I’ve made my stance on dramatic reinterpretations of the function row clear — I like them! But if you feel differently, Dell’s new laptop might give you pause. Announced today at CES 2022, the Dell XPS 13 Plus is a major rethinking of the company’s sleekest laptop line, with some changes that might take some getting used to.
The Dell XPS 13 Plus is, according to Dell, inspired by Gen Z, “a group that knows who they are, where they want to go and demands the horsepower they need to get there.” From the outside, that might not mean much. The XPS 13 Plus features the same clean aesthetic as Dell’s other XPS laptops. But inside, everything is different.
Stripped down — The XPS 13 Plus is dramatically simplified in comparison to the average laptop. The function row is gone, replaced with a light-up capacitive touch function row that might remind some people of Apple’s Touch Bar. In this case, it doesn’t seem to be customizable, but for anyone who fears accidentally adjusting their brightness or volume, you’ll probably want to try the keyboard and function row before you buy.
The large, “zero-lattice” keyboard below the new function row extends to the edges of the XPS 13 Plus and Dell says it’s hidden additional speakers under the keyboard for improved sound. Again you can draw design parallels to Apple’s much-maligned butterfly keyboard, but Dell makes it clear that the XPS 13 Plus has the same amount of travel as last year (1mm) so I imagine those unique repairability issues shouldn’t apply here.
Below the keyboard, Dell’s other dramatic change is clear, or maybe not clear, since the trackpad isn’t even visible on the XPS 13 Plus. Dell’s opting for a haptic “forcepad” on the new XPS that’s functionally borderless, there’s no difference between the palm rests or the trackpad. Haptic trackpads aren’t a new concept on ultralight laptops — they help to reduce the thickness even more — but including one without any guidance for where it begins or ends is a bold move. I desperately want to try it to see how it feels, and how intuitive it actually is.
No headphone jack — Uh... and there’s no headphone jack on the XPS 13 Plus. It’s so thin there’s no room for it. It’s a strange omission. Even Apple’s infamous ultra-thin 12-inch MacBook had one before it was discontinued.
Upgrades and availability — The XPS 13 Plus comes with all of the modern Intel and Windows bells and whistles: Support for Windows 11 (with a camera that works with Windows Hello), up to a 12th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU, up to 32GB of LPDDR5 RAM, and up to 1 TB of storage.
The price will presumably go up if you want an OLED screen or touchscreen functionality, but for now, Dell says the XPS 13 Plus should start at $1,199 and be available in Spring 2022. The company says final details will be available closer to the shipping date.
Dell’s changes are definitely eye-catching, but also more than a little risky for any returning customer who’s become attached to the company’s previous design — the exact kind of polarizing decision that makes for an exciting CES reveal.