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Can Apple’s new MacBook Pro 13 keep pace with Dell’s XPS 13?

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

The war between the Dell XPS 13 and Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro has started to simmer as the internal components, and design, of the latter has been the same for several years. At long last, Apple has decided to update its enthusiast laptops with a new touch-enabled panel where the row of function keys used to sit. Is this the change potential upgraders have been waiting for, or is the MacBook still a step behind the Dell?

MacBook Pro 13-inch

macbook-pro-2016_007

Dell XPS 13-inch

Dell XPS 13

Dimensions  11.97 x 8.36 x .59 (in) 11.98 x 7.88 x .33-.6 (in)
Weight  3.02 pounds 2.7 pounds
Processor  6th Generation Intel Core i5 or i7 7th Generation Intel Core i3, i5, or i7
RAM  8 or 16GB LPDDR3 4, 8, or 16GB LPDDR3
Display  13.3-inch IPS display 13.3-inch InfinityEdge (touch optional)
Resolution  2,560 x 1,600 1080p or 3,200 x 1,800
Storage  128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB PCIe SSD 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (PCIe optional)
Networking  802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Ports 4 x Thunderbolt 3, 3.5mm USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 3, Headset, SDXC
Webcam  720p FaceTime HD 720p webcam
Operating System  MacOS Sierra Windows 10
Battery  54.5 or 49.2 watt-hours 60 watt-hours
Price $1,499+ $849+
Availability Available Available now
Review Hands-on 4.5 out of 5 stars

Design

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. It’s a bit slimmer this time around, and a little lighter as well, with a new Space Gray color option.

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 . It’s also available in rose gold, if you want something that’s flashier yet still handsome.

Apple’s improvements to the keyboard and input methods on the MacBook Pro are a mixed bag. We were a big fan of the old keyboard, but weren’t so hot on the Butterfly key switches found in the new MacBook, which have now made their way to the MacBook Pro. The XPS 13’s keyboard and touchpad are comfortable and run-of-the-mill, where the MacBook Pro’s new Touch Bar has the possibility of setting it apart from the pack, or frustrating users. The latter component is an OLED multitouch display that’s meant to replace the MacBook’s top row of function keys — it also adapts based on whatever software you’re using. The technology sounds promising, but we just can’t make a verdict until we’ve spent some time with it.

As expected, the new MacBook Pro features four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports and a single 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, or two Thunderbolt 3 ports if you opt for the non-Touch Bar version. While Type-C support continues to grow, a lot of users may still be put off by the lack of standard ports. The XPS 13, on the other hand, has its own Thunderbolt 3 connection, as well as USB 3.0, SDXC, and a dedicated charging port.

Winner: Dell

Apple is still stuck on Skylake

While so some of us have been waiting patiently for Apple to update the CPUs in the MacBook lineup, we had to settle for the older Skylake chips, instead of the more modern Kaby Lake offerings. The reasoning, or so we’ve heard, is that at release there are no Kaby Lake mobile chips with Iris Pro graphics, which help power the high-resolution display. Dell, on the other hand, is fully embracing the Kaby Lake lifestyle.

Previously, the MacBook Pro also boasted a higher wattage processor than the Dell XPS 13, and while we don’t know for sure which chip is in the base model of the new MacBook Pro, our research would indicate that it’s an Intel Core i5-6360U, the same wattage as the Core i5 chips found in the XPS 13. That means the advantage lies with the Dell, which also offers a wider array of CPU options that start at Core i3 and work their way up to Core i7.

The advantage is a slimmer in terms of RAM. For the Apple, 8GB of RAM is the standard, but the system also starts $500 higher, and the $1,049 XPS 13 includes an i5, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage at $250 less than the entry-level 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: Dell

Two great displays, but one winner

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

Dell-XPS-13-Gold-2016-front-angle

Not that the Apple display isn’t, though. Both screens offer 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, and is the only one of the pair to offer a choice of displays if you don’t want to spend extra for the QHD+ version.

Winner: Dell

Portability

When we reviewed the previous-gen MacBook Pro 13-inch, 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, which was one of the best results we recorded at the time.

The battery in the older MacBook Pro was 74.5 WattHours, while the new model without a Touch Bar is just 54.5, and the Touch Bar version is just 49.2. Even with the improvements to energy efficiency in MacOS Sierra, that’s not a great sign for the Pro’s battery life.

The new Dell XPS 13 was almost in line with the previous MacBook Pro, 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. Kaby Lake chips also bring battery life improvements, especially while playing 4K video, which is sure to push it above the new MacBook Pro. And don’t forget; the Dell is lighter and a hair smaller, yet it has a 60 watt-hour battery.

The reduction in battery size on the Apple side will likely hand the Dell an unequivocal win in the battery life and portability department, but we’ll have to wait and see which device lasts longer once the MacBook Pro is in our hands.

Winner: Dell 

The Dell settles into the throne

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.

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 — MacOS, or Windows. But if you’re comfortable with both, the XPS 13 does lead the Mac, even with Apple’s recent updates.

Buy MacBook Pro 13-inch from:

Apple

Buy Dell XPS 13 from:

Dell