Dell XPS 13 vs. Asus ZenBook 13: An ultraportable face-off
One is the thinnest 13-inch laptop with discrete graphics, the other is the world's smallest 13-inch laptop. But which is best for you?
Joshua GoldmanManaging Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
ExpertiseLaptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and dronesCredentials
More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Well, at least it was tough to beat, until
surprised us with an excellent 13-incher of its own, the ZenBook 13 UX331UN. Though it's not nearly as small as the Dell, Asus says it's the thinnest with a discrete graphics chip, an entry-level
Wrapped up in a shiny deep blue body, the ZenBook 13 looks the part of a premium laptop. And while the GPU is the big feature, there's a lot of other stuff to like about it, too. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right one for your needs, so I've broken down the good and the bad of each to see just how they measure up.
Watch this: Dell's redesigned XPS 13 keeps its oddest feature
Dell XPS 13 (2018)
Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN
$999, £1,249, AU$2,099
$999, £1,100, AU$1,599
Price as reviewed
$1,249 (FHD), $2,099 (4K)
13.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 non-touch or 3,840x2,160 touch display
Dell revamped the XPS 13's design for 2018 making it overall smaller while still putting in the latest
processors. Frankly, it hadn't changed in years and was starting to look stale. To go along with its slimmed-down chassis, Dell added a new rose gold exterior and white interior color option that looks awesome (though it'll set you back an extra $50).
A big reason the XPS 13 is so small is because Dell shaved the frame (aka bezel) around the the 13.3-inch display down to 4 mm. When you open up the laptop, you're looking at nothing but screen. To do this, though, Dell had to put its webcam below the display, which means it's shooting up your nose when you use it.
The ZenBook 13 is a nice-looking laptop, too, with a unique mirror-like finish that highlights the circular pattern on the lid. It's impossible to keep it clean of fingerprints, however. Also, while the Asus does have slim bezels, they're noticeably larger than the Dell's. At least the camera if up above the screen.
Watch this: Asus ZenBook 13 is a sweet ultraportable with some graphics power
have full-size backlit keyboards, but Dell's is a clear winner here despite the laptop's smaller footprint. There's a pleasing soft touch to the keys that make it feel like the keys have more travel than the ZenBook's keys, which have a bit of a jarring feel to them. The Windows Precision touchpads on both are solid, though the finish on Dell's feels better.
Overall, the XPS just looks and feels better than the Asus. The ZenBook is pretty sweet, but under closer examination and in use, it doesn't feel as premium as the XPS 13.
The big advantage for the Asus is, again, its discrete graphics. Beyond the actual computer components, though, the ZenBook 13's features have more in common with the last-gen XPS 13 than the new one. The ZenBook's port assortment, for example, has a USB type-C port, but it's a slower USB 3.1 (gen 1) and can't be used to charge the laptop. It has a full-size HDMI output as well as two USB-A ports, which Dell drops from the new XPS 13.
Instead, Dell went all in on USB-C ports, with two Thunderbolt 3 and one USB-C 3.1 (gen 1). Also, although both laptops have fingerprint readers for signing in with Windows Hello, Dell built it into the XPS 13's power button. Plus, the Dell has an IR camera so you can sign in with facial recognition.
There is, however, one other advantage the Asus has: a full-HD touchscreen. If you want a touchscreen on the Dell XPS 13, you have to jump up to a 4K-resolution display that not only costs more, but consumes more of your battery life.
Overall processor performance between the ZenBook and the two XPS 13s we tested wasn't drastically different. The Asus did come out on top in our benchmarks, likely due to the Nvidia GPU and its 2GB of RAM.
The entry-level MX150 graphics chip isn't going to blow you away with its
performance: The ZenBook 13 isn't a gaming laptop. Frame rates aren't going to be fast enough for enjoyable play on high detail settings with newer, graphically demanding games. It is, however, a clear improvement over Intel's UHD Graphic 620 integrated GPU that you'll find in other ultraportables, including the XPS 13.
As for battery life, it's going to come down to which Dell configuration you go with, specifically whether you go with a full HD or a 4K-resolution display. The Asus and its full HD touchscreen ran for 10 hours, 45 minutes on our streaming video battery rundown test. The XPS 13 with its full HD nontouch display hit 12 hours, 18 minutes, while the version with the 4K touchscreen ran 9 hours, 8 minutes.
Considering the sizes of these laptops, those are all excellent runtimes. Just know that if you go with the 4K screen on the XPS 13, it will cost you some battery life.
The 2018 XPS 13 is available in multiple configurations starting at $999, and we tested two of them: One has an eighth-gen Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1,920x1,080 nontouch display, for $1,249. The second has a Core i7 CPU/16GB/512GB setup, with a 4K touch display, for $2,099. The configurations are slightly different in the UK and Australia, but start at £1,249 and AU$2,099.
The ZenBook 13 configuration we reviewed sells for $999 in the US and £1,100 in the UK. It's available in Australia for AU$1,599, but with a Core i7 processor and 16GB of memory. If you're shopping on price alone and want the best specs for the money, you'll want the Asus. The $999 XPS 13's specs are sad by comparison, never mind that Dell doesn't even offer a discrete graphics option. (Not that we'd expect one at its size, but still.)
Like a lot of tech, choosing between the Dell XPS 13 and the Asus ZenBook 13 comes down to your needs and budget. At the moment, the Asus is the smallest option for getting discrete graphics in an ultraportable laptop. If you want to do a little gaming on the go or need the extra graphics power for photo or video editing, the ZenBook 13 offers better overall performance for the money.
When it comes to the Dell, you do get excellent performance for its size, but there's no doubt your money is going for its super small and sturdy design, including the nearly bezel-free display and newer technologies like the dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, IR camera and the optional 4K-resolution touchscreen.