Dell's XPS 13 Plus adds Touch Bar-style capacitive keys and haptic trackpad, drops the...

midian182

Posts: 7,793   +80
Staff member
Why it matters: Dell’s XPS 13 has long been regarded as the top Windows ultraportable thanks to its combination of build, battery, power, and display. The company revealed its latest version of the laptop at CES, and it comes with a surprising change: the function row of keys has been replaced with small LED buttons on a flat bar, not unlike the Touch Bar that Apple recently removed from its MacBook Pros.

The Dell XPS 13 has long taken the ‘Best Ultraportable’ award alongside the 13-inch MacBook Pro in our Best of Laptops guide. It’s often praised for a design that one would imagine could not get any sleeker, but the Dell XPS 13 Plus shows it can be done—but is it too sleek?

The first thing you might notice in the new model is that Dell has removed all the space between the keyboard keys. That might not sound appealing but doing so has allowed each key to be slightly larger (the keyboard reaches the chassis edges), and the company says it still has the same 1mm of travel as last year’s model.

But the most obvious difference is that Dell has swapped out the laptop’s function row for a “capacitive touch function row.” Despite the obvious comparison, Dell insists this is not its version of Apple's Touch Bar as each one has a fixed function, such as brightness and volume, though users can toggle between Function and Media keys. Dell also claims that removing the function keys allows for improved thermals.

The trackpad is different, too. Now borderless and invisible under a pane of glass at the bottom of the keyboard, Dell calls it a “haptic ForcePad” that doesn’t depress when pressed but reproduces the sensation with haptics, just like the MacBook touchpads.

The last significant design change is that the headphone jack has been removed. Dell believes this gives the XPS 13 Plus an even more minimalist design, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being happy about the decision.

Hardware-wise, the Dell XPS 13 Plus offers the choice of OLED and LCD screens, Core i5 or i7 12th-gen CPUs, up to 32GB of RAM, up to 2TB of storage, four speakers, a 4K touch screen, and, as with the previous model, ports are limited to two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C inputs.

While they are only first-impressions from brief hands-on tests, opinions have ranged from very good to indifferent to someone who called it “a trendy mess.” We’ll find out ourselves when it arrives in Spring with an expected starting price of $1,199.

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bviktor

Posts: 793   +1,202
"minimalistic design" - is short for "it's cheaper for us to make"
I like the design tho.

But in general, I'm totally NOT satisfied with my XPS devices. I have the latest, but it's just a subpar experience. Especially the battery life "expectation vs reality" thing. They promise 10 hrs+, but in reality it's more like 4-5. If you're just browsing the web, that is.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,098   +4,011
I'm definitively on the "indifierent" camp for touch bars: It's not a deal breaker but also does nothing for me, if I could choose between xps 13 touch bar and normal function keys I'd chose the function keys but I use them infrequently enough that I really don't care all that much, except for the escape key that *has* to be physical.
 

Theinsanegamer

Posts: 3,326   +5,524
"minimalistic design" - is short for "it's cheaper for us to make"
Also code for "everything is tared together so you cant repair it".

Given dell's disposition for batteries that fail in 2 years I wouldnt touch this thing.
That escape key will be a nightmare to get used to
It will be an utter nightmare. Did they learn NOTHING from apple abandoning the touchbar? If apple cant get the iSheep to accept a touch bar, good luck getting dell buyers to do so!
 

TheRealSCDC

Posts: 72   +116
Those capacitive buttons are a real pain in the arse. I've had several over the years with them and they get quirky or don't work right. This is a terrible move for Dell and the XPS line. The keyboard is crap as well.

 

TheRealSCDC

Posts: 72   +116
Also code for "everything is tared together so you cant repair it".

Given dell's disposition for batteries that fail in 2 years I wouldnt touch this thing.
It will be an utter nightmare. Did they learn NOTHING from apple abandoning the touchbar? If apple cant get the iSheep to accept a touch bar, good luck getting dell buyers to do so!

I'm an "iSheep", didn't touch that laptop because of the touch bar. That was below what we expect of our Master Apple, so we snubbed it.
 

mrvco

Posts: 164   +156
I'm an "iSheep", didn't touch that laptop because of the touch bar. That was below what we expect of our Master Apple, so we snubbed it.

The touch bar made for a good Keynote slide and it seems that it took longer for real-world consensus to gel over how really not good it was due to the really really not good butterfly keyboard. I still have a 2019 MacBook Pro for work and the only thing that has prevented me from raising hell with corporate IT and anyone else who will listen for a replacement is my external keyboard and trackpad.
 

GregonMaui

Posts: 325   +120
Last I googled, the XPS had a serious thermal throttling issue, it only had 2 lanes for memory instead of 4, the SSDs were slow, and the screen was only sub-par, unless you updated to the 4k OLED and that added some serious money. all in all with as much bashing about the "apple tax" that there is, the M1 MBPs offer a better price performance profile. Of course maybe that is all changed now
 

OortCloud

Posts: 732   +669
The lack of gap between the keys concerns me. Looks like it might be difficult to type quickly on.

Also, this insistence on having half-sized arrow keys is a massive pain in the *** for a developer. Just makes moving the cursor around a nightmare.
 

scavengerspc

Posts: 2,380   +2,528
TechSpot Elite
Man, that is an ugly little machine.
But it is a little bigger than the old netbooks, so there's that.

I would like to know what these tiny laptops are used for.
I have a tablet that is almost (12.5 inches) as big.