If you’re looking to buy a premium, lightweight, 13-inch Windows laptop with top-notch build quality and a recognizable brand name, I will bet that you’ve been recommended at least one of the following two models: the Dell XPS 13 and the HP Spectre x360 13.5. These two laptops are the cream of the 13-inch Windows laptop crop. They’re pricey, they’re lightweight, and they’re pleasing to the eyes.
But what exactly are the differences between them, and which one should you choose? I’ve spent a good amount of time using both of these devices, and I’m here to help you. A brief spoiler: the Spectre is probably the one I would buy, as it has a number of advantages over the XPS (which its higher price reflects). It does, however, have one sizable disadvantage that you should be aware of.
Right, let’s get this part out of the way. You can currently buy a Spectre x360 13.5 with a Core i7, 16GB of memory, and 1TB of storage (the configuration I tested) for $1,434.99. A similarly specced XPS 13 has an MSRP of $1,449 but is currently discounted to $1,299 on Dell’s website. (The 1TB model of the XPS 13 can only be purchased with 32GB of RAM.)
That’s a difference of $135.99, which will vary as discounts change. That extra money doesn’t entirely go to waste, though.
Look and feel
This may be the difference between the XPS and the Spectre that will most impact your daily life. They have very different visual vibes, and there’s no mistaking one for the other.
I prefer the look of the Spectre. It’s gorgeous and sophisticated. The black model I have has gold accents around the touchpad, on the hinges, and in some other choice locations, and while they’re subtle, they give the device a suave C-Suite look. Where the Spectre is built to stand out, the XPS is built to blend in. It has a bit more of a plasticky feel (though it’s not flimsy by any means) and more of a generic aesthetic. It’s not ugly, but I wouldn’t turn to stare if I walked past.
That said, there’s something else that Dell’s chassis has going for it: it’s more portable. The Spectre is just over three pounds, which is a bit on the heavy side for modern 13-inchers. The XPS is almost half a pound lighter, and that’s a difference I feel when carrying both laptops around in my backpack or tote.
The Spectre’s weight has ultimately been the primary reason I’ve been avoiding purchasing it myself despite loving everything else about it. It’s not heavy by any means, but I still like my ultraportables to be a bit more comfortable to lift and carry with one arm. As someone who does lots of commuting to and from the office, the XPS is just much more pleasant to lug around.
I’ve also found that the XPS’s finish scratches more easily, while the Spectre’s is much more prone to fingerprint smudging.
Video calling experience
The XPS’s webcam isn’t great. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. My backgrounds were often quite washed out when I used it for calls.
The Spectre’s, while not amazing, is better. The image it produces is much less grainy, and it does a better job with bright backgrounds. It also has a physical shutter (controlled via the keyboard), which just gives me some peace of mind when I’m at home.
The Spectre also comes loaded with a suite of “beautification” features that HP calls GlamCam. There’s one that’s similar to Apple’s Center Stage and follows you around if you’re on the move during your call. There’s a lighting correction filter, which never made that much difference in my tests. There’s a hilarious “BRB Mode” that, when you toggle it on, puts “BRB” on your screen if you… get tired of your Zoom call and need to duck out for a nap, I guess? And there’s an appearance filter that “retouches” your face. There’s a separate discussion to be had about whether it’s appropriate for laptop manufacturers to be governing these kinds of beauty standards, but if these effects are something you want, you can get them on the Spectre.
The Spectre also has twice as many speakers as the XPS, and it sounds great, with crisp audio and solid bass. The XPS’s audio isn’t terrible, but it is a noticeable notch down, particularly in terms of volume. I sometimes had trouble hearing my calls in public spaces when using that device.
HP wins here. The XPS has a 1920 x 1200 IPS panel, and that’s all you can get. If you want a higher-resolution OLED option, you’ll need to look at the more expensive XPS 13 Plus. That device actually has a much higher-resolution OLED display, but it also has an invisible haptic touchpad, an LED function row, and some other odd stuff.
The Spectre I have has a 3000 x 2000 OLED screen, and it’s divine. There’s barely any glare, even in the brightest possible settings. Colors are vivid, and details are crisp. I almost wish I didn’t have to send this unit back to HP because I have such a great time looking at it.
HP’s laptop also has a 3:2 aspect ratio, while the XPS is 16:10. I prefer both of these to the classic old 16:9, but 3:2 gives you slightly more vertical room and is the one of the two that I would choose.
Here’s where the Spectre runs into trouble. I averaged just over four hours from continuous use of this OLED device. Even though it has a larger battery than the XPS does, the high-resolution screen is eagerly eating up the battery.
That low battery life, while not necessarily unexpected given the screen’s resolution, is a major hangup for such a pricey device. It’s pretty much my only significant complaint about the Spectre; if I were able to get, say, 10 hours out of it, I’d be seriously contemplating giving it a 10 out of 10 score. It’s a standout across many categories, but the short lifespan makes it a tough sell for folks who may want to use it out and about.
The XPS did much better here, averaging six hours and 42 minutes from the same workload. That isn’t great as XPS models of the past few years have gone, but it is one of the better results I’ve seen from a recent Windows laptop. With Intel’s offerings these days, all-day battery life on my personal workload has become more of a luxury than a staple.
I don’t want to make too big of a deal about benchmark scores on these two devices, as neither is really designed to be used for long periods of time under heavy loads. Nevertheless, for people who want to know, the scores are above.
The Spectre has a slightly more powerful processor than is available in the XPS. The scores I got are similar but not quite the same, with the Spectre coming out on top in almost every case. If you plan on playing games or exporting video as I did here, you can expect that the Spectre might be slightly faster. But if those are regular tasks for you, neither of these devices should be on your shortlist.
In terms of general use in Chrome, Safari, and such, I didn’t see a difference. For office workloads and home entertainment, both of these computers are — and I cannot stress this enough — fine. One thing I did notice is that the Spectre is quieter than the XPS. Dell’s fans came on quite easily, like after a couple Chrome tabs, during my testing process. The Spectre was cool and quiet throughout my use, with noise only apparent during heavy benchmarking. If you don’t like fan noise, the Spectre is the way to go.
Which should you buy?
Ultimately, the Spectre is a step up from the XPS in many important areas. It would be my hands-down recommendation.
Except for that stinkin’ battery life. Four hours is just unfortunate for a device that’s well over $1,000. And the difference between four and six hours could be the difference between needing or not needing to bring your charger to a coffee shop, making it through a flight, or finishing a school day. That factor alone is a huge point in the XPS’s favor.
Despite that shortcoming, I still think the Spectre offers better value for its price. Its build quality and aspect ratio are fairly unique in today’s landscape. I think it offers a package that’s difficult to find from other manufacturers right now, and HP is innovating with this in ways that Dell hasn’t with this generation of the old-school XPS. That makes me slightly more excited about the Spectre x360 this year.
With that said, I would not fault someone for going for the XPS instead because until HP figures out how to make a high-resolution OLED screen play nice with the 67Wh battery, that lower price and higher battery life are quite attractive. While Dell’s machine is not as exciting or showy of a product, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being a more pragmatic buy for many people.