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Dell’s XPS 13 Plus brings a MacBook Touch Bar-like experience

Dell’s XPS 13 Plus brings a MacBook Touch Bar-like experience

 January 4, 2022 at 1:06 pm   |     Author:   |     Technology  

Dell XPS 13 Plus in its platinum color.
Enlarge / Dell XPS 13 Plus in its platinum color.

Scharon Harding

Dell today unveiled the latest in its long line of XPS laptops. Previous updates have ranged from minor CPU refreshes to moderate redesigns with larger screen-to-body ratios, smaller dimensions, and critical changes, like the removal of the up-the-nose webcam. But the latest XPS 13 is one of the most unusual-looking in years. And with a design built to host a more power-hungry CPU, Dell is calling it the XPS 13 Plus.

Announced to coincide with CES 2022 this week, the XPS 13 Plus (9320) will be available globally this spring with Windows 11 or Ubuntu 20.04 (XPS 13 Plus Developer Edition). Dell hasn’t settled on a starting price yet but told the press it’s “targeting” $1,199.99 in the US. That’s a notable bump from the current non-Plus XPS, which starts at $850 (that configuration was out of stock on Dell’s website as of writing. The next cheapest available SKU starts at $950). Dell said it will confirm the XPS 13 Plus’ price closer to the shipping date.

One look at the XPS 13 Plus and you can tell that it offers a different experience than the prior XPS 13. The machine’s keyboard stretches across the entire deck with no space between individual keys. The touchpad isn’t outlined with a border or completed with left- and right-click keys. Instead, the entire deck is the touchpad, which responds with haptic feedback. And rather than topping the keyboard with a row of function keys, the XPS 13 Plus has an Apple Touch Bar-like capacitive touch strip that you can toggle to show function-row inputs or media functions.

Capacitive touch function row

The Touch Bar was an interesting concept that MacBook Pros started playing with in 2016. It replaced the top row of physical function keys with a capacitive touch strip that provided access to numerous inputs, including app-specific ones.

Apple Touch Bar.
Enlarge / Apple Touch Bar.

Andrew Cunningham

The 2021 MacBook Pro did away with the Touch Bar, but the XPS 13 Plus brings back the concept with a more stripped-down approach. Like prior-gen MacBooks, the XPS 13 Plus has a capacitive touch strip in place of a function row with physical keys. It doesn’t change based on app, and, unfortunately, it isn’t programmable (you also can’t turn it off). Instead, by pressing Fn and Esc, you can make it display one of two sets of menus:

  • Esc, F1-F12, and Delete
  • Esc, volume mute, volume down, volume up, mic mute, play/pause, keyboard brightness, display brightness down, display brightness up, Windows Projector menu, Print Screen, Home, End, Insert, and Delete

Locking my menu of choice in place was easy, but having to hold down two keys in order to see one of two lists of inputs didn’t feel intuitive in my short time with the XPS 13 Plus. Maybe I would get accustomed to it over time, but I don’t typically need an adjustment period to use my laptop’s function or media keys, especially on a mainstream-level system like an XPS laptop. The fact that the keys use touch to work rather than pressing a button made the experience even more unnatural.

That said, I’m sure there are people who lament Apple giving up on the Touch Bar. Unique tech has a way of becoming a cult favorite. It’s certainly one of the more unusual XPS features to come in a while.

Besides the touch-sensitive function row, the XPS 13 Plus’ keyboard takes up the entire width of the deck, thanks to its larger keycaps. Dell has been expanding the XPS 13’s keycap size over the past few years and told me that this is the last step.

In addition to numerous 3D-printed builds, making the XPS 13 Plus’ spacious keyboard required a new scissor mechanism to stabilize the keycaps. Although the rubber-dome keyboard also has a deeper dish of 0.3 mm, the keys maintain the 1 mm of travel found on the current XPS 13.

The current XPS 13’s keyboard, in my opinion, offers the bare minimum amount of travel required to still be usable for frequent typists. The XPS 13 Plus keys, however, are also much closer together. They make the keyboard look flatter while also making finding my place a little disorienting. But when I pressed the keys, I was surprised at how much travel my fingers felt.

This wacky new keyboard with its touch function row may feel like a gimmick, but it also serves a functional purpose. Removing the physical function row was one step in the path to the XPS holding a 28 W CPU rather than a 15 W one.

Specs at a glance: Dell XPS 13 Plus
Worst Best
Screen 13.4-inch 1920×1200 non-touch 13.4-inch 3840×2400 touchscreen
OS Windows 11 Home, Windows 11 Pro, or Ubuntu 20.04 (XPS 13 Plus Developer Edition)
CPU Intel Core i5-1240P Intel Core i7-1280P
RAM 8GB LPDDR5-5200 32GB LPDDR5-5200
Storage 256GB PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD 2TB PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD
GPU Intel Iris Xe (integrated)
Networking Intel Killer Wi-Fi 6E 1675 (AX211) (2×2),
Bluetooth 5.2
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4
Size 11.63×7.84×0.6 inches (295.3×199.04×15.28 mm)
Weight Starts at 2.73 lbs (1.24 kg)
Battery 55 Whr
Warranty 1 year


Skipping a physical function row gives the XPS 13 Plus more thermal headroom to work with than the standard XPS 13, allowing Dell to use a 28 W CPU rather than 15 W while maintaining a similarly sized build. The XPS 13 Plus is 0.60 inch (15.28 mm) thick and has a starting weight of 2.73 lbs (1.24 kg). The current XPS 13 starts at 0.62 inches (15.8 mm) and 2.6 lbs (1.16 kg).

Additionally, Dell removes the headset jack and thicker, protruding hinge found on today’s XPS 13 in order to allow for more space for heat to dissipate. It also got rid of the glass cover on the 13.4-inch display, which includes a 3456×2160 OLED touch option, to keep the weight low and “improve clarity,” according to materials shared with the press.

Despite claiming more power, the XPS 13 Plus (pictured) is about as thick as the non-Plus XPS 13.
Enlarge / Despite claiming more power, the XPS 13 Plus (pictured) is about as thick as the non-Plus XPS 13.

Scharon Harding

According to Dell, the machine has a larger pair of fans than its predecessor. They stretch out to the deck’s outer edges, and with a heat spreader in the back, Dell claims the XPS 13 Plus provides up to 55 percent more airflow than the XPS 13 “without increasing noise.”

The XPS 13 Plus starts with a 12-core Intel Core i5-1240P, up to a 4.4 GHz turbo speed, and 12MB of cache. Its highest-end configuration has an i7-1280P with 12 cores, a 4.8 GHz turbo, and 24MB of cache. It can also support up to 32GB of LPDDR5-5200 RAM and 2TB of PCIe 4.0 x4 SSD storage.

For comparison, the current XPS 13 goes up to an i7-1195G7 with four cores (albeit different cores than what’s used with Intel’s 12th-gen chips), up to a 5 GHz boost, and 12MB of cache. You can configure it with up to 32GB of slower LPDDR4x-4267 RAM and 2TB of PCIe 3.0 storage.

I didn’t get a chance to try out the XPS 13 Plus’ productivity performance, so it’ll be interesting to see if the thin-and-light clamshell successfully manages noise and, especially, heat, in order to get the most out of relatively beefy parts for such a small machine.

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