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Apple MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS 13 has been rated as the best laptop for a few years now, thanks to a streamlined and high-quality design and excellent performance. It’s seen its challengers, but they’ve all fallen short. There’s a new model that dramatically redesigns Dell’s iconic laptop, and it’s aimed at Apple’s MacBook Air M1 that’s built around a fast ARM-based CPU. There’s also a newer version of the MacBook Air using Apple’s M2 CPU, but the older model is still for sale and represents the least expensive MacBook you can buy.

These are both excellent laptops with great portability and robust build quality. But only one can come out on top.

Specs

  Apple MacBook Air M1 Dell XPS 13 9315
Dimensions 11.97 inches by 8.36 inches by 0.63 inches 11.63 inches by 7.86 inches by 0.55 inches
Weight 2.8 pounds 2.59 pounds
Processor Apple M1 Intel Core i5-1230U
Intel Core i7-1250U
Graphics Apple M1 Intel Iris Xe
RAM 8GB
16GB
8GB
16GB
32GB
Display 13.3-inch 16:10 WQXGA (2560 x 1600) IPS 13.4-inch 16:10 Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS
Storage 256GB solid-state drive (SSD)
512GB SSD
1TB SSD
2TB SSD
512GB SSD
1TB SSD
Touch No Optional
Ports 2 USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
3.5mm audio jack
2 USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
Wireless Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2
Webcam 720p 720p, Windows Hello IR webcam
Operating system macOS Windows 11 Home or Pro
Battery 49.9 watt-hours 51 watt-hours
Price $999+ $999+
Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Prices and configuration

The MacBook Air M1 starts at $999 for an eight-core CPU/seven-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). At the high end, you’ll spend $1,999 for 16GB of RAM and a 2GB SSD. The XPS 13 entry-level is also $999, with a Core i5-1230U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a non-touch display. It maxes out at $1,699 for a Core i7-1250U, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a touch display. Identically configured with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, the MacBook costs $1,599 compared to the XPS 13 at $1,449.

Both laptops are affordable at the entry level for premium laptops, and both get rather expensive when configured more robustly. The XPS 13 is slightly less expensive, though.

Design

The M1-powered Macbook Air, open on a table.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The MacBook Air M1 is essentially unchanged in its design from its Intel-based predecessor. It’s the same unibody construction from CNC machined aluminum with as solid a build quality as you’ll find on a laptop today. It feels like a fusion of glass and metal in hand, with no twisting, bending, or flexing. The XPS 13 has a new all-aluminum design that drops the carbon fiber from previous generations. It retains the same solid construction and rivals the MacBook Air. Both laptops enjoy hinges that allow the display to be opened with one hand, while the XPS 13 incorporates a dual hinge that’s remarkably fluid.

Aesthetically, the MacBook Air M1 presents a simpler appearance, being a single color throughout other than the black keycaps. It retains the wedge shape that the newest MacBook Air gives up, and it exudes quiet elegance. That doesn’t mean it’s boring — you can choose from three colors: Space Gray, gold, and silver. The XPS 13 is also very clean and simple, with two colors, Sky and Umber, and tiny bezels that give it a modern look and feel. Both are good-looking laptops, but we think the XPS 13 stands out a bit more.

The Dell XPS 13, open on a table in front of a window.

The XPS 13 has one of the better keyboards among Windows laptops, with big enough keycaps and excellent key spacing. The switches are consistent across the keyboard, providing a confident bottoming action with a precise click. The MacBook Air M1, though, incorporates Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which has less travel than the XPS 13’s but equally comfortable keycaps and space and even better switches. The MacBook’s keyboard is light, springy, and incredibly precise and responsive. It’s the best keyboard you’ll find on any laptop today.

The MacBook Air M1 utilizes Apple’s Force Touch haptic touchpad, and it’s large and far more advanced than the smaller mechanical version on the XPS 13. The MacBook Air M1’s touchpad is pressure-sensitive and provides precise cursor control across the entire surface. The XPS 13’s touchpad is a Microsoft Precision version, and it supports Windows 11’s multitouch gestures with precision. But the MacBook Air M1’s touchpad is better in every way.

Both laptops have limited connectivity, with two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support. But the XPS 13 drops the 3.5mm audio jack, requiring a dongle or Bluetooth. The MacBook Air is limited to Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0, while the XPS 13 is more up-to-date with Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2.

