The Dell XPS 13 and the MacBook Air are some of the most iconic laptops ever designed. Taking them at face value, it might be a hard decision to make between the two. Prefer the ultra-slim bezels of the XPS 13 or the hard-as-a-rock build quality of the MacBook Air?
But there’s more to these two laptops than what can be seen on the surface. Here’s everything you need to know about how these two laptops stack up.
Both laptops boast 13.3-inch displays and similarly compact designs this year. Apple continues to use a unibody aluminum construction on the Air this year, while the XPS 13 differentiates with an aluminum lid and carbon fiber palm rest. The Air’s 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61-inch dimensions are within range of the XPS 13’s 11.98 x 7.88 x 0.6-inch measurements, but at 2.7 pounds, the XPS is slightly lighter than the 2.75-pound Air. The 2019 XPS 13 comes in silver or rose gold and “frost” exterior, while the Air is available in gold, silver, or space gray. It also features an easy-to-open top lid thanks to a new “variable torque hinge.”
Despite sharing the same screen size, there are notable differences between Apple’s and Dell’s edge-to-edge glass displays. The MacBook Air ships with a non-touch Retina display with 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, giving it a much higher 227 ppi (pixels per inch) rating to the XPS 13’s 166 ppi. The XPS 13 starts with a non-touch 1080p display that can be upgraded to a touch screen. You can also jump up to the 4K option. Additionally, the XPS 13’s 16:9 aspect ratio makes it more suited for videos, though we prefer the slightly taller 16:10 aspect ratio on the Air.
Comparing the 4K edition of the 2019 XPS 13 to the Air, we found the XPS has better contrast and brightness, but they are nearly equal in color gamut and accuracy. The Air’s screen grabs the “Retina display” name, but takes a significant step back from the screen on the MacBook Pro, slipping behind on things like brightness, contrast and black levels.
If you’re looking at a laptop for productivity, the XPS 13’s keyboard gives it a big benefit. With the 2018 MacBook Air, Apple also redesigned the keyboard with its third-generation design with butterfly key switches. The result is you’ll find more shallow key travel on the Air compared to the XPS 13 and most other keyboards on the market.
To maintain its minimalist silhouette, Apple limited connectivity on the Air to just two Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C ports for power, data transfer, connecting peripherals, and handling display output, along with a single headphone jack. The XPS 13 offers a similar selection of two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports and a standard USB-C port, but throws in an SD card slot for good measure.
Both the Air and the XPS 13 have been updated with new processors in 2019. The XPS 13 was recently moved up to 10th-gen Comet Late chips, which now offer a configuration up to six cores. While we haven’t tested that exact system just yet, the extra cores should make it a faster machine, especially in tasks like photography or video editing.
The MacBook Air, on the other hand, still uses a Y-series, dual-core processor. It’s plenty fast for general productivity, but it has its limits in multitasking and in applications that require additional threads. At their base levels, they both only have two cores, though, which makes them comparable in terms of performance.
Apple’s MacBook Air can be configured with either 8GB or 16GB of memory, and storage ranges from a 128GB solid-state drive up to 1TB. Dell offers similar RAM configurations, but the SSD can go all the way up to 2TB. Neither laptop comes with discrete graphics, as both the XPS and Air rely on Intel’s integrated GPU.
Both laptops can be used for 720p HD video calls, though FaceTime remains an exclusive experience to Apple hardware. To get rid of the awkward video angles which have plagued the XPS 13, Dell moved the webcam back up to its top bezel in the 2019 model of the laptop. It’s the thinnest webcam ever used on a Dell laptop and comes in at 2.25mm in size.
To handle audio, the XPS 13 and Air both feature stereo speakers, though the MacBook’s are far better. The speakers are located on the sides of the XPS 13, whereas Apple uses an upward-firing design with speakers placed on either side of the keyboard.
Apple’s MacBook Air has long set the standard when it comes to all-day performance. Apple claimed that the Air can last for 12 hours of wireless web browsing or up to 13 hours of iTunes movie playback, but we found that Air only lasted for around eight hours in our web browsing test. With the new XPS 13, we reviewed the model with the battery-hogging 4K display. It only lasted us 6.7 hours when web browsing, and seven hours when looping a video. That said, we recommend the configuration with the standard 1080p panel, where you can expect it top what you get on the MacBook Air.
If you do need to take either laptop on the go, both are fairly mobile. The newest versions of the XPS 13 and the MacBook Air are both lightweight, with the XPS weighing in at 2.7 pounds and the Air a fraction heavier at 2.75 pounds, making them easy to care around one-handed or throw in a bag. The XPS 13 is slightly thinner at the biggest part of its wedge shape, while the smallest part of the MacBook Air’s wedge is thinner than the XPS 13’s.
To protect your data, both laptops rely on biometric security. Fingerprint-based Touch ID is standard on all MacBook Air configurations, while a Windows Hello fingerprint scanner is an optional feature on select XPS 13 configurations. Both laptops support enhanced workflow when paired with a smartphone. iPhone users will benefit from better hand-off and integration with MacOS on the Air, while the XPS 13’s downloadable Dell Mobile Connect app will give similar benefits to Windows 10 users who also carry an iOS or Android smartphone.
The XPS 13 offers more bang for the buck
Ultimately, the decision to go with anor a boils down to your investment in either the Windows 10 or MacOS ecosystem. If you’re an existing MacOS or iPhone user, upgrading to the MacBook Air may be a natural decision — you won’t need to re-purchase your Mac apps and Apple’s Continuity feature allows a seamless workflow between the Air and your iOS smartphone.
But if you’re looking for value, thedelivers more performance for your money. Despite the MacBook Air’s $100 price cut in 2019, the XPS 13 remains the better option, especially in the higher configurations when more cores can be added.