Asus ZenBook 13 vs. Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS 13 is great, but does it need a discrete GPU like the ZenBook 13?

dell xps 13 2018 screen hero2
Matt Smith/Digital Trends
Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Although you can find many great budget laptops out there today, the sweet spot in laptop pricing and hardware, as far as we’re concerned, is just north of $1,000. There are some truly stellar entries in that ballpark, including our favorite for the past few years, the Dell XPS 13. But there are always pretenders gunning for that throne and Asus has a new potential competitor that has us intrigued.

In this head to head, we’ll pit the Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN vs. Dell XPS 13, to see which comes out on top in all of the most important categories.

To see how the new Dell XPS 13 measures up against the larger Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, check out our comparison between the two.

Specifications

Asus Zenbook 13 UX331UN

asus zenbook 13 vs dell xps zenbook13ux331thumb

Dell XPS 13

dell xps 13 vs asus zenbook white 225x150

Dimensions 12.2 x 8.5 x 0.55 inches 11.9 x 7.8 x 0.46 inches (0.3 at thinnest)
Weight 2.47 pounds  2.67 pounds
Processor 8th Generation Intel Core i5, i7 8th Generation Intel Core i5, i7
RAM 8GB or 16GB 4GB, 8GB or 16GB
Graphics Intel HD 620 or Nvidia MX150 with 2GB GDDR5 Intel HD 620
Display 13.3-inch wide-wide angle (touch optional) 13.3-inch InfinityEdge
Resolution 1080p or 4K 1080p or 4K
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (PCIe optional) 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (PCIe optional)
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Ports USB-C, 2 x USB-A, HDMI, headset, microSD USB-C, 2 x Thunderbolt 3, Headset, microSD
Webcam VGA webcam 720P webcam
Operating System Windows 10 Windows 10
Battery 50 watt-hours 52 watt-hours
Price $1,000+ $1,000+
Availability Now Now
Review Full review: 7/10 Full review: 9/10

Design

Asus’ laptops have never been the most striking. Even its recent entries haven’t done much to change that, though it does appear to have taken some measures to improve the aesthetics of its new ZenBook 13 to bring it more in line with its pricing. With some subtle tweaks to the angling, a slight reduction in bezel size and a new, glossy finish to the Royal Blue paint job, it certainly looks better than previous entries in this range.

The Dell XPS 13, on the other hand, is arguably one of the best looking laptops available today. Its latest refresh is slightly flatter and looks far more modern than its predecessors. Its soft-touch, carbon fiber interior is still lovely to look at and feels great. Its bezels are thinner than ever too, practically making it an edge-to-edge display, which is more than can be said for the new ZenBook 13.

Both laptops are trim elsewhere too, although the XPS 13 just pips the ZenBook 13 there too, coming in a few fractions of an inch shorter and thinner. The ZenBook does manage to undercut the competition on weight though, shedding 0.2 of a pound compared to the Dell design. That weight loss may come at the expense of frame stability, as we noticed some flex in the display during our review.

Elsewhere in the designs, the ZenBook 13 has a little more port flexibility with the inclusion of two USB-A ports, as well as an HDMI output that supports up to HDMI 1.4. There’s no Thunderbolt 3 support though and the webcam is only VGA, compared to the 720p version that the XPS 13 sports.

Although both designs have their perks, the overall look and feel of the XPS 13 is hard to beat, even if the ZenBook’s legacy ports give it a little more connectivity flexibility.

Winner: XPS 13

Hardware

The XPS 13 has far more configuration options than the Asus ZenBook 13 with some notable differences that are worth considering. Both systems offer eighth-generation Intel Core processors, although the ZenBook is limited to the Core i5-8250U while the Dell has an optional i7-8550U processor. And while the XPS 16 can be configured with up to 16GB of RAM, the ZenBook 13 is limited to just 8GB. Storage options are a little more varied with the Dell as well, offering up to 1TB PCI SSDs. The ZenBook 13 is limited to just a 256GB SATA SSD.

The biggest difference between the two is in the graphics department. Where the Dell XPS 13 offers no additional graphics support beyond the on board Intel UHD 620 chip included with the processor, Asus offers an Nvidia MX150 with 2GB of GDDR5. That’s not a particularly powerful graphics chip, typically comparable to a desktop GTX 1030, but it’s significantly more powerful than Intel HD graphics — even if it’s throttled a bit.

All things considered, both systems should perform comparably in typical Windows tasks, but with the additional oomph of a dedicated graphics processor, even a slightly limited one, the ZenBook 13 should be the more powerful system with 3D applications and gaming.

Winner: ZenBook 13 

Display

The XPS 13 offers two resolution options for laptop displays: A standard 1080p, Full HD panel and a much more detailed 4K choice, which gives both versions native support for the latest consumer media source. Whichever resolution you opt for though, both come in the 13.3-inch form factor and have fantastic color accuracy — it’s some of the best we’ve ever seen on a display outside of a MacBook Pro.

The ZenBook 13, on the other hand, only offers a 1080p display — and it didn’t fare quite as well in our testing. It loses to the XPS 13 in pretty much every category, ranging from contrast ratio to color accuracy.

Winner: XPS 13

asus zenbook 13  16
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Portability

Portable laptops need to be compact, lightweight and have plenty of battery life and both the XPS 13 and ZenBook 13 have all those in spades. The physical dimensions are a bit of a toss up, as though the ZenBook is the slightly lighter notebook, it’s not by enough of a margin that general usage will make it too noticeable. Likewise, the XPS 13, although smaller, is not so much so that it’s going to make an enormous difference to your day.

The kicker is likely to come in terms of battery life. Although there are only a few watt-hour difference between the batteries that both laptops employ, claimed battery life is a little different. In our testing, the XPS 13 offered overall better battery life, particularly if you’re relaxing and watching a video. Neither top the longevity of the the Surface Book 2, but the XPS 13 wins out over over the ZenBook 13, giving it the overall edge in portability.

Winner: XPS 13

Price and availability

Arguably the most important category, nothing else matters if a product is too expensive or hard to find. This is where the Asus laptop could really give Dell a run for its money, as both systems start out at $1,000.  The ZenBook has a substantially more attractive configuration at that price point. For your money you get a Core i5-8250U CPU, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and the distinctive MX150 graphics chip. The XPS 13 in comparison, has the same CPU, but just 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and just onboard Intel HD 620 graphics.

However, that entry-level configuration is the only option available with the ZenBook 13. The XPS 13, however, can be configured with a faster CPU, more RAM, and more storage space, not to mention a 4K display. You’ll spend considerably more, up to $2,550 ($2,350 on sale) in fact, but that nabs you a Core i7-8550U, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe SSD, and a sharp 4K display.

You’ll get more for your money with the ZenBook 13 versus the entry-level XPS 13. However, in this case, we think that the ability to upgrade the CPU, RAM, storage, and display makes the XPS 13 ultimately the better value.

Winner: Dell XPS 13

Close, but no cigar

Dell XPS 13 9370 review |
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

It’s rare that a laptop can come close to toppling our long-running mid-range laptop champion and the ZenBook 13 UX331UN made a valiant effort. With a discrete graphics chip nestled inside its newly trim design, decent battery life, and display options, it came closer than most to becoming our new favorite.

However, the overall package just isn’t quite enough to sway us. Although the XPS 13 appears to be the more expensive offering right now, its wider array of hardware options, its better-designed chassis and weight distribution, its new look and feel, and its stellar battery life, mean that it’s not leaving its cozy spot in our hearts just yet.

Overall winner: Dell XPS 13

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