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Dell XPS 13 Plus review: The revolution starts here

Alun Taylor
29 Nov 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
2,004
inc VAT

Dell overhauls its much-vaunted XPS design and the result is gorgeous, ultra-portable and remarkably powerful

Pros 
Superb display
Stunning looks and build
Excellent keyboard
Cons 
Invisible touchpad takes a little getting used to
Battery life can’t match the M2 MacBook Air
No audio jack
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The XPS 13 Plus is Dell's most revolutionary XPS for years and we loved it when we tested it early this year. It's now on offer, with £220 off the usual price of the OLED model at Currys. This model comes with a Core i7-1260P CPU, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of fast SSD storage, plus a stunning 3.5K OLED display.
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Even the most successful designs eventually run their course. Dell’s metal- and carbon-clad XPS machines have looked much the same for several years now and, while they still have a raw appeal, they’re starting to look a little uninspired. Just like Apple and its M2 Macbook Air, Dell has decided it's high time for a change.

The Dell XPS 13 Plus is the first of the new breed: this machine tears up the existing blueprints and ushers in a radically different, all-metal design alongside the latest Intel 12th generation processors.

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Dell XPS 13 Plus review: What you need to know

For many years now, Dell’s XPS 13 range has been almost the default choice for a super compact laptop unless you fancied a MacBook instead. Its success was well merited. The XPS 13 was consistently light, compact, well made and devoid of serious faults. Now, in 2022, we are getting a range refresh with new models, new designs and new processors.

The first point to make is that the XPS 13 range has now forked. The base XPS 13 models use Intel’s 12th generation lower power (15W or 9W) U-series chips while the XPS 13 Plus devices get the more powerful 28W P-series processors. The 13 Plus machines also get a more thorough makeover with an all-new design for the keyboard deck. Other than that, all the XPS 13’s strengths remain, including a wide choice of specifications including optional touchscreens and a choice between Windows and Ubuntu as your OS.

Dell XPS 13 Plus review: Price and competition

Prices start at £1,298 for a machine with a Intel Core i5 chip, 512GB of storage, 8GB of RAM and a Full HD non-touch panel. Our £2,004 review unit bumps up the specification to an Intel Core i7-1260P processor, 1TB of storage, 32GB of RAM and a 3,840 x 2,400 touchscreen.

Other significant upgrade options include the Intel Core i7-1280P chip (£100 more), a 3,456 x 2,160 OLED touchscreen (£200 more than the FHD option) and Linux rather than Windows (£100 less). You can also opt for a 2TB SSD and 8GB,16GB or 32GB of RAM.

The Dell XPS 13 Plus finds itself going toe to toe with the new M2 Apple MacBook Air. Marginally bigger and heavier than the Dell (unless you choose the 4K display), the Air has a larger (13.6in) but lower resolution screen and no touch facility. Prices are broadly similar to the Dell: the most powerful M2 chipset, 24GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD cost £2,149 and the entry-level model costs £1,249. In typical Apple fashion, the new Air has phenomenal battery life; bang on 17 hours in our test.

Traditionally, a light laptop was a small laptop, but LG would beg to differ. The LG Gram 16 weighs 1.19kg but still packs in a 16in 2,560 x 1,600 display. How is that possible? Well, in a word: plastic. All-plastic construction might sound off-putting given its metal-clad rivals but the Gram 16 is MIL-STD 810G tested against shock and dust ingress. At £1,549, it’s priced right alongside the Dell and Apple machines.

Huawei’s MateBook 14s is great value even at full price but, at the time of writing, it’s available for just £900, £400 off the usual RRP. The MateBook is a little bigger and heavier than the Dell and Apple machines but it has a larger display, a fine 14.2in, 2,520 x 1,680 3:2 affair that refreshes at 90Hz. Connectivity is above average, too: there are full-sized HDMI and USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 USB ports as well as two USB-C ports.

Acer’s 14in Swift X brings proper discrete graphics to the party in the form of a Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 with 4GB of VRAM. You also get a 1TB SSD and a potent AMD Ryzen 7 5800U processor with 16GB of quad-channel RAM. That’s a lot of laptop for under £1,100. The Full HD screen is very good, although the sound system is a little on the weak side. As a compact do-it-all machine the 1.39kg Swift X really does take some beating.

Dell XPS 13 Plus review: Design and build quality

So far, the XPS 13 Plus is the most radical departure from the old XPS design. While the Alder Lake-refreshed XPS 13 is also clad in a new, CNC-machined aluminium shell, it’s still recognisable from the previous generation. It makes me wonder whether Dell is hedging its bets in case the 13 Plus’s reception isn’t entirely positive.

With the lid closed, the new XPS 13 Plus doesn’t look or feel that different from the old models. The aluminium lid and body are still wholly immune to twisting and bending. Open the lid – a nicely refined one-finger operation – and you’ll see a screen that takes up 91.9% of the lid with impressively thin bezels (4mm at the sides, 5mm above and below) and a completely fresh keyboard design which I’ll discuss in a moment.

For such a solid machine, the 13 Plus is surprisingly light at just 1.23kg (the OLED model is 300g heavier) and very compact. Given the 295 x 199 x 15.3mm dimensions, I don’t see how you could possibly make a 13.4in laptop much smaller.

Sadly, Dell is following the trend for minimal physical connectivity. You get two Thunderbolt 4 ports, but no USB-A, no 3.5mm audio, no HDMI and no card reader. As a small concession to those of us who live and work in the real world, Dell does bundle audio and USB-A adaptors. But despite that a good USB-C hub (such as our favourite Anker PowerExpand 6) is going to be a necessity.

