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Is Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 still the king, or has Dell’s XPS 13 usurped the throne?

apple macbook pro  vs dell xps (skylake)
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The MacBook Pro 13 with Retina and Dell XPS 13 are two laptops that have set the bar that all other competitors leapfrog over to considered to be among the best of the best. Both are 13-inch systems, both sell for around $1,299, and both offer excellent battery life. Now, thanks to Dell’s excellent refresh of the XPS 13, its only natural to pit these top-tier notebooks against one another. While we love both of these systems, a king must be crowned; there can only be one!

MacBook Pro 13

Apple-MacBook-Pro-with-Retina-display-13”

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13

Dimensions  12.35 x 8.62 x .71 (in) 11.98 x 7.88 x .33-.6 (in)
Weight  3.48 pounds 2.7 pounds
Processor  5th Generation Intel Core i5 or i7 6th Generation Intel Core i3, i5, or i7
RAM  8 or 16GB LPDDR3 4, 8, or 16GB RAM
Display  13.3-inch IPS display 13.3-inch InfinityEdge (touch optional)
Resolution  2,560 x 1,600 3,200 x 1,800
Storage  128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB PCIe SSD 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (PCIe optional)
Networking  802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Ports  USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, Headphone jack, SDXC USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 3, Headset, SDXC
Webcam  720p FaceTime HD 720p webcam
Operating System  OS X Windows 10
Battery  74.9 watt-hours 56 watt-hours
Price  $1,299+ $800+
Review 4.5 out of 5 4.5 out of 5

Old versus new

Apple’s latest MacBook Pro looks like, well, a MacBook Pro. The chassis is exceptionally sturdy, the aluminum unibody has a premium feel, and the elegant exterior provides plenty of class. However, it’s also another iteration of a concept that we’ve seen from Apple for years, and because of that, it’s a bit dull.

Dell’s XPS 13, which is built from carbon fiber and uses an aluminum frame for reinforcement, looks a bit more unique. Soft-touch materials provide a luxurious feel, and while the XPS 13 weighs about a half-pound less than the Mac, it’s just as sturdy. The bezel on the Dell is slimmer than ever, a design choice that’s both aesthetically stunning and useful, for its ability to reduce the XPS 13’s footprint considerably.

Keyboard and touchpad quality favor the Mac, but not by as much as you’d expect. Apple’s superior keyboard backlighting and Mac OS X multi-touch gestures can’t be matched by anything a Windows PC has to offer in these areas.

The race is close when it comes to connectivity. Both machines boast USB 3.0 Thunderbolt, although the XPS has Thunderbolt 3, as opposed to the Thunderbolt 2 found on the MacBook. Apple slides in with the only dedicated video port of the pair, a convenient full-size HDMI. Both notebooks ditch Ethernet in favor of 802.11ac Wi-F, and include Bluetooth.

Winner: Dell

The difference in a watt

While the Dell’s i5-6200U is a newer Skylake chip, the MacBook’s 5th-generation Broadwell offering actually performs better, thanks its higher maximum wattage and faster clock speed. It beats out the Core i5 Dell option in the GeekBench processor benchmark, and offers a snappy experience in everyday use without hurting battery life.

The advantage is a lot slimmer in terms of RAM. For the Apple, 8GB of RAM is the standard, but the system also starts $500 higher, and the $999 XPS 13 includes an i5, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage at $300 less than the base model MacBook. Both systems have SSD options ranging from 128GB to 1TB, although PCIe is standard in the MacBook. Dell’s XPS 13 only enjoys the faster PCIe connection stand with drives that have 256GB of storage or more.

Winner: Apple

Two great displays, but one winner

The MacBook’s display previously held this title, but Dell’s InfinityEdge redesign also introduces a new 3,200 x 1,800-pixel display, and it’s a masterpiece.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch 2013

Not that the Apple display isn’t, as well. Both screens are impressively high resolution, and boast some of the best contrast, brightness, and gamut readings in modern systems. The Dell squeaks by the MacBook at the end of the day, although its success is almost foiled by an OS issue.

Some applications, icons and fonts look blurry on the Dell, which has a lot to do with Windows’ difficulty when it comes to scaling the desktop and older programs. The high-resolution assets provided by Mac OS X for use with the Retina display result in exceptionally smooth and sharp images that look as if they’re projected onto the display rather than formed by pixels on an LCD panel.

Winner: Dell

Portability

When we reviewed the latest MacBook Pro 13, we were stunned by its long battery life. Peacekeeper, a demanding Web browsing benchmark, required 10 hours and 11 minutes to eat through a full charge, one of the best results we recorded at the time.

Endurance has continued to improve, however, and the new Dell XPS 13 has caught up to the Mac, offering seven hours and 52 minutes of battery life on a single charge. That’s one of the longest recorded times for a Windows notebook in our testing. And don’t forget; the Dell is lighter and a hair smaller, meaning that it’s easier to lug around.

Ultimately, the decision will come down to rather you prefer physical portability, or supreme battery life. The Mac will last longer on a charge, but the Dell is much lighter and smaller, a difference you’ll notice if you have to carry it frequently.

Winner: Tie

The Dell steals the crown

The redesigned Dell XPS 13 steals the crown from the MacBook in most areas. It’s also available at a lower entry-level price of $800. However, that only snags a 1080p display and Core i3 processor. We think the base XPS 13 is a good deal, but in fairness to Apple, the Dell is as expensive as its Cupertino competitor when equipped with similar hardware.

Back when we first compared the systems, we hoped the XPS 13 would move to a higher-resolution display, and while still an issue, scaling for high resolutions is much better in Windows 10 than ever before. Dell not only delivered on our hopes for an improved panel, but also took the time to revamp the design and performance, which has paid off massively.

That doesn’t mean the MacBook sucks. This is one of the closest battles between two laptops on the market, and you wouldn’t be wrong to buy either of these systems. We think a lot of people will make their decision based on the operating system they prefer — OS X, or Windows. But if you’re comfortable with both, the XPS 13 does lead the Mac by a hair.