At the start of the year, Dell hosted a hands-on trial for its updated XPS 13 laptop. The new model, coming out later this year, joins Apple’s MacBook Pro (13”) in the category of high-performance, ultra portable laptops. Both machines pack considerable power in their compact, lightweight frames—which prompts the question: which one should you get?
Declaring a definitive winner would be a tough call and isn’t quite what we’re going for either. Whether you pick one or the other, you’re getting a solid deal—we’re impressed enough to have made ninja SD cards for both the Macbook and the Dell XPS 13—rather, each laptop has just a slight edge over the other in certain aspects, and your preferences as a user will determine which one’s better for you.
The current generation MacBook Pro was released in 2016. This update—the first major one since 2012—was defined by the introduction of Retina display as well as the optional Touch Bar. (For this review, we’ll evaluate only the 13” models.)
The 2018 Dell XPS 13 is the latest in a line that started in 2012, but was iterated on as recently as last year. The latest version features the option for 4K display and is overall significantly improved in all aspects of portability.
Both the MacBook Pro and the Dell XPS 13 have well-established design aesthetics and their current versions stay true to these.
The MacBook Pro 13” features a minimalist aluminum casing available in either silver or space gray. It measures 11.97” x 8.36” x 0.58” (W x D x H) and weighs 3.02lbs. The model did away with USB type-A ports and uses type-C ports exclusively. One version features Apple’s Touch Bar. Some may appreciate the added functionality it provides, but it’s not for everyone.
The Dell XPS 13 will be available in aluminum casing in either platinum silver or rose gold. The silver version has a black carbon fiber palm rest, while that of the rose gold version is made of white woven glass, which resists staining and discoloration (except, apparently, from sunscreen and mustard—be warned). It has followed in Apple’s footsteps by going with only USB type-C ports, which allows it to be even slimmer. It measures 11.9” x 7.8” x 0.46” (W x D x H) and weighs 2.67lbs. Its screen sports an extremely narrow bezel, giving it a 80.7% screen-to-body ratio.
Overall: the Dell XPS 13 is more compact than the MacBook Pro. The Touch Bar is the MacBook Pro’s primary advantage in this category, at least for those who find it convenient.
Processing, Memory and Storage
The MacBook Pro uses dual-core processors from the seventh generation of Intel Core processors. The Touch Bar version has options for seventh-gen Core i5, either 3.1GHz or 3.3GHz; or Core i7, up to 3.5GHz. The non-Touch Bar model of the MacBook Pro has options for a 2.3GHz Core i5 or 2.5GHz Core i7.
Being newer to the market, the Dell XPS 13 is equipped with eighth-generation quad-core Intel chips. It has options for Core i5, up to 3.4Ghz; and Core i7, up to 4Ghz.
Neither one has a distinct advantage in memory or computer storage. For memory, the MacBook Pro has 8GB RAM as its standard. The XPS 13 also has 8GB RAM, though there’s also an entry-level option for 4GB. In terms of storage, the MacBook Pro Touch Bar models allow for 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB. The non-Touch Bar model comes with either 128 GB or 256 GB of storage. The new XPS 13, meanwhile, is configurable with 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB.
Overall: the Dell XPS 13 has the benefit of more recent and thus more powerful processors. In terms of RAM and storage (and graphics cards, for that matter), the two are evenly matched.
Visuals and Audio
The MacBook Pro uses Apple’s trademarked Retina display. According to Apple, the definitive trait of Retina display is that it makes individual pixels indistinguishable at normal viewing range. The Macbook Pro goes up to 500 nits brightness.
The XPS 13, meanwhile, has options from full HD to 4K Ultra HD resolution. The top tier model also has touchscreen functionality. Its displays go up to 400 nits brightness.
It was difficult to get impressions of the XPS 13’s speakers because of the hands-on demo’s environment. It will be up against rather steep competition, though. The MacBook Pro’s speakers are well balanced and have a dynamic range, and they’re link to system power to allow greater peak amplification.
Overall: Unless you’re specifically looking for a 4K touchscreen, the MacBook Pro comes out on top in this category.
Battery Life and Cooling
The official estimate for the MacBook Pro’s battery life is set at 10 hrs for movie playback or web browsing. Independent tests have produced somewhat mixed results, though they generally fall within this vicinity. The device manages heat well with minimal noise from its cooling system.
Dell, meanwhile, advertises around 19 hours for the XPS 13’s battery life. During the hands-on demo, users saw it break the 12-hour mark on web surfing and video playback, so even if actual battery life falls short of Dell’s boasts, it’s clearly got considerable endurance. The XPS 13 uses GORE thermal insulation, but the demo environment made it difficult to tell how much noise its cooling system might generate.
Overall: It may be too early to say, since review copies of the XPS 13 haven’t yet been distributed. At this point, both contenders can guarantee prolonged use with good heat management.
Overall, the Dell XPS 13 has a slight edge over the MacBook Pro: it has more processing power in a smaller, lighter frame, and may yet prove to have even longer battery life. You could say that this much is expected, given that it’s a more recent release.
This slight advantage shouldn’t deter long-time Apple adherents, however. The MacBook Pro maintains perhaps the best display among laptops and boasts impressive features all around—and those who like the functionality of the Touch Bar won’t find its match anywhere else.
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