You can get the back off the new XPS without too much trouble but you’ll be wasting your time. Everything is soldered in place with the exception of the SSD. Wireless comms are managed by an Intel AX211 card which supports Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2.

READ NEXT: Our guide to the best USB-C hubs you can buy

Dell XPS 13 Plus review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam

The Dell XPS 13 Plus sets itself apart from its non-Plus stablemate with a new “zero-lattice” keyboard, capacitive touch bar and invisible touchpad. Suffice to say, all three features look absolutely stunning.

The keyboard’s zero-lattice design runs edge-to-edge and provides the largest keys possible on a laptop this size with no gaps between the keys at all. Above the keyboard are 15 always-on illuminated symbols on a capacitive touch bar – shortcuts for common functions such as Print Scrn, volume and the keyboard backlight. Hit the Fn key and the 12 of these symbols are replaced with backlit F1 to F12 keys, or you can use the Fn-Lock to have the F keys rather than the symbols as the default. Below the keyboard, there’s, well, nothing. Just a full-width sheet of glass.

So much for aesthetics but does it all work? Yes, it does. The keyboard is a delight with plenty of travel and a great action. The sheer size of the keycaps (19mm square by my measurement) means even the most sausage-fingered typist should hit the right key most of the time. The capacitive buttons above the keyboard are a real game changer, too: it’s faster and easier to tap the icon for Volume Up or Brightness Down than search for the icon on a crowded keycap.

The invisible touchpad takes some getting used to because there’s no visual reference as to where the thing starts and finishes. Give it a few hours, though and the location becomes intuitive. Once you’ve crossed that bridge, it’s nigh-on perfect; smooth, tactile and quiet. The click-action is pretty shallow but it's also very positive and clean.

There is a power button with a built-in fingerprint reader in the top right corner of the keyboard but my review device had the lid-up power-on option enabled in the BIOS. As soon as you open the laptop, the Windows Hello IR camera scans your face and logs you in.

If the keyboard has one small issue, it’s the backlight. White-behind-white backlights can create contrast problems and the XPS 13 Plus is no exception; the backlight is only useful in very low-light environments. Thankfully, the black keycap markings are very easy to read in most lighting conditions, so you shouldn’t need to use the backlight until things get properly dark. One way around this problem would be to buy the Graphite model which has a grey keyboard.

The 720p webcam really lets the side down. Image quality is poor in anything other than perfect light and isn’t great even then. Compared to the quality of the 1080p webcams in the new LG Gram 16 and Huawei MateBook 16s (both machines cheaper than the XPS 13 Plus), the Dell’s webcam is inexcusably sub-standard.

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Dell XPS 13 Plus review: Display and audio

The 13.4in display, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. The 3,840 x 2,400 resolution gives a super-crisp 337dpi pixel density while the peak brightness is an impressive 440cd/m2. The contrast ratio is an equally upstanding 1,953:1 and the screen can generate up to 111.7% of the sRGB colour gamut and 79.1% of DCI-P3. It’s colour-accurate too with a Delta E variance against sRGB of just 1.3. If I had to pick holes I’d point out that the refresh rate is a mere 60Hz but on a productivity laptop that’s bordering on irrelevancy.

Dell has squeezed four speakers into the 13 Plus: two upward-firing tweeters and two downward-facing full-range drivers. Given how thin the XPS 13 Plus is, the speaker system does a very good job. There’s an abundance of volume (the system has a rated output of 4W) with an average output from a pink noise source recorded at 83dB and peak music volume of 87dB, both measured at 1m. The sound is composed and coherent and there’s some bass, too. It can get a bit raucous at maximum volume but knocking it down to around 80% is plenty loud enough for casual listening.

READ NEXT: Best PC speakers

Dell XPS 13 Plus review: Performance and battery life

The 12-core Core i7-1260P processor is one of the more power-efficient members of the Alder Lake family but with eight ‘efficient’ and four ‘performance’ cores and a maximum Turbo clock of 4.7GHz performance is anything but lightweight. The 32GB of quad-channel DDR5 RAM in our review unit certainly didn’t hurt its benchmark results, either.

Those results prove that the XPS 13 Plus – at least in this specification – has enough grunt to handle most tasks this side of workstation graphics wrangling or 4K video editing. The media benchmark score of 276 is pushing on for twice what you'd get from an 11th-generation Intel processor like the Core i7-1195G7.

Clearly, this is no gaming machine, but it still managed to run the 2016 Doom reboot at a reliable 45-50fps at 1,920 x 1,080 even when all hell was quite literally breaking loose on screen.

That performance hasn’t come at the expense of eviscerating the battery life either. Our usual test is to set the screen brightness at 170cd/m2, disable wireless connectvity and run a video in VLC until the lights go out. The XPS 13 Plus lasted for 8hrs 51mins which isn’t at all bad for something with a 52Wh battery.

As always the M2 MacBook Air can do a LOT better than this but, by Windows (rather than Windows on ARM) standards that’s really not a bad score and means a full day of graft at the keyboard is possible without the need to recharge. Incidentally, the bundled 60W USB-C charger is a very petite and lightweight thing.

The Samsung SSD in the XPS 13 Plus proved a handsome performer, too. I recorded sequential read and write speeds of 4,902MB/sec and 2,416MB/sec respectively.

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Dell XPS 13 Plus review: Verdict

If this is the future of Dell’s XPS family, then bring it on. The new keyboard deck design with its hidden touchpad, huge keycaps and capacitive touch bar gets a solid thumbs up from me and the updated chassis design breathes new life into the classic XPS formula.

Wrap all that up with Intel’s 12th generation CPUs, an excellent touchscreen display and powerful speaker system, and Dell truly has a winner on its hands. The middling battery life sets it behind the M2 MacBook Air but this is otherwise a superlative alternative.

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