Dell’s XPS 13 has been a favorite laptop line of ours for years, with the latest XPS 13 (9300) model setting the bar high once again. It has some stiff new competition from Apple, though, in the form of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which just launched in May 2020. The fresh Pro offers the option for 10th Generation Intel Core CPUs, and Apple has overhauled the much-maligned keyboard.
We’ve already compared Apple’s latest laptop to other 13-inch competitors, from its own 2020 MacBook Air to Microsoft’s flagship Surface Laptop 3. Since the XPS 13 is one of the top-tier options in this laptop size class, it’s now its turn for a head-to-head comparison. Below, we’ll help you sort through their similarities and differences, and which laptop is the best fit for different kinds of shoppers.
The Eternal Question: macOS or Windows 10?
The most obvious difference between these two laptops is the operating systems. Your decision doesn’t have to hinge solely on this aspect, or even start here, because plenty of shoppers are flexible or platform-agnostic. If you’re familiar with both, or don’t have strong feelings one way or another, this is just another feature to consider. (Check out our OS expert’s latest take on the macOS-vs.-Windows argument.)
Plenty of shoppers do feel strongly about each OS, though, or simply need one platform for work and can’t use the other. The debate over which is better has gone on for many years, and each OS has its own advantages. For some, it’s not really a matter of preference. Certain programs only exist on one platform, or run better on one than on the other. The types of programs that are more platform-specific are those for creative professionals, and if that applies to you, you already know the lay of the land.
Otherwise, both OSs can handle everyday tasks like web browsing, general productivity work, and communication, so this won’t be the deciding factor if that’s all you’re looking to do. If all else is equal, choose the operating system you’re more familiar with, but hopefully the physical and component differences explained below help you choose. Let’s dive into those!
Starting Configurations and Component Choices
Like the Surface Laptop 3 and the MacBook Air, the XPS 13 has a starting price of $999. This means the 13-inch MacBook Pro has the highest point of entry of this group, at $1,299. For that price, with the MacBook Pro you get an 8th Generation Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. The base model of the XPS 13, though, is comparatively weaker on the CPU side—it includes an Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD.
Of course, you can configure each laptop up from the base model, on the chance that the starting components don’t work for you. On the Dell side, many users will likely need a faster processor (you can crank it up to a Core i5 for around the same price as the MacBook Pro starting configuration), and in both laptops, you may want more storage space.
The two brands offer very similar upgrade paths. You can increase the main system memory to 32GB and add in much larger SSDs (the XPS 13 maxes out at 2TB, while the MacBook Pro can go up to 4TB, albeit at very dear prices). For processors, both can reach up to the latest 10th Generation Core i7 chips for greater performance.
To give you an idea of the options and how they scale, our $1,799 13-inch MacBook Pro sample features a 10th Generation Core i5 CPU, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD. Our $1,749 XPS 13 test unit reviewed some weeks back included a 10th Generation Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB solid-state drive. In this sense, the XPS 13 provides a better per-component value than the MacBook Pro, offering a Core i7 chip for less than the MacBook Pro’s Core i5 processor while matching the rest of the parts. Core i5 CPUs are fairly capable at media tasks, but if you’re doing a lot of media editing, a Core i7 chip in either laptop will save you time.
Proving that point, the XPS 13 was generally superior in our testing, posting equal or superior results to the MacBook Pro on CPU-intensive benchmark tests. You can see these results and details by heading over to the full review of the 13-inch 2020 MacBook Pro. Again, these results are based on our review configurations, thus pitting a Core i5 CPU against a Core i7 CPU. You could say the scores are unsurprising as a result, and that it’s only natural that Dell’s machine has the edge, but fair is fair—that configuration of the XPS 13 still costs $50 less than the MacBook Pro model it was tested against.
So that’s how the components work out for these laptops: The configuration options are largely the same, but come in at different prices, with the XPS 13 as a better value. Components aren’t the only factor in the price, though, even if they are a big part of the package. Before giving the bang-for-your-buck crown to Dell, let’s see what other specs and features each laptop offers.
Size and Screen Differences: It’s All in the Details
As 13-inch laptops, both machines aim to be your ideal travel companion. In this regard, both succeed quite well, but there are some differences. The XPS 13 measures 0.58 by 11.6 by 7.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.8 pounds, while the MacBook Pro comes in at 0.61 by 12 by 8.4 inches and 3.1 pounds. They’re very close in size and weight (and both very light laptops in the big picture), but the XPS 13 is the laptop with a smaller footprint and lower weight, closer to that of the MacBook Air. The build quality on both laptops is tremendous, with metal chassis and sleek designs.
