The launch of the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro started the countdown of the past few days for the Touch Bar, Apple’s contextual input controls above the keyboard. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is now the only MacBook to have it, and it’s likely to go away, either with a redesign or by discontinuing the model. And while suggestions have been made on how the Touch Bar can find new life, there is one idea that we don’t have: The Touch Bar is making its way into a laptop.
At the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday, Dell introduced a new laptop, the XPS 13 more, and it has a couple of standout design features, one of which is a touch bar-like key strip. Dell calls it a “new capacitive touch experience that lets you easily switch between media and function keys.” Gordon Ung of Macworld’s sister site PCWorld (and someone who loves to poke fun at Apple’s marketing language) said, “It’s not a touch bar, it’s a touch bar.”
(Side note: Dell XPS 13 Plus press release cover reads: “Introducing XPS 13 Plus and a new UltraSharp monitor that takes collaboration and viewing experiences to the next level.” notch” [emphasis mine]. We don’t know for sure if this is a dig at Apple’s 14- and 16-inch notch-screen MacBook Pros, but judging from the rest of the laptop, it probably is. Very daring, Dell.)
Admittedly, Dell’s non-touch Touch Bar looks elegant and makes good use of the space between the screen and the keyboard. But like Apple’s method, which looks great in images too, Dell’s strip ignores why Mac users hated Apple’s Touch Bar in the first place: It lacks touch quality. Professionals use function keys all the time and want to be able to tap one of those keys without having to stop, look down, and search for it, disrupting workflow. That may sound trivial, but if you’re working on a project and you’re using function keys dozens of times in one session, it can wear you out over time.
If you want to access volume, brightness, and other controls, you have to hold down the Fn and Esc keys, which sounds like a nightmare. And it is not customizable in any way. Dell says the keys were removed to make the laptop slimmer while simultaneously installing it with a 28W CPU, which is definitely a reason. Ars Technica spent time with it and called it “one of the more unusual XPS features to come in a while.” We’re not sure it’s a compliment.
The other standout design feature of Dell’s XPS 13 Plus is its glass touchpad. As you can see in the photo above, there is no trackpad visible in the area below the keyboard. That’s because the whole thing is a haptic trackpad like the one Apple uses, but Dell decided to “hide” the trackpad to fit the laptop’s design philosophy. Our colleagues at PCWorld haven’t used the XPS 13 Plus touchpad to see what it feels like and if not having a physical border does pose a usability issue, but the idea of using the entire bottom area as a touchpad sounds (and looks great.
Oh, and one last thing about the XPS 14 Plus: it doesn’t have a headphone jack, something Apple’s laptops not only have, but were actually improved on the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro with headphone support. high impedance. . XPS 14 Plus users will have to rely on USB and Bluetooth for their audio needs. To quote Gordon again, it’s the “bravest” move on a laptop full of them.
Roman has covered technology since the early 1990s. His career began at MacUser and he has worked for MacAddict, Mac | Life, and TechTV.