What is it?
The Dell XPS 13 Plus is the most powerful iteration yet of the XPS range, which has represented Dell’s performance machines for almost a quarter of a century. XPS stands for
Xtreme Performance System and new models create the same anticipation in the Windows world that MacBooks do in the Apple world.
The original XPS 13 was released almost ten years ago and ushered in Dell’s foray into the Ultrabook, a term Intel came up with to describe ultra-thin, lightweight laptops. Since then, it has been open war between the XPS and Apple’s MacBook Air series, with the latter generally having the edge.
However, XPS 13 Plus takes the battle to a new frontier. It is so packed with innovation, options and customisation, that it makes the latest Air feel like old tech.
The design of the keyboard and trackpad is a delight. The keys are large, with quiet yet comfortable “travel” – the depth to which keys are depressed, which gives a palpable sense of keys having been clicked. The size of the keys is also larger than on most laptops, thanks to a brick wall-style design, known as zero-lattice, versus for example the Air’s independent keys that leave breathing space in between. It is a matter of taste, but the Dell keyboard looks and feels right. It also brings function, number and ancillary keys within immediate reach of fingers that are typing away rapidly.
The function row above the keyboard does not comprise keys at all, but touch-sensitive “capacitive touch” backlit icons that look good and, once you get used to them, provide a sense of effortless action. It is an innovation with both aesthetic and functional purposes. It almost makes one wish that the rest of the keyboard was designed in a similar way, but our need for precise typing on a laptop means this approach probably remains a few versions away.
The most startling innovation is the invisible trackpad. It is a glass touchpad that sits in the usual space below the keyboard but is not marked by any separation from the chassis. Thanks to haptic feedback, it feels as if one is pressing down, clicking or tapping on a regular trackpad. It takes a little getting used to, but after a few hours use, the absence of markings was forgotten.
All in all, the XPS 13 Plus provides a magnificent laptop experience.
It does, however, fall down in one area, namely battery life. In high-performance mode, which Dell calls Ultra Performance, it lasts under four hours. That’s where the Air was five years ago.
This is counterbalanced, however, by the ability to choose between four modes, depending on power requirements and the task at hand. One is warned that the Ultra mode increases surface temperature and fan noise, both of which are borne out by experience. In other words, it is a mode to be avoided unless one has a brief high-power requirement like gaming.
Optimized mode balances performance, fan noise and surface temperature. Cool mode reduces surface temperature but increases fan noise. Quiet mode instantly cuts out the fan noise but reduces performance. It should be the default mode for general working activity.
It comes with a 1 Terabyte solid state drive, and has Intel Core i5 and i7 options,
Security options include touch ID and facial recognition, as well as presence detection, which senses when you step away from the machine, or even look away. The latter dims the screen while walking away from the machine and activates sleep mode, to prevent unauthorised access from anyone else in the vicinity. This alone transforms the privacy of one’s work in a public or work setting.
The 13 Plus runs on a 12th Gen Intel Core 28W processor, up from 15W on the prior gen, and uses larger fans that provide 55% better airflow. This means it is far more powerful, but also drains the battery faster. To make up for this, it features Express Charge 2.0, which takes the laptop to about 80% battery life in less than an hour.
What does it cost?
Recommended retail price starts at R32,999 for a unit with 16GB RAM.
Why does it matter?
Even before the hybrid workplace became a norm, a compact laptop that offered the full features of a powerful computer was the holy grail of serious users needing to work between office and home, on airplanes, and generally wherever they found themselves. The XPS Plus will squeeze into any tight space, like an economy class seat on a plane, with the passenger in the next row forward reclining the seat backwards. With larger laptops, it becomes impossible to work. The 13-inch Macbook Air, which has barely changed its chassis design since 2010 – a 2018 revision did reduce the size – struggles in that scenario. The XPS Plus is marginally thicker, but the footprint makes all the difference. The touchscreen version also means greater versatility of use in varying circumstances.
What are the biggest negatives?
- Battery dies fast in optimised mode, although users can push it much further via performance settings.
- Quiet mode is great for battery life, but noticeably slows down regular functions like opening applications.
- Once plugged into power, it only has one USB-C port, but an elegant 6-in-1 Multiport Adapter available from Dell more than makes up for it.
What are the biggest positives?
- Startling screen size in a compact package.
- Dazzling 4K OLED display in 3840×2400 resolution, with Eyesafe to reduce harmful blue light.
- A dashboard for performance settings allows one to match the needs of a specific task to the performance of the machine.
- One of the most comfortable keyboards in the laptop world.
- It is soooo lightweight, that you may forget it’s in your bag.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee