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Two ultrabooks enter, only one leaves: Dell’s XPS 13 vs. Asus Zenbook UX305CA

On the surface, the Dell XPS 13 and the Asus Zenbook UX305 are very similar machines. They’re both extremely small and light, they both utilize stylish designs, and they both run Windows 10. Additionally, they’re both quite well-received. Digital Trends once said the XPS 13 “sets the bar other ultrabooks must clear,” and called the UX305 “near-perfect” in their respective reviews. That being the case, they’re both great options when you’re considering a new 13-inch laptop.

Related: Dell XPS 13 (Skylake) review

However, which is better? That depends on what you need. While both laptops come in several different configurations, the Core M hardware and more conventional design in the Zenbook makes it considerably cheaper. Likewise, the Core i-series processors and high-end screen options on the XPS 13 make it the better choice if you’re in need of some serious computing power. Let’s take a good hard look at the various pros and cons of both models.

ASUS Zenbook UX305

zenbook thumb

2015 Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 15 Image

Dimensions 12.75 x 8.89 x 0.49 (in) 11.98 x 7.88 x 0.33-0.60 (in)
Weight 2.6 pounds 2.7-2.9 pounds
Keyboard Full size Full size, backlit keyboard
Processor Up to Intel Core m7-6Y75 Up to Intel Core i7-6560U
RAM 8GB 4-16GB
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 515 Intel HD Graphics 520
Display 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology 13.3-inch UltraSharp infinity display (touch optional)
Resolution 1920 x 1080 or 3200 x 1800 1920 x 1080 or 3200 x 1800
Storage 128/256/512GB SSD 128/256/512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Ports USB-C/Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, SD card reader USB 3.0, USB2.0 SD card reader, mini HDMI
Webcam 720p HD webcam 720p HD webcam
Operating System Windows 10 Windows 10
Battery 45-watt-hour 56-watt-hour
Price $700+ $800+
Availability Now Now
Review 4.5 out of 5 4.5 out of 5

Specifications

The biggest difference between the UX305 and the XPS 13 is the processor architecture. The base models of the UX305 use the Core M3-5Y10, which is considerably less powerful than even the slowest Core i3-6100U in the base model XPS 13. Even with poorer performance, the Zenbook doesn’t get notably better battery life than the XPS 13. Of course, more expensive processors are available at higher price points.

The Zenbook’s slower processor is excused by some upgrades in other areas. Its base model, though cheaper than the XPS 13 by $100, offers 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state drive, while the entry-level XPS 13 only has 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.

On the high end, the XPS 13 regains its advantage. The Zenbook UX305CA’s top model is about $1,000 at most retailers. That includes a 3,200 x 1,800 display, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB hard drive — once again giving the Asus a value lead. But if you need more, only the Dell can deliver. It can match the Asus’ specifications while also offering up to 16GB of RAM and up to a Core i7-6560U.

Because of the thin-and-light design of both ultrabooks, users can’t replace RAM or SSD drives themselves. Both laptops also include standard Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

dell xps 13 2015 review screen logo

2015 Dell XPS 13

Greg Mombert/Digital Trends

The Zenbook and the XPS both capitalize on Intel’s 500-series integrated graphics. While the Dell laptop has marginally more graphical power, neither is fast to run high-end PC games, so dedicated gamers should look elsewhere.

The screens have more measurable differences. Both are 13.3 inches, and both start at 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution, which is more than enough to comfortably work with at that size. If you want even more sharpness, some UX305 configurations come with QHD+ resolution, which amounts to 3200 x 1800-pixel resolution. The XPS 13 offers the same resolution, but its sharper screens also come with a touch panel, something that isn’t offered by ASUS. Notably, the UX305 uses a matte, anti-glare screen — similar to ThinkPad designs and professional monitors — while the XPS screen is glossy.

Battery life is highly dependent on specific hardware configurations and use. That said, the XPS 13 consistently scored better in our battery tests than the UX305. In the Peacekeeper battery benchmark, our XPS 13 review unit scored just shy of 8 hours on its 56 watt-hour battery. Despite lower overall processing power and a similar, the UX305 scored just 5 hours and 25 minutes, perhaps due to its smaller battery. The Dell is the better choice for maximum battery life, though the Asus isn’t bad, either.

Related: Asus Zenbook UX305CA review

Design

While the UX305 has its charms, the XPS 13 is the winner in the subjective area of style. The super-slim InfinityEdge dispaly bezel render it three quarters of an inch slimmer on its longest axis, and and an inch shallower from the palmrest to the hinge. The top and bottom of the XPS 13 are anodized aluminum — grey by default or gold on the special edition — with a carbon fiber body on the inside.

Even so, the UX305 isn’t exactly homely itself, with an all-aluminum body offered in either an “Aurora” (silver) or “Obsidian” (purple-black) build. In terms of weight, both are comparable. The Zenbook is 2.6 pounds in all configurations, the non-touch XPS 13 is 2.7 pounds, and the touch-enabled XPS is 2.9 pounds.

Asus Zenbook UX305C

ASUS Zenbook UX305

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

However, the devil is in the details. The XPS offers an optional backlit keyboard, a definite boon for travelers and something that’s not available on the ASUS laptop. Both laptops offer an SD card slot for easy photo transfers, plus two USB 3.0 ports. The Zenbook also offers an extra USB 2.0 port and a micro-HDMI port for video out, while the latest version of the XPS offers a combination USB Type-C port that also supports charging and Thunderbolt for video. The XPS is more future-proof, but if you’d rather use an external monitor or television with a more readily-available HDMI interface, the Zenbook wins out. The XPS 13 supports older video formats via a separate adapter, which is quite pricey at $75.

In terms of usability, both systems have advantages and drawbacks. The extra depth of the Zenbook has bettery keyboard feel, and the wider deck makes the keys larger and more comfy than the ones on the XPS 13. That situation is reversed for the touchpad, where the smooth XPS easily beats out the Zenbook. Both laptops are equipped with 720p webcams and built-in microphones, but due to the super-slim screen bezels on the Dell, it’s placed beneath the screen panel. That can make for awkward “up the nose” camera angles during video conferencing. The XPS 13 and the UX305 both have down-firing speakers, which are serviceable but not outstanding. Headphones are recommended for quality listening.

Availability

Like all Dell hardware, the XPS 13 is sold directly on the company’s website. The lowest tier of the laptop is surprisingly affordable at $800 (Core i3, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 1080p non-touch screen). Configurations go up to a whopping $2,000 for the model with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, 512GB of storage, and a QHD+ touchscreen. The

ASUS Zenbook UX305 starts at just $700 for the basic 8GB/256GB/1080p model, and can often be found at a discount. It’s sold on Amazon, Newegg, Microsoft’s Windows store, and other retailers. More expensive configurations are harder to come by, but the option with 512GB of storage, 8GB of RAM, and a sharper QHD+ screen is only $1,000 at retail, and can often be found even cheaper.

Conclusion

Choosing between the Zenbook UX305 and the XPS 13 comes down to one major factor, and that’s price. The Asus laptop is an excellent value at its starting price of $700, and its more expensive models are also a good deal. If you want to spend less than $1,000 the Zenbook is the better pick.

If you’re able to spend more, though, the XPS 13 wins. It’s quicker, it lasts a bit longer on a charge, and its design is both attractive and compact. Dell’s laptop is a seriously capable system that’s perfect for people who want a no-compromise ultrabook.