The #Dell #XPS 13″ Ultrabook vs. the 11″ MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

When the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook was announced at CES, it definitely piqued my interest. This laptop puts a 13.3″ screen in the body of an 11″; it is available with a 5th Generation Intel Core i5 Processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and a touchscreen. It also has an SD slot, something I’ve sorely missed on my 11″ MacBook Air.

For background’s sake, my main computer is a 15″ MacBook Pro retina, and when I travel I bring along a 11″ MacBook Air. The Air is a great portable size that I enjoy toting, but I’m getting older, my vision isn’t getting better, and the Air’s non-retina screen is less brilliant than I would like. I’ve considered upgrading to the 13″ Air, but every time that thought comes up, I put the kibosh on it.

Here’s my reasoning: If I am going to carry the (also non-retina) 13″ Air,  then I might as well just carry my 15″ MacBook Pro retina; that way I’d have everything I could possibly need or want with me at all times … DONE.

The problem with that brilliant solution is that carrying around such a heavy laptop — even though it is one of the sleekest in its class — isn’t practical at all.

Most of the work I do is based in the cloud, and many of the apps I use have Windows or OSX equivalents. I have no issue with swapping between Mac and Windows devices, but I have to admit that since 2008 I’ve preferred Apple’s MacBooks to any other laptops. Why? Simply put, I’ve found them to be the most aesthetically pleasing, technologically advanced, easy to use, and portable laptops available.

The Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook has challenged that.

The #Dell #XPS 13" Ultrabook vs. the 11" MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

I’d been considering replacing my 11″ MBA with a higher resolution touchscreen Microsoft device for some time; I went so far as to purchase a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, but it didn’t take me long to realize that in my case, the removable keyboard was not a selling point. I need a laptop form factor so that I can write and edit anywhere, and that’s why I was eager to give the Dell XPS 13 a try.

The #Dell #XPS 13" Ultrabook vs. the 11" MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

For the last month I have been using the XPS 13 Ultrabook as my only computer when traveling and when at home, and while I’ll admit that its 13″ screen is a bit too small to replace the MBPr’s 15″ retina screen for my everyday work needs, I’ve found that it just about blows away any competition my 11″ Air could have given it — with the exception of one area.

I’ll get to that in just a bit.

Let’s start with this picture; I hope says as much to you as it does to me …

The #Dell #XPS 13" Ultrabook vs. the 11" MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

Okay, just in case the picture doesn’t make it obvious enough: the 11″ MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13 are very close in size.

How close?

The MacBook Air measures approximately 11.8″ wide x 7.6″ deep x 0.7″ thick at its widest point (the Air is shaped like a wedge), and it weighs 2.38 pounds. The Dell XPS 13 measures approximately 12″ wide x 7.9″ deep x 0.6″ thick at its widest point (the XPS is also shaped like a wedge), and it weighs 2.6 pounds when you get the non-touchscreen version or 2.8 pounds when you get the touchscreen version.

What about features?

My MacBook Air has a 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. The Dell XPS 13 has a 5th Generation Intel Core i5-5200U Processor (3M Cache, with up to 2.70 GHz), 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. Already, the Dell has slightly better specs. Let’s keep going.

On the left side, the 11″ MacBook Air has the Magsafe charging port, a USB 3.0 port, the 3.5mm headphone jack, and two microphones. The Dell XPS has a round power port, a mini display port, a USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a small button that when pressed indicates remaining battery life without you having to boot up or open the laptop. Remember when MacBook Pros used to have those? On the end, there is a speaker.

The #Dell #XPS 13" Ultrabook vs. the 11" MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

On the right side, the MacBook Air has a second USB 3.0 port and a Lightning port. The Dell XPS 13 does not have a Lightning port, but it does have an SD slot, a second USB 3.0 port, a Noble lock slot, and close to the front edge another speaker.

The #Dell #XPS 13" Ultrabook vs. the 11" MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

The keyboards on the two laptops are very comparable.Both have chicklet style keys with just enough travel that they are a pleasure to type on; both keyboards have backlit keys, and both have an approximately 4.75″ touch pad. Herein lies the only complaint that I have been able to come up with during my time thus far with the XPS 13: compared to the Mac touchpad, the Dell touchpad seems a little less responsive to two-fingered scrolling at times, and it seems to need a more precise hand when I am using it to select items for highlighting. This may just be the difference of being used to one OS or hardware vendor’s touchpad over the other, but since I have been using the Dell exclusively for some time, I feel pretty confident in my assessment.

The #Dell #XPS 13" Ultrabook vs. the 11" MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

But here’s the thing that sets the Dell XPS 13 apart from the similarly sized 11″ Apple MacBook Air: the screen … that glorious 13.3″ Quad HD+ 3200 x 1800 touchscreen infinity display. My 11″ MBA has an anemic 1366 x 768 display, and I never realized how washed out the colors were until I had it side by side with the Dell. Dang. =/

The #Dell #XPS 13" Ultrabook vs. the 11" MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

You’ll note that both 11″ Apple MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13 have about 3/4″ at the bottom the screen that is taken up with bezel. Worth noting is that the bottom left hand corner of the XPS’s bezel houses the webcam. Yes, this is a weird place to put it, but it makes sense when you see that the bezel around the MacBook Air’s screen is also approximately 3/4″ all the way around, including at the top where the black camera lens is placed. On the Dell, the bezel is 5mm on three sides, so there is nowhere that the camera could have fit except for the bottom.