In our testing, the XPS 13 also lasted much longer on our battery rundown at 17 hours and 31 minutes compared to the MacBook Pro’s 12:46. That result will vary on usage, and also by configuration, but based on our units the XPS 13 will last longer on the road. This supports its overall case for portability versus the MacBook Pro.
The displays seem roughly equal on the surface, but they actually have quite a few differences on a componentry level. The MacBook Pro’s screen measures 13.3 inches and bears a 2,560-by-1,600-pixel native resolution. The XPS 13’s display is an unusual 13.4 inches (in a 16:10 aspect ratio) and features a 1,920-by-1,200-pixel resolution. That puts the MacBook Pro’s screen ahead in pixel count, which may be a boon to creative types.
The XPS 13’s slightly larger screen size, though, is possible in this trim a chassis as a result of its super-thin screen bezels, which makes the display look a bit roomier and much more modern than the MacBook Pro’s panel and its thicker borders. It’s these super-slim borders that allow the XPS 13 to have a smaller overall footprint despite the slightly larger screen.
It’s also worth noting that the XPS 13 has the option for a 4K display, so it’s capable of blowing away the MacBook Pro’s resolution if you’re willing to pay up. For many, the XPS 13’s default 1,920 by 1,200 resolution will prove to be plenty sharp enough, but it’s hard not to prefer the MacBook Pro’s sharper base-model resolution. We also find the 4K-screen XPS 13 configurations can get very expensive, so we generally recommend sticking with the default unless you need or really want a 4K panel. (A 4K screen will also drag down the battery life, all else being equal.)
Another major difference is the fact that the XPS 13’s display is touch-enabled in some configurations (our tester had touch), while Apple’s screens lack touch across the board. It remains Apple’s stance that touch technology exists on its smartphones and tablets, but not on its laptops or desktops. The alternative, which is now standard-issue on all MacBook Pro models, is the Touch Bar forward of the keyboard. This is a touch-enabled OLED strip that offers context-based hotkeys and shortcuts depending on which window or program you have open. You can use it to perform tasks like scrub timelines in media apps, or simpler actions like changing volume.
If you’re a creator, the Touch Bar may have more practical uses than the XPS 13’s touch screen will. Since the XPS 13’s display doesn’t rotate to transform into tablet mode (at least, on the basic clamshell laptop—there is a 2-in-1 version of the XPS 13), you won’t exactly be drawing or modeling on it. A touch screen is more of a comfort and a convenience, easy to use for general activity, and not having the option at all on Apple laptop is disappointing. The XPS 13 is the obvious choice if you feel strongly about a touch screen, but the Touch Bar has its advantages, and is something that contributes to the higher price tag.
Compared to the MacBook Air’s and Surface Laptop 3’s screens, the 13-inch MacBook Pro panel has the advantage of covering the P3 color gamut. This is a wider color gamut than the more common sRGB spectrum, thus an advantage to creators and professionals doing color matching or correction. Unlike the other laptops, the XPS 13 matches the MacBook Pro on that front, also delivering support for P3 color.
As for ports, both laptops fall into the same “good news, bad news” camp. The bad news is that the 13-inch MacBook Pro and XPS 13 have no USB Type-A ports (the larger, standard USB ports you’re likely more familiar with). This can make plugging in your older peripherals and USB drives a pain, requiring a dongle or a dock. The good news is that USB Type-C ports are great, forward-looking connections for versatility and data transfer speeds. Beyond that, both laptops offer a headphone jack, and the XPS 13 has the advantage of a microSD card slot and support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless. You probably don’t own a Wi-Fi 6-capable router yet, but the XPS 13 is ready for one.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro and XPS 13 hit a lot of the same notes, which is unsurprising given that they go for the same audience. Both are very travel friendly, offer sharp displays and similar ports, and fall within the same range of performance. Neither are true workstations or powerful desktop replacements (leave that to 15-inch Windows laptops or the 16-inch MacBook Pro), but they can get real work done while still fitting easily into your bag.
With its Touch Bar and default higher-resolution screen, the MacBook Pro may be the better fit for creatives. On the whole, though, the XPS 13 makes a strong case as the better value (that is, more performance for less money). Plus, it is slightly lighter and smaller, and (in our testing) lasts longer off the charger. Those factors may give it the edge for most shoppers, but each has advantages for different use cases—so, choose wisely!
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