Dell’s XPS 13 has long been our favorite 13-inch laptop, offering a lot of power in a tiny chassis thanks to some very small bezels. Its latest version garnered a rare 10/10 rating in our review, and it’s topped our best laptop list for a while now.
Our favorite 2-in-1, the 360-degree convertible HP Spectre x360 13, received its own update for 2019, and it too achieved a perfect 10/10 rating. It’s also fast and very long lasting, but does it have what it takes to dethrone the king?
There’s no doubt about it: These are two attractive laptops. The XPS 13 is the more conservative of the two, coming in black and silver, Rose Gold, and Frost color options. They look great but stay on the business-like side of elegant. Its primary claim to fame is its tiny bezels that keep its chassis as small as possible, with the webcam newly moved up top where it belongs. The Spectre x360 goes in a different direction, with its Dark Ash Silver or Poseidon Blue colors, adorning a chassis that’s “gem-cut” on every possible facet. And, HP implemented notches at the rear corners housing the power button and a USB-C port that lets you plug in while keeping the cable at an angle and out of the way.
Both are lovely, and which is preferable comes purely down to taste. One thing that’s not disputable, though, is that each laptop is just as solidly built. They both have lids that are a little bendy, but keyboard decks and chassis bottoms that aren’t at all flexible. The XPS 13 is slightly thinner at 0.55 inches than the Spectre x360 (0.57 inches) and lighter at 2.7 pounds (versus 2.92 pounds). The Spectre x360 has larger bezels on the top and bottom, to make it easier to hold in portrait tablet mode. That makes its chassis slightly larger and a bit less modern.
We do prefer the Spectre x360’s keyboard to the XPS 13’s. The former has plenty of travel and a precise and snappy mechanism, while the latter borrows the magnetic levitation technology from the XPS 15 2-in-1 and so isn’t quite as deep. The XPS 13’s Microsoft Precision touchpad, though, is much better than the Spectre x360’s version using Synaptics drivers. If you stick with the XPS 13’s Full HD display, then you’ll have to do without touch, while the HP offers the usual 2-in-1 multitouch panel and active pen support.
Finally, connectivity is more significantly different. The XPS doubles down on USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, offering two of those ports and another USB-C 3.1 port, meaning you’ll need some dongles for legacy devices. The Spectre x360 also gives you two USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 ports, but HP threw in a USB-A 3.1 port for older peripherals. Both offer microSD card readers. HP also used a newer Intel combo wireless care, offering Bluetooth 5 compared to the XPS 13’s Bluetooth 4.2, and offers an optional LTE radio.
Both of these laptops are built around the latest Whiskey Lake Intel 8th-generation CPUs, and so both are equally quick. Most likely, that means that they’ll offer pretty much equivalent performance. Both laptops offer utilities that let you control for speed or quiet and cool operation, and so you also have some control.
Throw in fast PCIe solid-state drives (SSDs) that offer similar performance, and we have a virtual tie in this category. Both of these laptops will be suitable for demanding productivity tasks, and both will stay relatively cool even when being pushed hard. And both are limited to Intel’s integrated graphics, meaning both will be best for casual gaming only.
Display quality is also similar. You can configure the XPS 13 and Spectre x360 with either Full HD or 4K panels, and you’ll get good colors (with a slightly wider gamut on the Dell) and great contrast. The XPS 13’s display is brighter at over 400 nits compared to the Spectre x360’s just over 300 nits. HP’s Full HD display has a secret feature, though, in that draws about half the power (one watt) as usual, and the Spectre x360 can also be ordered with HP’s SureView privacy panel.
Both laptops are quick and offer very nice displays. The HP offers a few advantages, including touch capabilities on all display options, better efficiency, and improved privacy.
The XPS 13 is smaller in all dimensions, and slightly lighter. But neither of these laptops is a burden to carry around.
But, which lets you work for longer away from a charge? If we’re talking about the Full HD versions, then the answer is simple. The Spectre x360 lasts longer than almost every laptop we’ve tested, at least when performing tasks that are pushing the display more than the CPU. Whether it’s browsing the web or looping a local video, HP’s 2-in-1 lasts a couple of hours longer than the XPS 13. It’s only in a CPU-intensive benchmark where the two laptops match up.
These are two very light and portable laptops, but the Spectre x360 lasts longer on a charge.
Two excellent laptops, but the XPS wins by a hair
The HP Spectre x360 is a premium laptop, starting at $ 1,150 ($ 1,050 on sale) for a Core i5-8265U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a Full HD display. You can spend as much as $ 2,500 ($ 2,400 on sale) maxed out with a Core i7-8565U, 16GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, a 4K display, and an LTE radio.
The Dell XPS 13 starts at $ 900 with a Core i5, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD, and pricing goes up from there. At the very high end, it’s priced at $ 2,610 for an equivalent configuration but without the HP’s LTE radio.
If you’re looking for the smallest clamshell laptop, then get the Dell XPS 13. If you need that 2-in-1 functionality and long-lasting battery, though, the Spectre x360 2-in-1 is the optimal choice.