I wrote a column last month about the best laptops for working remotely. After feedback from readers, it seems that the biggest question was "which of the powerhouse laptops is better for getting real work done--the MacBook Pro or the Dell XPS 13?" To be clear, we're talking about the MacBook Pros with 10th-generation Intel Core processors, which start at $1,799. A comparably outfitted XPS 13 starts a hundred dollars below that.
Obviously the answer to that question depends on a few things, like whether you prefer macOS or Windows 10, and what work you actually need to get done. However, if what you're really looking for is a high-performing portable, the decision starts to become more clear when you compare them head to head.
So, let's do just that.
Clearly Dell and Apple have a different approach to their flagship workhorse laptops. That's apparent the moment you pull them out of their boxes. The MacBook Pro looks exactly like you would expect--basically the way it's looked for five years. It has the same sleek, solid, brushed aluminum body.
The Dell, on the other hand, looks like what you'd expect from a company trying to design the sleekest form-meets-function device you can get. The version Dell provided me to test was the white carbon fiber, and while I'm not personally a fan of the light color, I have no problem admitting it looks good.
Also, the Dell is quite a bit smaller than the MacBook Pro, mostly because it has almost no bezel on the display at all. The difference in size also means that the Dell is noticeably lighter. The difference is only 3/10ths of a pound, but it adds up if portability is a top consideration.
Honestly, the thing that surprised me the most was that the Dell manages to pack a slightly larger screen in a noticeably smaller footprint. The XPS 13 had the touch screen, and for a touch screen, it was perfectly usable. I just don't want a touch screen on my laptop, so I didn't spend much time testing it. If that's your thing, you can't get it on the MacBook Pro, so the Dell is your better choice.
The MacBook has the Retina display, which, at 2650 x 1600, is a higher resolution than the XPS offers, though that device is also available with a 4K display if you choose to spring for it. The MacBook is also a brighter, though not by a lot.
Last year, there was a clear winner. The old MacBook Pro keyboard was bad. Now, that's not the case. In fact, in most cases, the two keyboards are equal. The biggest exception to that is that I much prefer the Dell's row of function and media keys, compared with the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro.
It's also worth mentioning the trackpad. This might be the biggest area where the Mac is far and away the winner. When I say "biggest," what I mean is that the MacBook Pro trackpad is to the Dell what a 400-acre farm is to a backyard vegetable garden. In fact, I ended up connecting a mouse to the Dell because the trackpad drove me nuts. Apparently I've been spoiled with the MacBook Pro for too long.
Finally, let's get to the thing that probably matters the most: performance. Both models I reviewed had Intel 10th-generation Core i7 processors, though the MacBook's is considerably faster (2.3Ghz to 1.5Ghz). The MacBook has 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage, while the Dell had 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.
There are really two types of performance reviews--what a test like Geekbench says, and what you get in the real world. Running the Geekbench 5 test, the MacBook Pro is the winner, and it wasn't even close.
In the real world, however, most of the things you do on a regular basis are probably going to see similar performance. Both are highly capable devices with more than enough power for most users.
If you are someone who is looking to do heavy video editing or use apps like Photoshop or Illustrator, the improved performance of the Mac will probably make your life easier. Then again, most of you who use those apps are likely already using a Mac.
Ultimately, I think the Mac comes out ahead, especially in the areas that really matter to my workflow. Obviously, if you're a Windows user, the Dell is a better choice, but if you're on the fence, it's important to consider how you plan to use your device, and what is most important.
Also, to be fair, my main gripes with the Dell are mostly related to the fact that using Windows messes with my brain. I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts when I work. I really had no idea how many, or how often, until I switch over to a Windows device.
I actually ran a little comparison that included my 11-inch iPad Pro (2018 version). It didn't go well for either laptop, to be honest. Technically, the MacBook Pro was faster, but it isn't quicker at most common tasks (loading email, web browsing, etc.). The iPad Pro bested the XPS 13 in Geekbench 5.
The bottom line is that we end up mostly where we began. The MacBook Pro is the more powerful laptop, while the Dell is probably the best option if you're committed to using a PC.