MacBook Pro 13 vs Dell XPS 13: student laptop showdown
We pit the MacBook Pro 13 vs. the Dell XPS 13 to see which student laptop refresh rules supreme.
When it comes to comparison shopping for student laptops, the MacBook Pro 13 vs. Dell XPS 13 contest is a hot one. Both models have had important updates for 2022, and both are similarly priced, mid-tier machines with, at first glance, fairly similar capabilities.
The reality, however, is that the two are very different laptops below the surface, even beyond the obvious OS and component differences. At their core, the design philosophy behind both is significantly different, with Apple aiming for a sleek, flashy statement piece while Dell continues down the path towards simplicity and elegance.
Of course, the Dell philosophy is slightly muddled by their love of brand dilution: even beyond the standard annual and model number confusion that is rife in the laptop space, Dell has further confused the issue by adding an XPS 13 Plus option with a slightly upgraded CPU and touch bar, as well as a version of the base XPS 13 that trades the flexible hinge for a fully detachable folio keyboard and tablet core.
For our purposes, however, we’ll focus on the base XPS 13 2-in-1 with the built-in keyboard and flexible hinge, the model closest in design to Apple’s latest shiny M2-powered, 13-inch offering.
For more advice on student technology, check out our guides to the best laptops for students and best tablets for students. We also have advice on how to get the Apple student discount too.
MacBook Pro 13 vs Dell XPS 13: Design
Core design is the area where the differences between Apple and Dell’s philosophies are most stark. The 2022 iteration of the MacBook Pro 13 is, essentially, the same product Apple sold you in 2020 but with a new M2 processor tucked inside. It retains the same chassis, the same display and Magic Keyboard, the same divisive Touch Bar. It’s even got the same pair of Thunderbolt ports as the 2020 model but, oddly, welcome new features that were added to the MacBook Pro lineup in late 2021 are absent here, things like a 1080p webcam, HDMI ports, and MagSafe charging.
The XPS 13, on the other hand, boasts not only brand new internals (the highlight of which being Intel’s new 12th Gen Alder Lake CPUs) but also a redesigned exterior. This is the lightest and thinnest 13-inch XPS yet, at a mere 2.59 pounds and very svelte 13.9mm thickness (compared to the Pro 13 at 3 pounds and 15.49mm).
Dell has simplified its manufacturing process with an eye towards reduced finishes and materials, for a clean, unified aesthetic in silver grey or brown. In terms of pure design it’s a win, particularly for students on the go, or anyone who wants a portable computing solution that’s barely noticeable in a backpack or messenger bag.
Winner: Dell XPS 13
MacBook Pro 13 vs Dell XPS 13: Specs & performance
As we mentioned above, the biggest (and arguably only) major upgrade in the MacBook Pro 13 is the new M2 processor, and it’s a fine SoC. Compared against the Core i7-1250U option in the XPS 13 it’s just slightly behind in pure processing/CPU performance, but a step ahead on the GPU side against Intel’s integrated Iris Xe solution. That said, it’s not a gaming powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, and is outperformed handily by the M1 Pro Apple includes in the 14-inch MacBook Pro.
Comparing displays is also something of a wash. While the MacBook offers a higher resolution screen (2560 x 1600 compared to the XPS’ 1920 x 1200), the XPS has a touch option, which paired with its flexible hinge means it easily doubles as a highly capable tablet.
Both machines default to 8GB of RAM and both offer a number of SSD storage options, either 512GB or 1TB in the Dell or ranging from 256GB to 2TB in Apple’s counterpart. Both are also somewhat hamstrung by 720p webcams, which seems like an odd misstep in the midst of the teleconference era.
MacBook Pro 13 vs Dell XPS 13: Battery life
One of the major advantages of the M2, and one of the few areas in which it outshines its M1 Pro predecessor, is efficiency, with the MacBook Pro 13 boasting an impressive 20+ hours of mixed used battery life. Dell advertises that its most power-efficient XPS 13 can stream Netflix for nearly 12 hours without requiring a charge, indicating that its mixed-use life would fall a bit short of the Pro 13’s.
Winner: MacBook Pro 13
MacBook Pro 13 vs Dell XPS 13: Price
One nice mark in the pro column for both of these machines is that they’re fairly customizable, particularly the XPS 13. Dell offers various (though often binary) options for everything from processor to storage, RAM, display, and color. The lowest-spec Dell XPS 13 costs just $999, while even the most capable model is a very reasonable $1,599.
Contrast that with Apple’s pricing, which sets the cheapest MacBook Pro 13 at $1,299 and the most expensive, before any add-on software, at a steep $2,499. That does include a 2TB SSD, a capacity Dell doesn’t offer, but only 24GB of RAM compared to Dell’s highest 32GB offering. Comparing comparable models across the price spectrum, you’ll unsurprisingly be paying a significant premium for that Apple branding/unified architecture.
Winner: Dell XPS 13
MacBook Pro 13 vs Dell XPS 13: Verdict
Ultimately our nod goes to Dell in this matchup, in large part because the Pro 13 seems to have something of an identity crisis. The new M2, which admirably power efficient, isn’t capable enough for power users, and the overall chassis and design aren’t streamlined or versatile enough for portable users. The Pro 13 exists in a weird limbo between the new MacBook Air (which fills a similar niche but looks superior but comes with all the upgrades missing here, like MagSafe, a bigger screen, and a 1080p webcam) and the more powerful MacBook Pro 14.
The XPS 13, by comparison, is very much a laptop that knows what it is and embraces it, a mid-tier 2-in-1 that’s designed, specced, and priced accordingly. Unless you’re a hardcore Apple devotee who’s can’t bear to part from MacOS, I strongly recommend the Dell.
Winner: Dell XPS 13 (but it's close)
If you don't think the Dell is right for you, but you're looking for a Windows laptop, then check out our MacBook Pro 13 vs HP Envy 13 showdown to see another great alternative.
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Alan is a freelance tech & entertainment journalist who specializes in computers, laptops, and video games. He's previously written for sites like PC Gamer, GamesRadar, and Rolling Stone. If you need advice on tech, or help finding the best tech deals, Alan is your man.