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Dell XPS 13 Plus adds a buzzy (and controversial) new touch bar: We tried it at CES 2022

Dell's flagship laptop also gets an edge-to-edge keyboard for 2022.

This story is part of CES, where CNET covers the latest news on the most incredible tech coming soon.

It's no secret that the Dell XPS 13 is one of my go-to premium laptops. Over the years, this 13-inch laptop has added upgrades and new features, while maintaining a small footprint and enough power to be your everyday laptop. And at CES 2022, we learned it's getting an upgrade.

Dell revealed an even more premium version, called the XPS 13 Plus. What makes it Plus-worthy? There's a new design that's a bold break from earlier versions, some new options for more powerful components and some very interesting changes to the display and the function keys. 

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The new Dell XPS 13 Plus has a capacitive touch function key row and an all-glass front lip. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Dell calls it "minimalist and modern," and it's certainly minimalist. There's no discernible touchpad, just a single piece of glass all the way along the front of the system. That doesn't mean the touchpad goes from one end all the way to the other, however. The touchpad really runs from the outside edge of one Alt key to the outside edge of the other. You'll need to develop some muscle memory to get a feel for exactly where it starts and ends. I can see this being controversial, or at least not universally loved, but I liked the clean look when I recently got a chance to play with one of these in person shortly before CES. 

The keyboard now goes edge to edge and the keys are larger, nearly touching each other. Dell calls that style zero-lattice, and it reminds me of the keyboard on the old 12-inch MacBook

Read more: Best laptops for 2022

More interesting is what's above that keyboard -- a new capacitive function key row. That's right, instead of physical function keys, there's now a touch-controlled strip that can swap between Fn keys and media control keys. If that's a little too much like the widely disliked Touch Bar on MacBooks, well, you've got a point. 

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Better than the Apple Touch Bar? We'll see...

Dan Ackerman/CNET

In its defense, Dell says this version makes more sense because it just shifts back and forth between two layouts, not endlessly changing contextual buttons like the Touch Bar had. It definitely looks cool, but I'm not sure I won't miss at least having a physical Esc key. 

The display can go up to a 4K OLED screen and 28-watt Intel processors, up from 15-watt CPUs on other XPS 13 laptops. The 2.7-pound system is 15.3mm thick and shaves off a bit of thickness and weight by eliminating the top glass layer of the display, which Dell says won't affect ruggedness. My only other real knock about this otherwise-impressive debut is that it won't have a full HD 1080p-resolution webcam.

The XPS 13 Plus is coming this spring, starting at $1,199 in the US (which converts to about £885 or AU$1,655).