Dell New XPS 13 vs. HP Spectre x360 13t: Which laptop is better

What happens when the best clamshell laptop takes on the best convertible laptop? A clash of the titans

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Performance: Dell New XPS 13 vs. HP Spectre 13t

On its face, a performance showdown with the Dell New XPS 13 and its 8th-gen Core i5-8250U, versus the HP Spectre x360 13t with its 8th gen Core i7-8550U, would appear to be unfair, because Core i5 > Core i7. Because the HP is a convertible laptop, however, it's fighting an inherent thermal disadvantage: It needs to be comfortable when used as a tablet, so its exhaust vents are limited in their breadth and design. Dell has also made much hay of the enhanced cooling in the New XPS 13.

That design difference is the fundamental reason the Core i5 in the New XPS 13 ekes out more performance than the Spectre x360 13t’s Core i7. But don’t just believe us: Check the results from the popular CPU-only Cinebench R15 benchmark when testing all of the available cores in a CPU. 

dell new xps 13 core i5 cinebench r15 nt IDG

The Core i5 in the New XPS 13 out paces the Core i7 in the Spectre x360 13.

Because few applications use all of the cores available, it may actually be more important to look at how the laptops perform in single-threaded tasks. When we set Cinebench R15 to run using a single CPU core, the result actually does make this the unfair contest you were expecting between the Dell's Core i5 and the HP’s Core i7. The Core i7, we’ve long established, mostly offers performance in short bursts.

dell new xps 13 core i5 cinebench r15 1t IDG

The Core i7’s main advantage is in very light bursty loads.

Still, we can offer this forecast: If you paid for the Core i7 in the New XPS 13, it would likely be even slightly faster than the HP Spectre x360 13t in both modes. In the end, we’re giving this contest to the Dell.

Winner: New XPS 13

Battery Life: Dell New XPS 13 vs HP Spectre x360 13t

Battery life is probably more important than pure CPU performance for most users. For our test, we set the laptops to airplane mode and loop a 4K video at a relatively bright 250 to 260 nits until the battery dies.

We see a three-way tie, more or less, between the new Dell XPS 13, the older Dell XPS 13, and the HP Spectre x360 13t. The New XPS 13 does relatively well considering that its battery is smaller. The HP also rallies despite its power-hungrier touchscreen and active pen support. In the end it’s a tie.

Winner: Tie

dell new xps 13 core i5 4k video playback IDG

Battery life is comprable between the HP and the Dell.

Price: Dell New XPS 13 vs. HP Spectre x360 13t

Anyone who's followed Dell and HP pricing can tell you the pattern. Spec for spec, HP tends to offer more value than Dell. Even in this battle of flagships, where prospective buyers aren't necessarily pinching pennies, HP remains in the lead.

At the time of this writing, the Del New XPS 13 9370 with a 1920x1080 resolution screen (without touch), Core i7-8550U, 16GB of LPDDR3 RAM, and 512GB SSD tipped the scale at $1,700. Dell was also offering a $100 discount.

An HP Spectre x360 13t with 1080p screen, Core i7-8550U, 16GB of LPDDR3 RAM, and 512GB SSD (more  RAM and storage than the unit we reviewed), plus touch and pen support, weighed in at $1,519 via HP—before the sale price of $1,169. 

Winner: HP Spectre x360 13

Upgradability: Dell New XPS 13 vs. HP Spectre x360 13t

Few people ever upgrade laptops, but it’s still good to know your options. Of course, “upgrade” isn’t what you can do on a large and thick laptop. About the only thing you can swap out on slimmer models these days is the storage, as the RAM and even Wi-Fi modules are soldered to the motherboard. Don’t worry: Unlike Apple, both HP and Dell use industry standard M.2 SSDs. Both are compatible with NVMe (which they come with) or SATA-interface M.2 drives. For the most part, this is really how difficult it is to get inside.

To get into the HP, you need a precision Torx screw driver. The job is made easier with a small suction cup that lets you pull the lid up. One negative on the HP: While the front and side screws are exposed, the rear screws are hidden under the rubber feet. That means you’ll have to remove the feet and glue them back down after you’ve swapped out the drive.

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 19 Gordon Mah Ung

Getting into the Spectre x360 13t is straightforward, but it does require you to remove the rear foot “strip” on the bottom to get to the screws.

The Dell, on the other hand, exposes all of the screws. The Dell’s M.2 drive is under an aluminum heat spreader. We will add that the New XPS 13’s bottom is slightly more tricky to remove so we recommend you review any service manual before cracking it open.

In the end, we’ll declare this a tie. Both are openable, but with challenges. Both also offer but one upgrade: the SSD.

Winner: Tie

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 20 Gordon Mah Ung

The New XPS 13 is more straightforward in removing screws, but a little tricky in actually removing the bottom shell.

Aesthetics: Dell New XPS 13 vs. HP Spectre 13t

We all know with a PC, it’s what’s inside that matters. But when the insides aren't that different, focus shifts to appearance. 

In that case we say—both the New XPS 13 and the Spectre x360 13t are pretty stunning. The harder angles in the updated Spectre x360 13t give it a more modern look over its predecessor.

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 12 Gordon Mah Ung

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The New XPS 13’s new look is a serious head-turner, from the white keyboard deck to the rose gold, brushed aluminum bottom and top. Which is sexier? Unfortunately we can’t say, as this boils down to personal preference. 

Winner: Tie

Which is better, Dell New XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360 13t?

We swear this isn't a cop-out. The numbers don't lie. When we totaled up the score we ended up with a dead-even, 50-50 result.

In the real world, however, we know you still have to choose. With laptops this great, the deciding factors will be the kinds of details we laid out above, from webcam position to port selection to chiseled corners vs. rose gold panels. This is a good problem to have. 

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