We recently reviewed both the M2 powered MacBook Air and Dell’s XPS 13 Plus and found that they have a lot in common despite being tied to two completely different operating systems. While the MacBook runs MacOS and the XPS runs Windows 11, these two machines represent the most powerful 13-inch ultraportables money can buy. They also have stunning designs and impressive features but which one should you put down your hard-earned money for? To find out, we decided to pit these two machines directly against each other to determine a winner.
Both the M2 MacBook Air and Dell XPS 13 Plus come with a fresh case design, and, while the former plays it safe, the latter takes some radical departures from previous models.
Most notably, the Dell XPS 13 Plus ditches the traditional function row keys for LED capacitive keys that can switch between media shortcuts or function keys. While they look slick, the lack of an actual keypress means you’ll need to look at the key to see if it’s pressed, and is a feature we could do without.
However, the keyboards on both machines feel great to type on, but the XPS 13 Plus offers a bit more travel and satisfying feedback than the Air.
The second notable change is the XPS’s invisible glass trackpad that blends in seamlessly with the keyboard deck. Dell uses a haptic trackpad just like the one found in Apple’s machine, meaning it uses force sensors that mimic the downward motion of a trackpad rather than a physically moving surface. There are no lines to indicate where the trackpad begins or ends but it quickly becomes second nature to use and is just as responsive as Apple’s touchpad.
Like Apple, Dell uses an aluminium outer enclosure for its notebook, which delivers the same 1.2kg weight as the Air as well as a premium finish. The M2 MacBook Air does offer a few more colour options with the new midnight blue colour looking particularly fetching
They both feel well built but we personally prefer the softer rounded edges of the M2 MacBook Air instead of the sharp edges of the XPS 13 Plus, which tend to dig into the palm and wrist when carrying it around. We also like how the Air has a proper lip that makes it easy to open one handed and is something we can’t say about the XPS 13 Plus.
Otherwise, from the near bezel-less display to the edge-to-edge keyboard, you won’t find any wasted space on the XPS 13 Plus. The result is a machine that is more compact in size than the M2 MacBook Air, even if it is ever so slightly thicker.
Both the M2 MacBook Air and the base model of the XPS 13 Plus use an LCD display capped at a 60Hz refresh rate with excellent visibility outdoors thanks to the rated 500 nits brightness.
However, for an extra $200 to $300, the Dell XPS 13 Plus can be configured with either a 3.5K resolution OLED screen or a 4K LCD panel, delivering a superior viewing experience.
The MacBook Air and XPS 13 Plus come with a limited selection of ports but Apple has Dell beat by at least having the decency to include a headphone jack as well as a dedicated charging port so you don’t need to use up one of the two USB-C ports. What’s more, the charging port is MagSafe, which gracefully detaches and won’t take the laptop down with it when someone trips over the power cord.
Dell does at least try to soften the blow by including a 3.5mm adapter in the box but that’s just another thing to have to carry around and potentially lose.
Dell was at least a little bit more thoughtful when it came to placement by positioning each of the Thunderbolt ports on either side of the machine, making routing cables easier than on the MacBook Air, which has the ports on the left side only.
Other than having a small footprint, what makes an ultraportable, well, portable is the battery life. This is where the M2 MacBook Air outclasses every other notebook in its class, delivering a runtime in excess of 12 hours.
The XPS 13 Plus pales in comparison, topping out at 5 hours of actual real world use. The XPS 13 Plus doesn’t exactly sip power when the lid is closed either, which isn’t an issue on the M2 MacBook Air.
Dell does at least include a faster 60W charger in the box that delivers 80% charge in just one hour as opposed to the 30W brick that comes with the base model M2 MacBook Air.
The quad speakers on the Dell XPS 13 Plus sound very impressive for a laptop of its size, delivering punchy audio that is both louder and has a bit more bass than the M2 MacBook Air.
The Dell XPS 13 Plus with its 12th Gen Intel Core i7-1280P CPU and the MacBook Air with its Apple-made M2 chip are some of the fastest performing laptops on the market. In terms of raw benchmarks, the XPS 13 Plus beat the M2 MacBook Air in GeekBench’s multi-core score (9525 vs 8627) but Apple’s machine has its nose slightly in front on single core (1895 vs 1701).
Similarly, switching to Cinebench’s R23 test revealed a similar gap in performance between the two, with the XPS 13 Plus delivering a multi-core score of 9208 vs the Air’s 8219. Video encoding tests were also faster by almost a minute.
The XPS 13 Plus also packs a significantly faster internal SSD drive with read and write speeds almost twice as fast as the drive found inside the M2 MacBook Air. This is worth keeping in mind if you’re someone who needs to regularly move large files around. The XPS 13 Plus storage is also user upgradeable whereas on the M2 Air, the storage is soldered onto the main board and can’t be upgraded.
But here’s the thing – I had to switch the XPS 13 Plus to the ‘ultra performance’ battery profile to get this level of performance, which kicks up the fans to a noisy level and increases the surface temperature of the machine to an uncomfortably warm degree. The M2 Air on the other hand, remained whisper quiet and fairly cool to the touch thanks to a fanless cooling system while consuming half as much energy than the XPS 13 Plus (15w vs 28w).
What’s more, the M2 Air generally performed faster in Adobe products such as Premier Pro and Photoshop thanks to optimisations under the hood as well the more powerful integrated GPU.
Although the M2 chip offers a meatier GPU, gaming performance still trailed behind the XPS 13 Plus as games are simply better optimised for Windows. What’s more, running Windows natively on M1 or M2 machines isn’t possible since Apple ditched support for Boot Camp after it made the switch from Intel.
Apple has a lot of work to do if it is to lure big name developers to port their games across natively for MacOS, which likely won’t happen until the company embraces industry standard graphics drivers such as Vulkan and OpenGL. That said, there are some notable titles coming later this year such as Resident Evil Village and No Man’s Sky. During WWDC in June, Capcom demonstrated the M2 MacBook Air running Resident Evil Village at 1080p.
The M2 MacBook Air starts at a lower price of $1899 versus the XPS 13 Plus $2349 but Dell gives you more storage (512GB) and RAM (16GB) out of the gate. Stepping up to the 512GB model of the M2 MacBook Air brings the price to parity with the XPS 13 Plus although you will need to spend another $400 to get the Core-i7 chip (the base model comes with the less capable Core-i5 chip).
In terms of raw CPU and storage speeds, Dell’s XPS 13 Plus outperforms the M2 MacBook Air while also offering superior display options wrapped up in a more compact and striking design.
But as an ultraportable, the M2 MacBook Air is the overall better choice delivering far superior battery life and better performance in more GPU-intensive applications, all while remaining cool to the touch. The M2 Air also has the XPS 13 Plus beat in the ports department with a dedicated charging port and headphone jack in addition to a superior built-in webcam.