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Dell XPS 13 vs. MacBook Pro 13

The XPS 13 keeps getting better. Here's how it compares to the MacBook Pro

The Dell XPS 13 has been a fantastic laptop since it’s a relaunch in 2015, but every design gets old after a few years. In 2019, Dell unveiled a revamp of the laptop with the webcam back on top, which now makes it even more comparable to the MacBook Pro.

But for 2020, Dell is back with an ever better XPS 13, one with an even more improved display and a smaller footprint. Can Apple’s long-lauded MacBook Pro sill compete? In this guide, we’ll pit the design, performance, and more against each other, and help you find which one is better for you.

Design

Design will always have a subjective aspect to it, but these laptops are both at the top of their respective games. In particular, the design of the MacBook Pro has become iconic. It’s been iterated upon over the years, but the aluminum unibody look has remained largely the same — and it’s not anything people complain about.

One of the great things about the Dell XPS 13 is that it never attempted to clone anything the MacBook Pro did. It has its own sense of style, and it got better in 2019 with new “Frost” color options and a brighter, whiter interior. Despite moving the webcam up top, the XPS 13’s ultra-thin bezels still remained thin, resulting in a laptop with a tiny footprint on the table.

But for 2020, Dell slimmed the bezels on the display and on all four sides of the screen significantly, especially on the bottom.  It now sports what Dell is calling a 13.4 inch “4-sided InfinityEdge display.” In layman’s terms, this allows Dell to squeeze a bigger display panel into the size of an 11-inch laptop. That all means it sports a 91.5% screen to body ratio.

The MacBook Pro, however, isn’t bad in this regard, but the XPS is definitely a trimmer machine. What really sets it apart is the option of a white and rose gold color scheme or the black carbon-fiber texture on the palm rests, as well as its screen. The weight, meanwhile, comes in at 1.64 pounds and 0.58 inches. That’s a bit on the same page as the MacBook’s 0.59-inch thickness, but definitely slimmer to carry around, especially considering the MacBook’s 3.02-pound weight.

Apple’s improvements to the keyboard and input methods on the MacBook Pro are a mixed bag. We didn’t like the the third-generation butterfly key switches found in the new MacBook Pro at all, which present a stiff, abrupt bottoming action that can make long typing sessions tiresome. That said, the MacBook Pro’s large Force Touch trackpad is truly superb — we rate it as the best in the industry, bar none.

The XPS 13’s keyboard and touchpad are comfortable with smooth key travel and less slippery keycaps. In fact, Dell chose to redesign the keyboard on the XPS 13 in 2020 so that it’s more of an edge-to-edge design, and that its keycaps are 9% larger. Even the trackpad got bigger too, now 19% larger over last generation.

On the other end of the scope, the MacBook traded a larger keyboard and trackpad of the XPS 13 for an OLED Touchbar. where the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar is divisive: you may love it or find it redundant. It’s 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 sounded promising at first, but it turned out to be completely forgettable, and really needs further development to reach its potential.

As expected, the new MacBook Pro features either two or four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports (depending on the model you select) and a single 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. While USB-C support continues to grow, a lot of users may still be put off by the lack of standard ports. The new 2020 XPS 13 is similar, offering two Thunderbolt 3 ports — however, it includes a microSD slot and packages in a USB dongle.

Dell has struck a good middle ground with its new XPS 13, and we think it struck a nice balance of high-powered, futureproof ports and accessibility with older accessories.

Performance

Both laptops feature options for both Intel Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs. However, Dell has a slight edge, as it offers a budget-friendly Core i3 option and newer 10th generation Intel processors. Apple is slightly behind in this matter, as its Macbook sports eighth-generation chips as standard. If you want more recent options with Apple, you’ll have to upgrade to the bigger 16 inch MacBook Pro. The latest 10th-generation Ice Lake processors, meanwhile, are standard on the new XPS 13, regardless of which model you buy,

Let’s take a deeper dive, first with the XPS 13. The most affordable model starts at $1,000, and that gets you a dual-core Intel Core i3-1005G1 processor, 8GB of memory and a super-fast 128GB PCIe NVMe SSD. Those components can be upgraded to an Intel Core i5-1035G1, or Intel Core i7-1065G7 processor, 32GB of memory and up to a 2TBGB SSD, if you please. These Core i5 and Core i7 also processors offer more core-counts than the base model and also come with Intel’s improved 10th-generation integrated graphics. Known as Iris Plus, the Core i7 models of the XPS 13 allow for light gaming.

