Dell XPS 13 vs. Dell XPS 15: Which should you buy?

Dell XPS 13 vs. Dell XPS 15 vs. Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 : Our XPS buyer's guide will help you pick the right XPS laptop.

xps side by side
Gordon Mah Ung

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 You know you want one of Dell’s XPS laptops, but which one? The thin-and-light XPS 13? Its convertible cousin, the XPS 13 2-in-1? Or the brawnier workhorse XPS 15? 

We’ll help you pick. Note that Dell typically continues to sell the older models alongside the newer ones. Dell uses the term “new” to differentiate between the latest and greatest and older stock. For this comparison, we’re comparing the latest versions of the laptops with the top-end CPUs: the XPS 13 7390, its convertible cousin the XPS 13 7390 2-in-1, and the XPS 15 7590. We’re also including the XPS 15 2-in-1 7595, which is older but still on sale, with no replacement on the horizon. 

Dell XPS buying guide cheat sheet

All four XPS models are quite unique, but if you don’t have time to dive into the details, we’ll summarize the gist here. 

Buy the XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 if you want the most versatile option and can live with merely decent graphics performance. Intel’s newest 10nm chip is a welcome addition to this tiny, pen-friendly laptop, even though it won’t win any pure CPU fights. For mainstream users, it’s still a better choice.

Buy the XPS 13 7390 if you want an amazing amount of CPU performance in as tiny as a laptop as possible. With its top-end 6-core Core i7-10710, this laptop basically offers more CPU performance than an XPS 15 from just two years ago, and it’s as fast as a quad-core “H” class Core i5 in heavier laptops. While not as versatile as the XPS 13 2-in-1, it’s definitely faster for power users.

Buy the XPS 15 2-in-1 9575 if you want the convertible nature of the smaller XPS 13 2-in-1 but want more graphics grunt and a larger screen. Granted, this laptop is getting a bit long in the tooth, and the even the tinier XPS 13 7390 with the Core i7-10710U is faster in CPU operations. This is still a great option for its fancy Radeon graphics, however, and you get pen support and convertible modes too.

Buy the XPS 15 7590 if you want the power of an 8-core CPU and decently fast discrete graphics performance in as light and small a package as possible. When we talk performance, this XPS 15 is optimized for content creators and other graphics-intensive users. It doesn’t quite make the grade as a primary gaming laptop (though it will do the job).

Price

The most important factor is your budget. We went to Dell.com in early November to look at what we could get for about $1,500. Surprisingly, you get a fair amount, but there will be some compromise.

dell off price IDG

We configured comparable XPS laptops in early November and found the XPS 13 7390 can offer the best bang for the buck, with the XPS 15 7590 in second place.

On the XPS 15, you’d get a 6-core Core i7-9750H, GeForce GTX 1650, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and an FHD screen. That’s a decent amount of performance despite the lack of an 8-core CPU.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 can be had for less than $1,520, but we wouldn’t do it. The $1,520 config gets you the Core i7-1065G7 chip, but more importantly, it gets you 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. As both the RAM and SSD are permanent, we recommend paying for the extra storage space. 

The actual best deal is likely the classic XPS 13. By going with an FHD screen (perfectly fine and probably recommended for this smaller screen), you can get a 6-core CPU with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD—for $1,380. Although we think all are pretty reasonable configurations for the money, the XPS 13 gives you the most value. Winner: XPS 13 7390

Ports

Because the XPS line errs on the side of thin, it pays to know which ports will or won’t be on the model you choose. This is especially important with the super-slender XPS 13 models.  

xps stacked Gordon Mah Ung

The XPS 13 7390 (top) and XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 (middle) have only USB-C ports, while the XPS 15 7590 (bottom) has HDMI, USB-A, and USB-C

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 gives you two Thunderbolt 3 ports. That’s it. the XPS 13 adds another USB-C port (and a miniSD slot). That’s it. 

The XPS 15 gives you full-size HDMI, two USB-A ports, and a Thunderbolt 3 port. So yes, it’s larger and heavier, but that’s the cost of having ports on laptop these days.
Winner: XPS 15 7590

Keyboard & trackpad

Judging laptop keyboards is subjective, as everyone’s fingers and typing styles are different. But somewhere along the years, our fingers have come to prefer tighter keyboards that snap back faster. Neither of those qualities, unfortunately, are what we find in the XPS 13 or XPS 15.

dell xps 13 2 in 1 keyboard Gordon Mah Ung

We’re not huge fans of Dell’s low travel, Maglev 2 keyboard in the XPS 13 2-in-1, but we actually prefer it to the current keyboards in the XPS 13 and XPS 15.

Don’t get us wrong—both are perfectly fine and many people like them. But if we had to chose, we’d take the MagLev 2 keyboard in the XPS 13 2-in-1. No, we’re not fans of the MacBook-like feel of it, but the precision feel and snap of the MagLev 2 was our favorite. It also helps that the glass-like trackpad on the XPS 13 2-in-1 felt, well, smooth as glass.
Winner: XPS 13 2-in-1 7390

Size & weight

We were going to focus our size and weight inquiry on the 13-inch laptops, because the larger XPS 15 wasn’t going to win any carry-on contests. Between the size of both the 13-inch laptops, however, it’s almost a tie.

xps off 3 Gordon Mah Ung

The clamshell XPS 13 is actually the smallest and lightest of the bunch.

If we had to pick a winner though, we guess it would be the XPS 13, which is 2 ounces lighter than the XPS 13 2-in-1. You can thank the Gorilla Glass coating on the latter’s touchscreen for that difference.

