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Which? laptop reviews: Dell XPS 13 takes on the MacBook Pro

Latest testing puts the cream of the Windows crop against the latest Apple MacBook, plus six other laptops from Lenovo, HP, Acer and Asus

We’re no strangers to reviewing premium laptops in the Which? labs, but it’s rare to have two titans on test at the same time.

In this month’s lab schedule, both the Dell XPS 13 and the 13-inch MacBook Pro were put through their paces. There’s plenty more on offer too, such as Dell’s larger XPS 15 and the Acer Swift 5 SF514, which is the lightest 14-inch laptop we’ve ever tested.

Plus, those on the hunt for a cheaper model should look out for our reviews of the £450 HP Pavilion 15-cw, and the £199 Asus E203.

Browse our Best Buy laptops to see which of these make it onto our list.

Dell XPS 13 vs MacBook Pro

If you’re looking for a high-end lightweight laptop, you’ll have undoubtedly come across both the MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 13. Both models have been updated for 2018 and feature similar internal specifications, but in every other way these are very different machines.

Costs differ wildly, too. The Dell XPS 13 goes for as little as £1,100, while the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar starts from £1,749. The Dell XPS 13 we tested cost £1,299 at the time of testing.

What does your extra £500 get you? That depends on what you care about. While performance between the two laptops will be similar – tasks such as editing photos and browsing the web should be very quick on both – it’s how the laptops actually feel to use that will differ.

The MacBook Pro uses MacOS, which is Apple’s computer operating system. It’s smooth as silk and has loads of creative applications that work better on Apple hardware than on Windows-powered machines. Many people say that Adobe Premiere, for example, feels smoother on a Mac than it does on a Windows 10 laptop with a similar specification.

Meanwhile, the Dell uses Windows 10. If you’ve been using Windows on all your laptops up until this point, it will feel very familiar, with the same massive variety of programs available to download as ever.

Dell vs Macbook: which has the better display?

But there are other major differences between the two laptops. The Dell on test here has a Full HD screen, while the MacBook Pro has a higher-resolution ‘Retina’ 2,560 x 1,600-pixel display, making it much sharper than the 1,920 x 1,080-pixel Dell.

But Dell does have an ace up its sleeve with an optional 3,840 x 2,160-pixel 4K screen option, which starts at around £1,250 (at the time of writing) if you downgrade to a Core i5 processor, or £1,450 if you keep the Core i7 on this machine.

The Dell has a smaller footprint, meaning it will take up less space on your desk, and it’s lighter too. But the larger size of the MacBook Pro means the keyboard will be more roomy, and the touchpad is far larger, making it easier to swipe around. But with its slightly heavier weight you get a laptop made from a single piece of aluminium, which undoubtedly feels more premium.

The Dell isn’t exactly cheaply made, though – the carbon-fibre-topped wrist rest and aluminium lid are both head-turners. The MacBook Pro has the Touch Bar as one of its defining features, and you can read our verdict in our full review to see whether it’s worth the extra cost.

The Intel Core i7-powered Dell might seem more powerful than the Core i5 in this MacBook, but due to a number of technical factors the MacBook Pro actually has a more powerful processor for most tasks. This is down to the confusing way Intel delineates its ‘Core i’ branding, so you’ll have to take our word for it from our testing. The Core i7 in the Dell is actually closer in performance to the Core i7 you’ll find in one of the cheaper MacBook Pro models that come without a Touch Bar.

To find out our full verdicts on these two premium laptops, read our Dell XPS 13 9370 review and our 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro review.

Make the right choice: read our guide to the best laptops of 2018 to find out more.

Elsewhere: the £200 Asus E203 laptop, plus models from Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo

Acer Swift 5 SF514 – £900

This is the lightest 14-inch laptop we’ve ever tested, at 950g, but is this crash diet more of a health hazard than a performance boost? Read our Acer Swift 5 SF514 review to find out.

Dell XPS 15 9570 – £1,299

An update to last year’s 9560, the latest Dell XPS 15 has a new, eighth-generation Core i5 processor (that itself is more powerful than the i5 in the 13-inch MacBook Pro) and dedicated graphics hardware for 3D work and games. Read our full Dell XPS 15 9570 review.

HP Pavilion 15-cw – £450

This 15.6-inch laptop could be ideal for those who want a larger laptop at a smaller price. The AMD Ryzen 3 processor and 128GB SSD should be a reasonably potent combination, too. Read our full HP Pavilion 15-cw review.

Lenovo IdeaPad 330S 15IKB and 14IKB – £580 and £430

At 15 and 14 inches respectively, this double act from Lenovo hopes to appeal to those in the market for a larger budget laptop, offering reasonable specifications and attractive designs. Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad 330S 15IKB and Lenovo IdeaPad 330S 14IKB reviews.

Asus E203 – £199

The popular Asus netbook makes a return with an updated specification but the same low price. It isn’t going to be fast, but will it make light work of… some light work? Read our full Asus E203 review to find out.

Keen on a budget machine? Our guide to the best budget laptops has you covered.

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