Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2017) Vs. 12-inch MacBook (2016): Smackdown Review – Forbes

12-inch MacBook (top) and Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.

Brooke Crothers

12-inch MacBook (top) and Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.

Dell has hit a sweet spot with its new XPS 13 2-in-1.

That sweet spot is right smack between a 12-inch MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Pro. And slotting (size) in below the standard XPS 13 (see photos at bottom). What follows is a brief look at 4 key metrics comparing the XPS 13 2-in-1 with the latest 12-inch MacBook. Let me stipulate that this is not an exact comparison since the Dell has a 13.3-inch display and the MacBook a 12-inch display. But they are remarkably close in overall size (see images), both are extremely thin, and both have fanless Intel Y series processor-based designs.

XPS 13 2-in-1, Model 9365 (2017) / 12-inch MacBook (2016): fanless ultraportable laptops

Performance: XPS wins. Both the XPS 13 9365 and 12-inch MacBook have “fanless” Y series processors (what used to be called the Core M), which are designed for the thinnest of the thin. Indeed, both are really thin. The difference is that the XPS 13 2-in-1 (which I’m using) has the newest Kaby Lake (1.3GHz) 7th gen processor, while the MacBook (which I also use) has an older Skylake 6th gen chip (1.2GHz).

There is a significant — but not huge — delta in benchmarks. Based on my own Geekbench 4 CPU testing and looking at comparative scores on the Web, you get between 15 and 20 percent better performance on Kaby Lake on single core and multi-core performance. That of course varies on applications, where the delta can be bigger or smaller. But  the most important thing to remember is, Intel is more focused on battery life than performance with the Y series processors.

Both machines are slower than the Dell XPS 13 (standard, non 2-in-1 design) with a more powerful Kaby Lake Core i7 U series processor (not fanless). That said, the XPS 2-in-1 is close (negligible difference) on single-core CPU performance.

Battery life: A draw. As I stated above, the Y series is all about wringing the last drop of battery life out of ultra-thin, ultra-light portables. The XPS (with a 1,920-by-1,080 display) and MacBook (2,304-by-1,440) have comparable battery life. Expect between 8 and 11 hours, depending on how how bright the display is and how processor-intensive the task. Of course, if you plan on doing a lot of gaming and/or video editing and/or you’re running the Chrome browser with 20 tabs with the display maxed out, then all bets are off.  You probably won’t see more than a few hours because the Y series processors are not cut out for lots of heavy lifting.

And one caveat: in my long experience with testing laptops, tablets, and smartphones, battery life is all over the map depending on the user. Again, laptops rated at 10 hours can be brought to their knees (i.e., reduced to a few hours of battery life) in thousands of different scenarios, especially with less technical users.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 has a 360-degree hinge for four, flexible positions – tablet, tent, laptop and stand mode.

Dell Dell

The XPS 13 2-in-1 has a 360-degree hinge for tablet, tent, laptop and stand mode.

Build: MacBook wins. (Though not by much.)  Like the 12-inch MacBook, the XPS is really thin: 0.54 inches at its thickest point compared to the 12-inch MacBook, which is 0.52 inches at its thickest point.

As I said above, the XPS 13 2-in-1 is slightly smaller than the standard XPS 13 but slightly larger than the 12-inch MacBook. Dell has stuck to its minimal-display-bezel design ethos (top and two sides) with the webcam below the display, squeezing a 13-inch display into a 12-inch package. Personally, I would prefer a slightly larger top bezel that integrates the Webcam and microphone. Dell has sacrificed — to some degree — function for the sake of form. On the other hand, there’s no disputing the fact that the overall footprint is reduced. And no disputing that it makes for an aesthetically pleasing design.

The all-aluminum MacBook wins on overall build because of its impossibly thin design and light weight — albeit with a smaller 12-inch display compared to the XPS’ 13.3 incher. The XPS 13 2-in-1 weighs in at 2.7 pounds, the MacBook slightly over 2 pounds. That’s a huge difference in the ultraportable world where designers fret over adding a few grams. And it’s very noticeable. When you pick the MacBook up, it feels like a tablet. The XPS still feels like laptop (albeit a very lightweight one). Yes, you’re getting a larger display with the XPS. But I honestly don’t notice the size difference when I jump from the XPS to the MacBook. Bottom line: I think the 12-inch MacBook strikes the best balance between portability (weight) and display size.

I should add that the XPS has an attractive carbon fiber mesh that’s wrapped around the keyboard and trackpad — aka the palm rest area. It’s a soft texture with a great feel/great look. And cuts down on overall weight. Reading the favorable user comments on retailer sites and plaudits in reviews, it’s obvious that this is a popular feature for the XPS line. That said, I prefer all-metal designs (that tend to be more body-oil resistant than the XPS’ carbon fiber) with aluminum palm rests. That’s just a personal preference and I suspect I may be in the minority.

Price: XPS wins. You’re getting the newest Intel processor and roughly the same RAM/storage specs for about $100 less (if you ignore the regular discounts that the 12-inch MacBook gets at retailers like Best Buy). That is, an XPS 13 2-in-1 with a 1.2GHz (base frequency) Kaby Lake Intel Core i5-7Y54 processor 8GB RAM and 256GB PCIe solid state drive is priced at $1,199.99. The roughly equivalent 12-inch MacBook with a 1.1GHz Skylake m3 processor and 256GB PCIe SSD is priced at $1,299.

You are getting a lower resolution 1,920-by-1,080 display on the Dell (at least the one I have) compared to the MacBook’s Retina display with 2,304-by-1,440 resolution. That said, a 1,920-by-1,080 display works for me, i.e., I don’t miss the 3,200-by-1,800 display (on the standard XPS) as much as I expected. For more in-depth display testing (such as color space coverage and brightness) see: here for the XPS 13 2-in-1 and here for the 12-inch MacBook.

And note that the price of the Dell will go up if you opt for the QHD+ resolution (3,200-by-1,800) touch display.

Other stuff worth noting: Ports. If you hate dongles (aka USB-C adapters), neither machine is for you. But the Dell bests the MacBook with two USB-C ports versus one for the MacBook. Multiport adapters (see image below) are offered by both Apple and Dell. The Dell also has a MicroSD Card Reader.

Fingerprint reader: the XPS 13 2-in-1 comes with a fingerprint reader, just below the keyboard on the right-hand side. I use it all of the time. It’s a great addition (the standard XPS 13 doesn’t have one). That said, I can unlock my 12-inch MacBook with my Apple Watch Series 2, which is also very handy.

Overall winner: It’s so close that I’m going to put it this way: I have a longstanding preference for light laptops. The lighter the better (as long as the functionality isn’t compromised too much). In this respect, I favor the MacBook. As I said, there’s a big difference between 2.7 pounds (XPS) and 2 pounds (MacBook). That said, the XPS’ faster performance, touch display, 360-degree hinge, carbon fiber palm rest, fingerprint scanner, and MicroSD card reader may appeal more to certain consumers and businesses. 

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (L) and 12-inch MacBook with their respective USB-C multiport adapters.

(Credit: Brooke Crothers)

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (L) and 12-inch MacBook with their respective USB-C multiport adapters.

On top is the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2017), below is the Dell XPS 13 (2016)

On top is the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2017), below is the Dell XPS 13 (2016)

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (on top) and Dell XPS 13. The 2017 2-in-1 is smaller, thinner than the standard clamshell version. It feels a lot smaller than it looks.

Brooke Crothers

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (on top) and Dell XPS 13. The 2017 2-in-1 is smaller, thinner than the standard clamshell version. It feels a lot smaller than it looks.

 

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