The XPS 13 is actually slightly smaller than the XPS 13 2-in-1, because of the taller aspect ratio of the XPS 13 2-in-1’s 16:10 screen.
Winner: XPS 13 7390

Versatility

We define versatility in this category as the laptop that’s capable of fulfilling more roles. It may not always be the fastest at any one role, but for us performance is a different consideration.

dell xps 13 2 in 1 tablet mode 2 Gordon Mah Ung

You can’t beat the XPS 13 2-in-1 for versatility. with its tablet and A-frame modes.

Clearly the winner from the get-go is the XPS 13 2-in-1. With its ability to convert into a tablet, tent, or clamshell modes, plus its pen support, it’s just hard to see the place for a conventional clamshell laptop anymore outside of performance.

Winner: XPS 13 2-in-1 7390

Screen

Laptop screens can run the gamut from mediocre to amazing, and you often don’t know what you’re getting. Fortunately, premium laptops typically get very good screens all of the time.

xps side by side Gordon Mah Ung

It’s hard to argue with 15.6-inches of real-estate—if you’re willing to carry it around of course.

All three XPS models offer FHD (1920x1080) or FHD+ (1920x1200) as well as 4K options. Of the three laptops, only the XPS 15 offers the choice of FHD, 4K OLED, or 4K IPS with touch.

Higher-resolution screens can look lovely, but they have trade-offs too. They can cost you a quarter to a third of overall battery life. You may also encounter scaling issues on older applications. 

The screen sizes range from 13.3 inches diagonally for the Dell XPS 13 to a skosh bigger (13.4) on the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, while the Dell XPS 15 has a 15.6-inch panel. A larger screen means less squinting, so if you do have older eyes, the 15.6-inch screen will be the easiest on you. 

The corner-to-corner measurements tell you about size, but it doesn’t tell you about the shape, or aspect ratio. Most laptops today mimic television-screen proportions of 16:9. which is fine if you mostly use your laptop for entertainment. If you do a lot of work, however, a taller screen, such a 3:2 or 16:10, gives you more space for reading doucments or spreadsheets.

Of the three, only the XPS 13 2-in-1 offers a 16:10 screen, which is about as tall as the XPS 15’s panel. It is, however, hard to beat the sheer size of the XPS 15, so we’re going to begrudgingly give it the edge despite its 16:9 aspect ratio.

And yes, while no one says no to larger screens—you also have to be willing to carry it around on your shoulder.

Winner: XPS 15 7590

Performance

You know the XPS 15 is going to win this performance category, but there’s more nuance to this than you’d think. Performance unused is not performance at all—it’s a waste of your money. With their top CPU options, you can have 8 cores in the XPS 15, 6 cores in the XPS 13, and 4 cores in the XPS 13 2-in-1. Only the XPS 15 has discrete graphics, with its GeForce GTX 1650.

dell off cinebench r15 nt all IDG

Power users care about multi-core performance, and no surprise, the 8-core XPS 15 easily beats the 6-core XPS 13, which easily beats the 4-core XPS 13 2-in-1.

In general, the XPS 15 is going to win for any multi-core tasks, as well as graphics-intensive work. The XPS 13, with its 6 cores, can handle shorter-burst workloads at a pace faster than a budget XPS 15 with a Core i5 quad-core, and it’s actually faster than a 7th-gen Core i7 XPS 15.

While the XPS 13 2-in-1 “only” has a quad core, it’s Intel’s newest 10nm CPU. This fresh chip is actually fairly impressive on CPU operations while offering about twice the graphics performance of the 6-core CPU in the XPS 13.

dell off sky diver IDG

Graphics performance goes to the XPS 15 first, but that XPS 13 2-in-1 is doing pretty swell.

But as we said, none of this matters if you are just using Office, browsing the web, watching videos or editing photos. If that’s your jam, you don’t need a high-end CPU.

If you edit videos, do 3D modelling, compile code locally, or work as a software developer, then the XPS 15’s 8-core or 6-core options with discrete graphics own the category. The XPS 13 is a decent alternative if you’re willing give up performance for weight.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 is probably the most balanced of the three, with its better graphics and decent CPU. But still, XPS 15.

Winner: XPS 15 7590

Battery life

Although many factors affect laptop battery life (such as what you’re actually using it for), there are three particularly important ones. For starters, there’s battery capacity (think of it as your gas tank) and screen resolution (think of it as your aerodynamics). The third is the CPU (think of it as your engine). 

For the most part, going from a standard-res 1080p or FHD screen to a high-resolution 4K UHD screen means giving up about a third of your potential battery life. A larger battery can offset this, but that also means more space, and more weight.

dell off video run time all IDG

We’ve seen enough Dell XPS laptops that we can tell you the XPS 15 with the FHD screen takes the cake for battery life. tThe XPS 13 and XPS 13 2-in-1 about equal with FHD screens. For 4K performance, just subtract about a third of run time.

The CPU factor can be difficult to gauge because it depends on what you do. The load shifts dramatically from editing videos to messing with photos to watching a movie.

From the three laptops, we saw about about nine hours of video run time from the XPS 13 7390 with its 4K screen. By stepping down to a 1080p screen, you would probably add two to three hours of run time and make it essentially even with the XPS 13 2-in-1 7390.

The XPS 15 7590 squeezes out about 10 hours of run time with its 4K OLED screen. We suspect that when configured with a 1080p screen, you’d get closer to 14 hours. It’s a theoretical winner, but it’s really a tie, because all get great battery life with 1080p FHD screens, and fair battery life with 4K screens in place.

Winner: XPS 15 7590

Conclusion

If you’re tempted to tally up the wins and declare an overall winner, you’d be doing this wrong. While the large-and-in-charge XPS 15 7590 takes more categories, what you should do is weigh each category against your needs and then select the winning XPS laptop based on that. For example, if pen support is more important than CPU performance, the XPS 13 2-in-1 gets the nod. If you value portability but also need multi-core performance, the XPS 13 should be heavily considered.

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