intel Core processor
  • Keyboard has larger keycaps
  • Brilliant 13.4-inch display with OLED option
  • Improved quad speakers

Against

  • Touch function row instead of physical keys
  • Can't see touchpad
  • No headphone jack or microSD card

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Dell XPS 13 is designed to deliver more performance with its support for 28W processors, and its minimalist redesign is absolutely stunning. But you get less ports and the new touch function row isn't as comfy as traditional keys.

Pros

  • +

    Powerful 28W 12th gen Intel Core processor

  • +

    Keyboard has larger keycaps

  • +

    Brilliant 13.4-inch display with OLED option

  • +

    Improved quad speakers

Cons

  • -

    Touch function row instead of physical keys

  • -

    Can't see touchpad

  • -

    No headphone jack or microSD card

The Dell XPS 13 Plus represents a leap forward in terms of power and also a bold attempt at minimalist design. I mean, you can't even see the touchpad beneath the keyboard. You just trust that it's there.

In terms of performance, the XPS 13 Plus is a beast, as it's designed to fit a 12th gen Intel Core 28W processor, which is up from 15W on the previous XPS 13. Plus, there are larger fans for better airflow, which means the XPS 13 Plus should be an even stronger rival to the MacBook Air M1 and MacBook Pro 14-inch.

As you'd expect, the XPS 13 Plus sports a 4-sided InfinityEdge display for a nearly borderless look. But Dell needed to make some trade-offs to fit such a beefy CPU inside this sleek 2.7-pound design. Our Dell XPS 13 hands-on review will show you all the pros and cons so far based on our initial impressions.

Dell XPS 13 Plus specs

Price from $1,199
Display13.4 inches (full HD+, full HD+ touch, 3.5K OLED or 4K LCD)
CPU12th gen Intel Core i5, Core i7
GPUIntel Iris X
RAM 8GB, 16GB, 32GB
Storage256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Ports2 Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C), USB-C to USB-A adapter
Size11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches
Weight2.73 pounds

Dell XPS 13 Plus: Release date and price

The Dell XPS 13 Plus release date will be in spring 2022, but we don't yet have an exact date. Dell says that the XPS 13 Plus will start at $1,199. The base model includes a 12th gen Intel Core i5-1240P processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage along with a 13.4-inch FHD+ display.

Upgrade options include CPUs up to a 12th gen Intel Core i7-1280P, 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. And you can get a 3.5K OLED touch display or 4K LCD touch display.

Dell XPS 13 Plus: Design 

Dell XPS 13 Plus two colors

(Image credit: Future)

The Dell XPS 13 looks sleek and modern but there are some polarizing aspects to the design. On the plus side, the XPS 13 is quite attractive with its CNC machined aluminum and glass body, and it weighs only 2.7 pounds with a svelte footprint of 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches.

You can take your pick from two finishes, kind of like two flavors of the Star Wars force. There's light (Platinum) and dark (Graphite) and both versions use a clean tone-on-tone design to minimize distractions.

The touchpad is so seamless, though, that you can't see where it starts and ends. It's integrated into the palm rest and provides haptic responses to touch. This setup worked well during our brief hands-on time, but it may take some getting used to.

The bigger adjustment for most will likely be the new capacitive touch function row, which lets you toggle between function and media keys. Given that Apple ditched the Touch Bar for its MacBook Pro, it's a bit of a surprise to see another laptop maker embrace something similar. But the good news is that the keys never change their position based on what you're doing; they're always the same.

Dell XPS 13 Plus: Keyboard and touchpad

Dell XPS 13 Plus touch function row and keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Touch typists should enjoy using the Dell XPS 13 Plus. It features a zero-lattice keyboard with larger keycaps, and Dell says there's a deeper dish (0.3mm) supporting the layout.

During my hands-on time, I didn't mind the lack of space between the keys, and typing was fairly comfortable overall with a good amount of travel. I wish the down and up arrows were larger but generally speaking the XPS 13 Plus typing experience is satisfying.

I'd like to spend more time using the touchpad before rendering a verdict, as it certainly feels different. As noted above, the touchpad is integrated into the palm rest, so there are no visual lines to be seen, and the pad uses Piezo technology (small actuated motors) to deliver haptic feedback.

