In the laptop area, there is a race to find out who can pack the most in the smallest case. Dell started it all with its XPS 13 and kept using smaller and smaller frames to create one of the smallest and best 13.3-inch laptops you can buy.
Asus entered this race with gusto, using even smaller frames in its ZenBook range to make some of the smallest laptops in the world. The latest is the ZenBook S UX393, which uses an inverted notch to maximize the screen-to-body ratio of its 13.9-inch display. But is that enough to dethrone the XPS 13?
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
The ZenBook S retains the usual Asus concentric vortex on the lid, as well as the company's ErgoLift hinge, which supports the keyboard at a comfortable angle. At the same time, it's more angular and more modern than other newer ZenBooks. The latest model has a jade black finish throughout the metal unibody design, complemented by diamond-cut red copper edges.
The latest XPS 13 from Dell, on the other hand, is relatively conservatively attractive, but has its own flair. Color options include a platinum-silver exterior with a black interior and a frost exterior with a white interior.
These are two very small laptops due to their respective screen sizes. The ZenBook S is the larger and heavier of the two with a 13.9-inch screen. It measures 12.04 x 8.81 x 0.59 inches, making it slightly thicker, wider, and deeper than the XPS 13 (11.64 x 7.82 x 0.58 inches). The XPS 13 also has a slightly smaller display at 13.4 inches.
Both benefit from extremely small bezels that pack so much computers into such small frames – and both have their webcams over the display where they belong, with the Asus using an inverted notch to fit everything in.
Both laptops are very well built. The aluminum case of the ZenBook S13 meets the military MIL-STD-810g tests for durability. The XPS 13 hasn't been tested against the standard, but its combination of aluminum and carbon fiber feels just as sturdy. Dell uses special GORE materials to keep heat under control, while Asus uses the ErgoLift hinge to keep the metal away from the skin. You both feel good on one lap.
Additionally, both keyboards are excellent, with plenty of travel and light, snappy mechanisms. Both also have sufficiently large touchpads with Microsoft Precision touchpad support and thus excellent Windows 10 multi-touch gesture performance. Asus has the upper hand here with its dual-function touchpad, which has an LED-illuminated numeric keypad.
Connectivity is a mixed bag though. The ZenBook S has two Thunderbolt 4 or Thunderbolt 3 ports, depending on the processor. It also offers a USB-A port, an HDMI port, and an audio combo jack. The XPS 13 now has two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a MicroSD card slot and an audio combo socket. It does not include an HDMI output or a standard USB-A port.
Finally, the XPS 13 is very light at 2.64 pounds, while the ZenBook S is only marginally heavier at 2.76 pounds.
The ZenBook S uses the 10th generation Core i7-1065G7 chip or the 11th generation Core i7-1165G7, depending on the model. In comparison, the Dell XPS offers more CPU configuration options: the 11th generation i3-1115G4, the i5-1135G7, and the i7-1165G7. At this point, the two laptops are neck to neck at the Core i7 level, while the Core i5 and Core i5 offer better pricing options for the XPS 13.
Overall, both offer high productivity performance and their storage performance is equally good thanks to fast PCIe solid state drives (SSDs). Both also use extremely fast LPDDR4X memory clocked at 4,266 MHz.
The main dividing line between the ZenBook S and the XPS 13 is their screen. As mentioned earlier, the ZenBook S has a larger 13.9-inch screen. It supports touch, an aspect ratio of 3: 2 and a resolution of 3300 x 2200. The Dell XPS has a smaller 13.4-inch screen with an aspect ratio of 16:10. Here you have additional configuration options: 1920 x 1200 with or without touch and 3840 x 2400 with touch.
After all, none of the laptops come with a discrete GPU. So if you want to use either of the two for gaming, the Core i5 and Core i7 options are your best bet.
The XPS 13 is smaller, thinner, and just a bit lighter than the ZenBook S, but you will hardly notice a laptop in your backpack.
However, battery life is important. The XPS 13 has a 52 WHr battery, while the ZenBook S has a slightly larger 67 WHr battery that can last up to 12 hours. However, Dell's laptop has an edge over Asus because of the 1920 x 1200 configurations with the XPS 13. The lower the resolution, the longer the battery life. Once you move to 4K, the ZenBook S should offer a longer lifespan than the XPS 13.
The XPS offers more options
You can purchase the Asus ZenBook S UX393 in two different models with slightly different functions. The first is the EA unit with the 11th generation processor, and the second is the JA unit with the 10th generation chip. Each has 16 GB of storage, a 1 TB PCIe NVMe SSD, and a 3300 x 2200 display. Amazon, B&H, Costco, and Microsoft are selling it for a whopping $ 1,699.
For the simplest model of the Dell XPS, you pay $ 999 for 16 GB of storage, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, and of course a Core i3. From there, you can add better features, but the price goes up pretty quickly. You'll pay at least $ 2,250 for a Core i7 chip, 16GB of storage, 2TB of storage, the Frost exterior, and 3840 x 2400 resolution.
The XPS 13 is the clear winner in this competition, with its superior display and battery life (depending on the configuration) and an overall better polish. Of course, if you choose the ZenBook S, you still have a great machine.