Two of the best laptops on the market — the clamshell Dell’s XPS 13 and the 360-degree convertible XPS 13 2-in-1 — are receiving updates for 2019 that should make a meaningful impact in their performance. The XPS 13 2-in-1 is also receiving significant updates to its design that will make it a much more compelling offering in a very competitive market. But which is better?
The XPS 13 hasn’t received much of a design update since its previous version. In fact, it’s essentially the same — and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a good-looking clamshell laptop with some of the tiniest bezels around, fitting a 13.3-inch display into one of the smallest chassis around. The XPS 13 2-in-1 is a different story. It’s received a number of important design updates from its previous version, interestingly enough making it a more cohesive member of the line. It now much more resembles the XPS 13, with the same tiny bezels, the same aluminum silver lid, and identical black or white interiors. The XPS 13 also offers a Rose Gold color scheme for a little more panache.
Both laptops maintain Dell’s attention to detail, with solid build quality that exudes confidence as you’re carting them around and getting your work done. In terms of their size and weight, the XPS 13 comes in at 0.46 inches thick and 2.7 pounds compared to the XPS 13 2-in-1 at 0.51 inches and 2.9 pounds.
While the XPS 13 retains its snappy keyboard from its most recent versions (an improvement over the mushier version of several versions earlier), the XPS 13 2-in-1 inherits a version of the maglev keyboard from the larger XPS 15 2-in-1. We prefer the XPS 13’s deeper travel, but if you like short-travel keyboards with a very snappy feel, then the 2-in-1’s version will work well for you. Both laptops enjoy relatively large Microsoft Precision touchpads with excellent and precise support for the full gamut of Windows 10 multitouch gestures, and of course, the XPS 13 2-in-1 supports Dell’s active pen for handwriting. The XPS 13 has touch displays available as well.
The XPS 13 retains the same excellent display options as before, including touch and non-touch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution displays with good contrast and colors, and a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) touch display with excellent colors and contrast.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 makes a significant change from its predecessor, stretching the display from the usual 16:9 aspect ratio to a taller 16:10 aspect ratio that will show more information on the screen at once and work better for handwriting. The display will come in two resolutions as well. The first is a 4K UHD+ (3,840 x 2,400) that will offer a 1,500:1 contrast ratio and 500 nits of brights to go with an extremely wide color gamut. The base resolution comes in at 1,920 x 1,200, which is a bit closer to a standard 1080p model. We prefer the taller screen of the XPS 13 2-in-1, and we’d surprised if Dell didn’t bring that panel to its flagship at some point in the future.
Finally, connectivity also favors the XPS 13. The clamshell comes with two USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 ports to go with a single USB-C 3.1 port and a microSD card reader. The XPS 13 2-in-1, on the other hand, has two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 and drops the third USB-C connection. It also enjoys a microSD card reader, though. Both laptops utilize the Killer AX1650 Wi-Fi card, offering support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard.
Intel has launched not just one but two, new 10th-gen lines of laptop CPUs. The two XPS laptops are some of the first two implement them, and add an interesting wrinkle to the buying decision between them.
The XPS 13 uses the Comet Lake chips, which are based on the older 14nm architecture and focus on increased core counts and clock speeds. Most notably, the XPS 13 will eventually get the option for the top level, six-core Core i7 part. The two extra cores here should provide a significant increase in multithreaded performance. If you’re a video editor or content creator, that’s the laptop to have your eye on.
The XPS 13 2-in-1, meanwhile, uses Intel’s new Ice Lake 10nm processors. Ice Lake focuses on providing faster IPC (instructions per core) via some new instructions that will encourage parallel operation to speed up legacy programs. The most obvious Ice Lake advantage will be in graphics, where Intel uses its new Iris Plus integrated graphics. Iris Plus bring MX150-level graphics to these 13-inch laptops, meaning you’ll be able to do some light gaming at Medium settings. The better graphics are only available at the more expensive configurations, though, starting at $1,715. The XPS 13 will be stuck with the older Intel UHD graphics across all configurations.
It remains to be seen which line of CPUs will provide the best overall performance, especially in the Core i3 and Core i5 configurations. Given the architectural differences, it’s likely that each CPU will perform some tasks faster and some slower — and there will likely be energy efficiency differences as well, making the laptop choice harder than ever. We look forward to pitting these two laptops against each other to see which CPU reigns supreme.
As we noted, the XPS 13 is smaller and slightly lighter. But the XPS 13 2-in-1 is equally easy to carry around.
Battery life remains a mystery, though. The XPS 13 has a 52 watt-hour battery inside, while the XPS 13 2-in-1’s battery is slightly smaller at 51 watt-hours. Dell claims the new XPS 13 will get 21 hours of battery life, while it promises the XPS 13 2-in-1 will get 16 hours.
We don’t expect either of these machines to necessarily live up to those claims, but it sounds like the XPS 13 will win out in the long run. That could be due to the higher resolution screen on the XPS 13 2-in-1, or it could just be a matter of power efficiency. As always, the configurations paired with 4K displays will get the least battery life.
Two siblings battle it out for the throne
These will be premium laptops when they both finally roll out. We don’t have exact pricing yet on the XPS 13 configurations, although we expect it to be close to the current version that starts out $899 for the lowest configuration and maxes out well over $2,000. The updated XPS 13 is due out on August 27, though the six-core Core i7 model won’t be available until October.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 can be priced today, and it starts at $980 with a Core i3-1005G1 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and the 13.4-inch display. You can spend as much as $2,302 if you choose the Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 32GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and choose the Arctic White interior. Based on pricing alone, the XPS 13 will no doubt continue to be the go-to choice for most, especially with the option for a six-core model, though we can’t say for sure until we test them both ourselves.
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