Now for the MacBook Pro. Apple’s base model comes with a 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz), 8GB of memory and a speedy 128GB PCIe SSD. That configuration will set you back $1,300. If you need more, you can go all the way up to an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory and a whopping 2TB SSD.

Neither comes with a discrete graphics chip, so don’t expect to play AAA games on either of these laptops, unless you’re prepared to shell out extra for an external graphics card (eGPU). With both laptops supporting Thunderbolt 3, that’s an option if you don’t mind the cost.

So, which laptop offers better performance? This is an easy answer. Although both will serve you well for multi-tasking, the XPS 13 wins because it has modern 10th generation Intel processors, as well as slightly better integrated graphics for light gaming.

Display quality

The XPS 13 comes with three display options: 4K Ultra HD+ touch screen, FHD+, non-touch, and a FHD+ touch. With 4K Ultra HD+, you’re essentially getting 3,840 x 2,400 resolution, and then 1,920 x 1,200 on the FHD+ model. That terminology seems weird, but it is because of the new aspect ratio.

Thanks to the slimmer 4-sided Infinity Edge display, the XPS 13 sports a 16:10 aspect ratio to help maximize screen space. Similar to the MacBook lineup, this aspect ratio now means that you should feel as though there is more room on the screen for your content when web browsing. You’re also getting a bigger screen-to-body ratio on the XPS 13, too, as it is rated at 91.5%.

The 4K model also claims HDR 400 certification, with 500 nits of brightness, a 1500:1 contrast ratio and 90$ of the Adobe SRGB Color Gamut. However, the 4K model results in a noticeable drop in battery life, making the 1080p the better option. That means if you don’t want to compromise on battery performance, you have to settle for a lower resolution than the 2,560 x 1,600 offered by the MacBook Pro. Still, the XPS 13’s screen remains one of the best displays you can buy in a laptop, though still some way behind that in the MacBook Pro.

Display quality has long been one of the MacBook Pro’s strong points. The MacBook Pro’s Retina display isn’t 4K, but it’s sharper than 1080p. While we haven’t tested the new 2020 XPS 13 yet, the MacBook is known for its great color accuracy and color gamut, and noticeably better brightness. Its color error rate of 0.72 is one of the lowest we’ve ever seen, while its superb 1,200:1 contrast ratio offers deep blacks and brilliant colors.

Portability

Both the MacBook Pro and XPS 13 are slimline laptops that offer plenty of portability, but the XPS definitely has the edge here. It’s both lighter and thinner than the MacBook Pro, making it super easy to throw it in your bag or hold it in your hand. As for battery life, that’s a different story.

Our testing in 2019 showed some worrying behavior from the XPS 13 in terms of its battery life. When testing the 4K model, we saw a 25 to 30 percent drop in light web browsing and local video loop playback over the 2018 4K model, despite having the same display and battery. The latest model in 2020, however, promises to improve battery life a bit. Dell claims that the FHD+ mode can last you for up to 19 hours.

The MacBook Pro also took a step backward in terms of battery performance. The 2019 model’s 58 watt-hour battery is noticeably smaller than the previous version’s 74.9 watt-hour battery. Our video loop test drained the battery in ten hours and 24 minutes. We still need to test the new 2020 XPS 13, but that would fall behind the FHD+ XPS 13. So, the MacBook Pro will last you through a day of normal usage, but if you want better battery performance, the 1080p XPS 13 should last longer.

Dell settles into the throne

All that said, we still think the XPS 13 comes out on top in this comparison. It offers better portability, a more immersive screen, a newer and better processor, and superior value for money. You also get an attractive laptop that creates its own style, neither aping Apple’s metallic finish nor the sea of all-black laptops in the Windows world. It’s a laptop to be seen with, and for good reason.

Ultimately, we think you’ll be happy with either laptop, and a lot of your choice will depend on which operating system you’re used to. But if you’re open to both the Apple and Windows worlds, the Dell XPS 13 is a fantastic option.

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