Two of the most popular laptops of 2020 are the Dell XPS 13 and Apple's MacBook Air. Both have been updated with new features and designs, and you may be wondering which option is better. I spent weeks with both devices swapping out the two laptops as my daily driver. Here's everything you need to know about how these two laptops compare to each other.
Would you like a good deal on an XPS 13 or MacBook Air now? Here are the best deals ahead of Black Friday on Dell XPS 13 and the best deals on MacBook right now if either device seems right for you.
The Dell XPS 13 is a better buy
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
The XPS 13 and MacBook Air are both premium laptops. Neither of these represent the best value for the components contained inside. Instead, they pack these parts with excellent workmanship and first-class design. I prefer the stark white look of the XPS 13 and its ultra-thin bezels, but I can't say the MacBook Air isn't an eye catcher. It hasn't changed in appearance since its major overhaul in 2018, but the all-aluminum unibody is pretty as always – especially in gold.
But let's get one thing out of the way right now. Base price. Both companies have starting models for $ 999, but Dell has a performance edge. The latest basic configuration has an 11th generation Core i3 processor with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. The MacBook Air features a 10th generation Core i3 chip with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage.
While the base MacBook Air has the older CPU, it has a higher resolution screen than the XPS 13. At 2560×1600, the pixel density is sharper than other 13-inch laptops, including the XPS 13. The 1920x 1,200 display of the XPS 13 is wonderful and bright, the air is noticeably sharper.
The XPS 13 offers a lot more room to grow with more expensive configurations. The XPS 13 offers updated versions with 32 GB of RAM and 2 TB of storage, as well as a 4K screen. Of the two, however, it's the only one with a touchscreen option.
If you're using both devices to the max, the cost is only $ 100 higher with the XPS 13. For the faster memory, the newer processor and the higher resolution, the extra is worth it.
The Dell XPS 13 is the faster laptop
If you look at the prices at which these two laptops overlap, the XPS 13 already has a steady lead. For example, the $ 1,199 price starts with an 11th generation quad-core Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. Starting at $ 1,299, the MacBook Air has a 10th generation quad-core Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD.
The XPS screen may not be that pixelated, but performance takes a big leap. The XPS 13 is the most powerful 13-inch notebook I've ever tested. It offers raw strength that most laptops of this size don't have. In top-notch configurations like the Core i7, it even outperforms the MacBook Pro.
Apple originally touted its latest Core i5 MacBook Air, which is twice as powerful as previous models. But don't be fooled – it's a less powerful processor. With just nine watts of power consumption, it cannot compete with the 15 watt Core i5 chips used in other XPS 13 configurations. A lower thermal profile means stricter restrictions on heat and therefore performance.
Will you notice the difference Yes, although it depends on the workload. If your daily routine consists of Chrome, Spotify, Netflix, Slack, and YouTube, you probably won't feel any differences in processing power. Even with dozens of tabs and many applications open, the Core i3 MacBook Air remains unimpressed. As I noted in the review, you can even go to GarageBand or iMovie to create lightweight content.
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
However, if you're a photographer working with high-resolution photos in Lightroom, or an extreme multitasker looking to power multiple 4K monitors, the XPS 13's extra bandwidth comes in handy.
It's also the first choice for a laptop that you can travel with. The XPS 13 is both thinner and lighter than the MacBook Air and, thanks to its thin frame, has a significantly smaller footprint.
It also lasts a few hours longer than the MacBook Air on a single charge, so you can add extra work to that long work trip.
There is one restriction there, however. The MacBook Air maintains similar battery life regardless of the configuration used. The XPS 13 dips by a few hours as soon as you equip it with the optional 4K screen. After the upgrade, the XPS 13 is closer to the MacBook Air in terms of battery life.
Windows, Mac and Apple
The ecosystem is something to consider. There's no question that iPhones, Apple Watches, AirPods, and MacBooks go really well together. It is no doubt convenient to have iMessage, iCloud, and AirDrop on all platforms. It's what Apple has always done so well, and while you might be hacking a similar solution using Windows apps (Dell Mobile Connect and Microsoft Your Phone Companion for Android), it's just not the same.
When you buy Apple's MacBook Air, Apple's suite of applications is also free. Microsoft Office Suite is preferred by most, but you'll have to pay extra to bundle this with the Dell XPS 13. While neither the Mac App Store nor the Microsoft Store will knock your socks off, Apple's Mac Catalyst program means more iPad apps are being ported over to the Mac. This could have serious potential for the future of the Mac app ecosystem.
Most people prefer macOS or Windows. But today there are far fewer differences than before. MacOS has better trackpad gestures, while Windows has full touchscreen support. Windows has face authentication for quick unlocking of the device, while Touch ID on MacOS can be used for payments and authentication of user profiles, for example.
Both Windows 10 and MacOS are modern software that is backed by annual software updates and security updates. Neither gets the attention mobile platforms get for development, but you can't go wrong when it comes to stability.
Apple MacBook Air vs. Dell XPS 13: Which One Should You Buy?
In its latest version, the MacBook Air (finally) has a good keyboard and is inexpensive. However, if you compare apples to Dells priced at $ 999, the XPS 13 is the better deal despite the lower screen resolution.
But even if you get into the higher level of configurations, the Dell XPS 13 jumps one step ahead. It offers better performance, a more attractive design, and an excellent optional 4K display. XPS 13 models priced above $ 1,500 beat Apple's MacBook Air and even MacBook Pro 13.