The #Dell #XPS 13" Ultrabook vs. the 11" MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

While I have always liked the full metal body on Apple’s MacBooks, I suspect that it adds extra weight to the otherwise sleek laptops. The Dell XPS 13 body is composed of CNC machined aluminum, but the interior has a carbon fiber composite palm rest with soft touch paint.

The #Dell #XPS 13" Ultrabook vs. the 11" MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?

Battery life on the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook has been decent, although I have not dimmed the screen to its lowest point to truly conserve energy. With the power saving settings on “Balanced”, I am able to get about five hours of my typical use — which includes opening and editing spreadsheets, surfing, editing WordPress posts, writing my own posts in WordPress, answering email through Gmail in Chrome, watching a couple of YouTube videos, and uploading pictures to WordPress. That’s about what I’ve come to expect from my MacBook Air, so I have no complaints there.

Because the Dell XPS came with a fantastic laptop bag with built-in 12,000mAh charger, it is already set up to be one of the most convenient travel laptops I’ve ever used.

I’m going to take it to Mobile World Congress where it will continue to serve as my only computer, and when I return I will post part two about my user experience. At this point, I can tell you that I see no compelling reason to go back to my 11″ Air. Everything about the XPS 13 is first class without compromise; this is the laptop that has finally made me feel that Mac has lost its edge.

The XPS 13 comes in various configurations; prices start at $799.99, and the top of the line version I was sent sells for $1449.98.

Source: Manufacturer provided long-term review sample

You can learn more about the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook by clicking here. You can read my follow-up post here.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

7 Comments on "The #Dell #XPS 13″ Ultrabook vs. the 11″ MacBook Air: Which Would You Rather?"

  1. Awesome … I am typing this on my 11.6″ MBA – and the bezel is a clear problem, there is no good reason for it to be there.

    I’ve always loved the XPS line, but since they moved all gaming stuff to the Alienware brand I haven’t had one. But THIS is exactly what we need for a ‘next gen’ laptop in the ultra-portable space.

    I wonder how Apple will counter this year – last year was more ‘consolidation’, and the MBA line is getting to be an old design. Hopefully it will be interesting!

  2. Mike, if Mac gets rid of their over-large bezel and sticks a 13″ screen in their 11″ air, or even better — they stick a 17″ screen in their 15″ MBP, then I’m going to have to rethink this. But for now, I am absolutely loving the Dell hardware!

  3. The Bezel was, and still is something I hate about the current 14′ version of the MBA, and I wish they do away with it in the newer models. SO much real estate lost. The compromise of having only one USB port and no SSD slot sucks a bit as well. Maybe… just maybe in the next upgrade?

    Dell has stepped it up drastically nonetheless.

  4. Christopher Spera | February 25, 2015 at 4:19 pm |

    GREAT job, Judie! I appreciate the hard work that went into this review. I’ve been using a 15″ MBP-R for just over a year and like it a lot. I’ve recently picked up a 2012 13″ MBA from a friend who needed to sell it. I’ve also got a Surface Pro 3.

    The MBP is my main machine and daily driver. The MBA is intended for on the go digital photography and the SP3 is for in the office notes via OneNote (I love the pen…)

    How do you like the touch screen on a traditional notebook? Do you find yourself interacting with the screen; and do you have plans to put Windows 10 TP on this? I’m interested to know how a traditional notebook functions with touch. Do you find yourself starting and stopping or hesitating when using the XPS due to the touch screen? I do that with the SP3 at times as I struggle to move between a traditional notebook/desktop experience and a touch enabled system.

    Other thoughts?

  5. Honestly – the comparison of 2015 Dell technology to 2013 Apple technology and coming to the conclusion that “Apple has lost it’s edge” is a little ridiculous. Maybe it’s good for page clicks – but be honest. Your MBA isn’t even the current version and the Dell is not only weeks old but also twice the price. If you hadn’t concluded that the Dell beat the Apple you should be screaming for a refund. The review of the Dell hardware is great, the pictures excellent and give us a better idea about the laptop than any other site I’ve visited. I just think the comparison to the Air is unfair and unnecessary.

  6. mroselius, I think the Dell XPS 13’s body size begs for comparison to the 11″ MBA, and because that’s the compact laptop that I usually carry, I am very familiar with its abilities and limitations.

    Regarding the age of my Air, the fact that in 2015 *all* MacBooks still have that huge bezel around their screens (and it is still impossible to buy a retina screen Air of any size) leads me to believe that my criticism was fair. Apple needs to up their game a bit; innovate rather than coast.

    Sure, there is a price difference between the Dell XPS 13 and a similarly loaded 11″ MBA, but it is certainly not double. As tested, the Dell XPS 13 is $1500; a similarly loaded 11″ MacBook Air would be $1200, and the 13″ MBA would be $1300. Mac gets the edge for user memory, however; you can’t get the 512GB factory upgrade on the Dell XPS 13 for any price.

  7. When the Dell XPS 13 was initially released, I was really tempted to buy one but I wanted to wait until the i7 version came out. It has been a while since Apple has made a major upgrade on their laptops. They are falling behind (the current highest-end configuration for MPB 15 R still only has an Nvidia GeForce 750M!!) and I agree with Julie, Apple needs to “up its game.”

    I have decided to hold off purchasing anything until the Apple Event on March 9th, as I am hoping that the Apple Watch event also includes the next generation of MacBooks.

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