Dell XPS 13 vs MacBook Pro 13: Which flagship ultraportable laptop reigns supreme?

Apple MacBook Pro 13 vs Dell XPS 13: Keyboard and touchpad

From a practical point of view, it’s once again a close-run thing. The keyboard on each laptop is fantastic. Backlit, sensibly laid out and easy under the finger, these are laptops designed primarily for serious work. If you type a lot, you will not be disappointed.

Dell XPS 13 vs MacBook Pro 13: Which flagship ultraportable laptop reigns supreme?

Dell XPS 13 review: Keyboard and Dell logo

Where the differences start to make themselves clear is in the touchpads. Where the MacBook has the very latest in Force Touch technology, allowing its large, glass-topped touchpad to respond to different levels of pressure, the Dell XPS 13 is lumbered with a smaller touchpad, which has more standard, mechanically integrated buttons.

apple_macbook_pro_13_2015_4

I say lumbered, but this isn’t strictly fair. Despite the low-tech approach, Dell’s touchpad is perfectly usable – responsive, smooth to the touch and accurate – and among the best touchpads on any Windows laptop.

It’s just that Apple does the touchpad better. The MacBook Pro 13’s larger size, more responsive clicking mechanism, and OS X’s tightly integrated multitouch gesture controls all combine to nudge the MacBook Pro 13 into the lead in this section.

Winner: MacBook Pro 13

Apple MacBook Pro 13 vs Dell XPS 13: Screen

With both ultraportables at the very top of their game, you’d expect nothing but a fantastic display from each, and that’s precisely what these machines deliver. Both use a high-DPI IPS LCD panel, and from a technical perspective they’re very, very good.

It’s possible to specify a lower-resolution non-touchscreen with a resolution of 1080p, but for the purposes of this comparison, I’m using the range-topping Quad HD+ touchscreen model. And, as far as pixel count and absolute sharpness goes, this Dell XPS 13 has it all wrapped up.

It’s sharper in absolute terms and has more pixels than the MacBook. Whether you actually need all those pixels is debatable – my eyes certainly can’t see the difference in crispness – but you can’t argue with the numbers.

Another difference between the displays on the two laptops – and perhaps a more critical one – is the aspect ratio. Where the Dell uses a 16:9 screen, the MacBook Pro 13 employs a 3:2 aspect ratio display, and while the former is better for watching movies, the MacBook’s display is the more comfortable screen for working on.

As for outright quality, you’d struggle to slide a Rizla paper between the pair. The Dell’s display reproduces 95% of the sRGB colour gamut, where the MacBook Pro’s reproduces 98%; the Dell’s contrast ratio hits 1,052:1 where the MacBook’s is 994:1; brightness is neck and neck, too, with the Dell at 418cd/m2 maximum and the MacBook at 400cd/m2.

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MacBook Pro 13 (2015) vs Dell XPS 13 (late 2015): sRGB coverage

These are all excellent numbers; the only issue is that the Dell’s screen uses dynamic contrast, which brightens and dims the backlight according to what’s displayed onscreen. The effect is subtle enough not to be noticeable most of the time, but the trouble is that it can’t be turned off, meaning you can never quite trust the colours it displays.

The one key advantage the Dell holds is that it has a touchscreen, and is topped with tough, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. This just about evens out the issues with the dynamic contrast, to give a dead heat in this section.

Result: A draw

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