There’s a race going on in the laptop space to see who can pack the most laptop into the tiniest chassis. Dell started it all with its XPS 13, using ever-smaller bezels to create one of the smallest — and best — 13.3-inch laptops you can buy.
Asus has entered this race with gusto, using even smaller bezels in its ZenBook line to make some of the smallest laptops around. The latest is the ZenBook S13, which uses a reverse notch to maximize the screen-to-body ratio of its 13.9-inch display. But is that enough to dethrone the XPS 13?
The ZenBook S13 maintains the usual distinctive concentric Asus swirl on the lid as well as the company’s ErgoLift hinge that props the keyboard up at a comfortable angle. At the same time, it’s more angular and modern than other recent ZenBooks, and its “Utopia Blue” is a striking silver that’s unique among its siblings. The XPS 13, on the other hand, is relatively conservatively attractive but with its own flair thanks to a choice of Rose Gold and “Frost” colors to go with its default black and silver.
These are very small laptops given their respective screen sizes, with the 13.9-inch ZenBook S13 coming in at 12.44 inches wide by 7.65 inches deep by 0.50 inches thick. That compares to the XPS 13 at 11.9 by 7.8 by 0.46 inches. The ZenBook S13 is very light at 2.62 pounds, and the XPS 13 is just slightly heavier at 2.7 pounds. Both benefit from extremely small bezels in packing so much computer into such small frames — and both have their webcams above the display where they belong, with the Asus using a reverse notch to fit everything in.
Both laptops are very well built. The ZenBook S13’s aluminum chassis is designed to meet MIL-STD-810g military tests for durability. The XPS 13 wasn’t tested against the standard, but its combination of aluminum and carbon fiber feels just as robust. Dell uses special GORE materials to keep heat under control, while Asus keeps the metal away from the skin via the ErgoLift hinge. They’re both comfortable, therefore, on a lap although the XPS 13 remains cooler overall.
In addition, both keyboards are excellent, with good amounts of travel and light, snappy mechanisms. We do prefer the XPS 13 keyboard’s feel, only barely, and find the Asus’s silver keys with yellow lettering harder to read without the backlight turned on. And both laptops have adequately sized touchpads with Microsoft Precision touchpad support and thus excellent Windows 10 multitouch gesture performance.
Finally, connectivity is a mixed bag. While the ZenBook S13 has better legacy support thanks to a USB-A 3.1 Gen 2 port to go with dual USB-C 3.1 Gen 2, the XPS 13 is better equipped for the future. It has three USB-C 3.1 ports, two of which support Thunderbolt 3 — unlike the Asus — and thus connect to more displays and can support external GPU enclosures. You’ll need dongles with the XPS 13, but that’s a fair trade-off.
The ZenBook S13 uses 8th-generation Whiskey Lake quad-core processors up to the Core i7-8565U — fast and efficient CPUs, while the XPS 13 has been updated to use Intel’s 10th-gen Comet Lake CPUs. In fact, the XPS 13 can be configured with the new six-core version, making it the fastest 13-inch laptop you can buy. They both provide plenty of productivity performance and their storage performance is equally good thanks to fast PCIe solid-state drives (SSDs), but the XPS 13 commands a lead in processor performance. The ZenBook S13, though, has a trick up its sleeve — a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU that gives it enough oomph to play modern titles at low resolutions and graphical details and older games at higher settings.
Display options favor the XPS 13, however. Both offer very good Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) displays, with the ZenBook S13’s being brighter and the XPS 13’s being more colorful. However, Asus isn’t offering a touchscreen or a higher resolution 4K option. Dell offers both, and its 4K display is excellent. If you’re okay with a non-touch Full HD display, then the ZenBook S13 will please. Otherwise, Dell gets the edge.
The ZenBook S13 is a better entry-level gaming laptop, but the XPS 13 offers better displays and faster overall performance.
The XPS 13 is smaller, thinner, and just a bit heavier. But you’ll barely notice either laptop in your backpack.
However, battery life matters, and here the XPS 13 wins out again. While the XPS 13’s 4K model can’t keep up with the ZenBook S13, the Full HD version is likely to last significantly longer.
The XPS offers more options and more polish
Asus doesn’t offer many configurations in its ZenBook line. The ZenBook S13 is available in one configuration, a Core i7-8565U, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe SSD, and a Full-HD display. It comes in at a premium price of $1,400. That’s in contrast to the ZenBook 13 UX333, which starts at an affordable $849.
The Dell XPS 13 starts at $950 with a Core i3, 4GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and the price heads north from there. The price is $2,100 for a more powerful configuration of a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, and a 4K display.
You get what you pay for with the XPS 13, including a better display, better battery life depending on configuration, and more overall polish. The ZenBook S13 puts up a good fight, but the XPS 13 maintains its place at the top.
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