In addition, both laptops have 720p webcams, which on the XPS 13, supports Windows 11 Hello password-less login via facial recognition. The XPS 13 also offers a fingerprint reader, the same as the MacBook Air M1 for Apple’s Touch ID support.

Performance

The XPS 13 can be configured with a choice of Intel 12th-generation U-series CPUs, specifically 9-watt versions, including the Core i5-1230U and Core i7-1250U. These are 10-core processors (two Performance and eight Efficient) that are optimized for productivity performance and efficiency. That makes the XPS 13 a solid productivity performer but not an excellent machine for creators, and its Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics are limited. The MacBook Air M1 utilizes Apple’s M1 CPU, a hybrid ARM processor with eight total cores — four performance cores and four efficiency cores. It can be configured with either a seven-core or eight-core GPU. It’s a significantly faster laptop that can not only handle demanding productivity tasks but can tackle creative applications as well. The MacBook Air M1 is also fanless and completely quiet, while the XPS 13’s fans spin up under heavy loads. Neither laptop is great for gaming.

Across all our benchmarks, the MacBook Air M1 is the better performer. That’s particularly true if you keep the XPS 13 in “balanced mode,” which limits noise and heat but slows things down considerably.

Dell XPS 13 9315
(Core i5-1230U)
Apple MacBook Air M1
(Apple M1)
Geekbench 5
(single / multi)
Bal: 1,393/ 4,459
Perf: 1,477 / 5,350
Bal: 1,727 / 7,585
Perf: N/A
Handbrake
(seconds)
Bal: 333
Perf: 192
Bal: 156
Perf: N/A
Cinebench R23
(single / multi)
Bal: 1,379 / 3,457
Perf: N/A
Bal: 1,479 / 6,680
Perf: N/A

Display

You get one choice of display with the MacBook Air M1, a 13.3-inch 6:10 WQXGA WQXGA (2560 x 1600) IPS panel. Unlike previous versions of the XPS 13, the current model has just two display options, non-touch and touch-enabled 13.4-inch 16:10 Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS panels. If you want higher resolutions or OLED, you’ll need to choose the XPS 13 Plus instead.

The MacBook Air M1’s display is sharper but not as bright nor as high-contrast, while both have similar colors. They’re good displays for productivity work but lacking for demanding creators. The MacBook Air M2 has wider colors, while the XPS 13 Plus’s OLED panel is superior across the board.

Dell XPS 13 9315
(IPS)
Apple MacBook Air M1
(IPS)
Brightness
(nits)
444 389
AdobeRGB gamut 75% 79%
 sRGB gamut 99% 100%
Accuracy
(DeltaE, lower is better)
1.33 1.39
Contrast ratio 1,390:1 1,130:1

Portability

Apple MacBook Air M1 side view.

The MacBook Pro M1 and XPS 13 are almost equally wide, but the XPS 13 is shorter and thinner at 0.55 inches thick versus 0.63 inches. The Dell is also lighter at 2.59 pounds versus 2.8 pounds, but both are easy to stuff into a backpack and forget they’re there.

Both laptops have great battery life. The M1 chip is extremely efficient, making the MacBook Air M1 a long-lasting laptop indeed. It managed 15.5 hours in our web browsing test, one of the longest results we’ve seen. And it went for 18.5 hours in our video looping test, not quite as long as the longest we’ve tested but much better than average. The XPS 13 was also long-lasting at 13.25 hours on our web browsing test, yet still behind the Apple.

The MacBook Air M1 will get you into a second day of use, while the high-res version of the XPS 13 will get you through a single day.

Dell XPS 13 9315
(Core i5-1230U)
Apple MacBook Air M1
(Apple M1)
Web browsing  13 hours, 18 minutes 15 hours, 31 minutes
Video N/A 18 hours, 28 minutes

Given the performance and battery life, the MacBook Air M1 gets the win

Macbook Air M1
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The MacBook Air M1 is faster and longer-lasting than the XPS 13 while offering a better keyboard and touchpad. It may be an older model of the MacBook lineup, but it holds up well.

The XPS 13’s only advantage is a slightly lower price at higher configurations. But if you’re OK with macOS over Windows 11, the MacBook Air M1 is the better option and a relatively affordable entry in the world of premium laptops.

Editors' Recommendations