Dell's new XPS 13 Plus could be a really good laptop, but there are some questionable design decisions
Dell redesigned the compact XPS 13 and offers two different models from now on; the regular XPS 13 and the XPS 13 Plus we just reviewed. The biggest difference between the models is the CPU choice, which requires a look at Intel's current lineup of 12th gen Alder Lake mobile processors. The previous U-series CPUs (which already consumed more than 40W in the past) are now complemented by the so-called P-series, which consume more power and offer two (or even four) additional performance cores.
The regular XPS 13 is equipped with the slower U-series chips, while the more expensive XPS 13 Plus gets the faster P-series models. However, Dell is pretty conservative with the default TDP configuration and the performance numbers decrease pretty quickly to a level where the U-series chips would have sufficed. Both series offer plenty of performance for peak load scenarios in daily scenarios and you would not notice a difference, but the results in the (usually pretty short) benchmarks are obviously higher. The cooling performance of the two fans is actually pretty good and the results are competitive when you use the Ultra Performance power profile. Dell is facing the same problems we see on many modern Intel laptops, though, because mobile Alder Lake chips require a lot of power up to 64W (multi-core) and more than 25W (single-core) to be competitive. This means the fans are kicking in faster, they have to work more (and get louder) and the battery runtime is shorter. The compact power adapters are also insufficient when you really stress the laptops. All these issues are also applicable for the XPS 13 Plus. Just like in previous years, a current AMD Ryzen 6000 CPU would have been the better choice, especially considering the stagnating GPU performance of the Alder Lake CPUs. However, this is another topic and there are other factors in play in addition to the limited availability of the AMD chips.
In addition to the CPU issues, we have to criticize Dell for two design decision, which have a negative effect on the user experience. First of all, there are only two USB-C ports left, and Dell threw out both the card reader as well as the 3.5 mm headphone jack. There are adapters, but this is not very convenient. If you want to say something good about the port situation, you could argue that there is a port on each side and the offer full Thunderbolt 4 support. We like the new keyboard, but that's not the case for the new touch bar, which can only display function keys and special functions like brightness control. This capacitive bar is always illuminated, which can be annoying when you watch a TV show or a movie, and the automatic brightness control did not always work properly during our review. Overall, the touch bar does not really add any value for the user. The invisible touchpad on the other hand works really well and fingerprints are no problem on the glass surface.
The XPS 13 Plus is still a very compact device and has a very small footprint. The optional 4K panel looks good, but affects the battery runtimes, so we would definitely recommend one of the two FHD panels, even though there is unfortunately no matte version. All in all, the XPS 13 Plus is still a good subnotebook, but there are better rivals and some of the problems are just unnecessary. Please see our full review for more information and all the benchmarks as well as measurements. We are currently also reviewing the base model of the XPS 13 Plus as well as the regular XPS 13, which will be published soon.