The clicks didn't feel as satisfying as, say, a MacBook Pro trackpad, but I didn't encounter any issues with scrolling or clicking.

Dell XPS 13 Plus: Display

Dell XPS 13 Plus Platinum

(Image credit: Future)

The Dell XPS 13 Plus continues to feature a 4-sided InfinityEdge 13.4-inch display, but this time around Dell says that it reduced the number of layers to improve clarity and reduce weight.

In-person, the Dell XPS Premium's OLED display looked bright and vibrant, but there's a wide range of options. It starts with a FHD+ (1920 x 1200) panel with 500 nits of brightness, and there's a touch screen version of the same display.

If you want more resolution, you can step up to the 3.5K OLED touch display with better colors, perfect blacks and wider viewing angles, though the brightness is 400 nits. The 4K LCD touch display option ups the resolution and has 500 nits of brightness.

Dell XPS 13 Plus: Ports

Dell XPS 13 Plus ports

(Image credit: Future)

We told you the XPS 13 Plus had a minimalist design, and that extends to the ports. You get just two Thunderbolt 4 ports (USB Type-C), which support DisplayPort and power delivery. Dell includes a USB-C to USB-A adapter.

Unlike the regular XPS 13, you don't get a headphone jack on the XPS 13 Plus or a microSD card slot. That's a bummer.

Dell XPS 13 Plus: Peformance

Dell XPS 13 Plus front

(Image credit: Future)

The biggest reason to get the Dell XPS 13 Plus over the regular XPS 13 is the 12th gen Intel Core processor with 28W of power. That's up from 15W on the previous Dell XPS 13. So you should expect better performance, especially during intensive workloads.

During my brief hands-on time with the XPS 13 Plus, it felt pretty snappy when opening apps and switching between multiple apps, but it's hard to say at this point how fast it is. We can't wait to run our full suite of benchmarks to see how well this laptop stacks up against other Windows machines but especially the MacBook Pro 14-inch.

Dell gives you four processor options with the XPS 13 Plus, starting with a 12th gen Core i5-1240P (4.4 GHz). There's also a 12th generation Core i7-1260P (up to 4.7 GHz) and a Core i7-1270P (up to 4.8 GHz). The top-end Core i7-1280P ups the number of cores from 12 to 14 and the cache from 18MB to 24MB.

In terms of memory, the base model gives you 8GB, but you can upgrade to 16GB or 32GB. And the storage options include a 256GB PCIe SSD, 512GB, 1TB and 2TB. All of the XPS 13 Plus models come with Intel Iris X graphics. 

Dell XPS 13 Plus: Battery life and charging

The Dell XPS 13 Plus packs a 55WHr battery, which is bigger than the 52WHr battery inside the regular Dell XPS 13. However, the Plus features a more powerful CPU, so its larger battery won't necessarily translate to longer endurance. We look forward to running our web surfing battery test to see how the XPS 13 Plus stacks up to the competition.

Thanks to Express Charge 2.0 technology, Dell claims that the XPS 13 Plus will get to 80% battery life in under an hour. We'll be putting that to the test as well.

Dell XPS 13 Plus outlook

Dell XPS 13 Plus platinum OLED display

(Image credit: Future)

The Dell XPS 13 Plus feels like the Windows equivalent of the MacBook Pro. While the regular XPS 13 offers plenty of speed and longer battery life, some users simply demand more power. And with a starting price of $1,199, Dell undercuts the MacBook Pro 13-inch with M1 by $100.

It's impressive that Dell managed to squeeze a 28W 12th gen Intel Core chip into such a lightweight design. And we continue to love the InfinityEdge display. There's no chunky bezels or notch here. But at least at first glance, we're not that enthused by the capacitive touch function row. It helps save room but the implementation doesn't feel as premium as the rest of the design.

You'll also have to be willing to live with fewer ports on the XPS 13 Plus, as you don't get a headphone jack or a microSD card slot. It's clear that Dell made some trade-offs to offer more muscle in a sleek package, but we'll have to spend more time with this laptop to see if it's a winner.

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for nearly 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.