If you’re in the market for a 13-inch laptop, you’re in luck. There are so many good options, your biggest problem will be creating your shortlist.
In part, that’s because manufacturers like Dell and Asus have leveraged a number of component improvements and some engineering smarts to create really small laptops. Tiny bezels are number one on the list, and the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 and latest Dell XPS 13 are two beneficiaries. We pit these excellent little laptops against each other to see which one best earns your hard-earned cash.
To begin with, these are both great-looking laptops. The newest member of Asus’s ZenBook 13 300-series sports an upscale Royal Blue color scheme with gold trim (with a Slate Gray alternative) that stands out in a crowd without looking garish. Dell’s XPS 13 is another looker, with three of its own colors including a conservative black and silver, Rose Gold, and a new “Frost” that’s a lighter tone of silver than usual. There’s also a new webcam which moved back to the top bezel on the XPS 13, and a new easy “variable torque hinge” which makes the laptop easier to open with just one hand.
The ZenBook isn’t just beautiful, it’s also tough thanks to MIL-STD-810g military standard testing for robustness. The XPS 13 is no slouch in this department thanks to a range of materials including aluminum and carbon fiber. And these two diminutive machines are also equally small thanks to some of the tiniest bezels you’ll find on laptops today. The XPS 13 does win out on thickness, though, at 0.47 inches versus 0.55 inches, while weight is equal at 2.7 pounds.
When it comes to which is better for inputting information, it’s another mixed bag. The ZenBook 13 has a fine keyboard with a precise mechanism but a weird layout and its very good Windows Precision touchpad is augmented by an LED inlay that offers up a nifty numeric keypad. The XPS 13’s keyboard is pulled over from the XPS 15 2-in-1 and is the same kind of magnetic levitation mechanism that’s very snappy and offers more travel than the earlier generation, and the touchpad is another good Windows Precision version without any kind of LED trickery. We’ll give the slightest win to Dell here for offering a touch display option.
Finally, connectivity reflects a different focus. The ZenBook 13 offers wider legacy support with USB-A, USB-C, and HDMI ports that save you the need to carry around a bunch of dongles. But the XPS doubles down on USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, and while that requires some dongles it also greatly enhanced the overall expandability of the machine. No external GPU enclosures for you, ZenBook.
Both are good-looking and well-built laptops, but the XPS 13 wins out for more options and more powerful connectivity.
The ZenBook 13 is built around an 8th-generation Whiskey Lake quad-core CPU, the Core i5-8265U, that represents a great balance of performance and efficiency. It’s more than fast enough for the usual productivity tasks, and it sips power. The XPS 13 also utilizes the latest Intel CPUs, although you can upgrade to the Core i7-8565U for a little extra oomph. We tested the XPS 13 with a Core i7-8565U processor and found that it was plenty quick, beating last years model by about eight percent in both single and multicore Geekbench 4 performance.
Where the ZenBook 13 wins out is in the option (arriving later in January 2019) to opt for an entry-level discrete GPU, the Nvidia GeForce MX150. That’s not very fast by discrete graphics standards, but it would trounce the XPS 13’s integrated Intel GPU. Storage performance, on the other hand, is a virtual tie, with both laptops sporting fast PCIe solid-state drives (SSDs). In our testing, the ZenBook 13 netted a single-core score of 4,129, while the multi-core score is 13,903. That was as strong as most 13-inch laptops, and on par with the Dell XPS 13.
Display quality is another differentiator. While the ZenBook 13’s sole display option is a terrific Full HD panel with solid contrast, brightness, and color gamut and accuracy, the XPS 13 has it matched. But Dell also offers both touch and non-touch Full HD options and a luscious 4K screen with Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) support. Options are good, and the XPS 13 has them.
Both are great little laptops for productivity, but Dell’s wider display options rule the roost. We tested the 4K panel and while its contrast ratio doesn’t match the ZenBook 13 UX333, its gamma reading was high, leading for bright images and a total brightness of 472 nits.
If it wasn’t already clear, neither of these laptops will weigh you down or take up much space in a backpack. And that’s awesome.
But battery life matters, too, and we’re going to call these two a tie. We tested the XPS 13 with its 4K display, and battery life was, as expected, unimpressive at 7 hours for web browsing and video playback. Given the battery capacity and components, we’d expect the XPS 13 Full HD longevity to be close the ZenBook 13’s. That is, both will likely get you through most of a working day on a charge.
When it comes to portability, you can’t go wrong with either of these laptops.
The XPS 13 wins this one, but not by as much as you might think
The ZenBook 13 doesn’t win any of our comparison sections, but it’s also very nicely priced. Spending just $850 nets you a Core i5-8265U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, which is plenty for the price.
The Dell XPS 13 starts at $900 with a Core i5, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD, and pricing goes up from there. It’s $1,210, for example, when matching the ZenBook 13’s Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD.
Yes, you’ll spend more money on the Dell XPS 13, but it’s worth it. The ZenBook 13 is a great notebook for a budget shopper, but the Dell is a better laptop overall, period.