Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 vs. HP Spectre x360 13t: Which premium laptop is best?

We compare them on features, performance and more.

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Display

The Dell’s 13.4-inch Sharp SHP14AF IPS panel is simply spectacular. It puts out a blazing 550 nits, and text is perfectly crisp. The display also includes EyeSafe technology, which purports to lower sleep-stealing blue light emissions without making it look like you just put on a pair of brown-tinted sunglasses.

dell xps 2 in 1 Gordon Mah Ung

The Dell’s 16:10 Sharp panel hits 550 nits and is gorgeous. The HP’s 16:9 AU Optronics panel is quite good but tops out at 350 nits, and side-by-side doesn’t match the Dell's crispness.

The Spectre x360 13t’s panel is a very good 13.3-inch AU Optronics “IPS-like” panel that can use as little as 1 watt under many conditions. Its maximum brightness is a good 350 nits. Overall, however, it's just not quite as lovely as the Dell's.

The other point in Dell’s column is the use of a 1920x1200 resolution, which results in an aspect ratio of 16:10. That makes it slightly taller than the 16:9 displays used in most other 13-inch laptops, and better for actual work with open windows.

While the Spectre's panel is fine and commendably power-efficient, panel aficionados will prefer the Sharp screen in the Dell. 

Winner: Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390

Keyboard and Trackpad

Keyboards and trackpads are truly personal experiences for most people, so it’s always a little difficult to pass judgment. We will say that Dell’s decision to go with a low-travel “Maglev 2” keyboard continues to be polarizing. Certainly not as polarizing as Apple’s unreliable and now-abandoned Butterfly series of keyboards, but it's not what you're used to.

dell xps 13 2 in 1 7390 vs hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen 6 Gordon Mah Ung

We prefer the “full” travel of the HP Spectre x360 13t’s keyboard (right) to the loud, low-travel, MagLev 2 “I’M TYPING AN ANGRY LETTER TO MY SENATOR!” keyboard of the Dell (left).

The Maglev 2 uses magnets to repel the keys, which just sounds louder. When everyone in the conference room gives you the stinkeye because it sounds like you’re firing off an angry email to your cable company, you just might have a problem.

The HP’s keyboard, meanwhile, offers the experience everyone is used to and has come to expect. Let’s just say we prefer the luxurious 1.4mm travel of the HP over the 0.7mm of the Dell.

The other aspect is the trackpad. Although the HP features a good experience, we prefer the glass-smooth Dell trackpad. The Dell's is also centered closer to the Y key,  instead of centered on the U key like the HP. That puts less of your palm on the trackpad during use.

In the end, the keyboard matters more than the trackpad, so we’re giving this one to the HP.

Winner: HP Spectre x360 13t

Pen Support

Laptop vendors seem to switch laptop pen technology constantly, and that doesn’t change here. The current XPS 13 2-in-1 features Wacom Active ES 2.0 technology, while the current Spectre x360 13t features Microsoft’s N-trig. We compared Dell’s Premium Active Pen PN579X (which is an extra-cost option) vs. HP’s included base-level Pen.

hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen pen leif Gordon Mah Ung

Macworld’s pen expert Leif Johnson thought precision dotting on the 5th-gen Spectre x360 13t was better than the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1's, but overall responsiveness went to the Dell.

Which is better? We asked Macworld associate editor and pen aficionado Leif Johnson to rate them. He gave the Dell’s Wacom AES pen and digitizer the edge in use, even though it occasionally misregistered during a fine-dotting technique test. The HP didn’t miss any dots, but its latency and “pen feel” put it just a step behind the Dell. And if you had to pry Johnson’s precious iPad Pencil 2 out of his hands, he said he would reach for Dell’s Wacom system.

Over? Not necessarily. Note that the Dell Premium Active Pen is optional and $100, while the HP Pen is included. Even if the Dell pen supports both MPP and AES pen protocols (which is nice if you want to move it between, say, a Microsoft Surface and the XPS 13 2-in-1), it’s still an extra cost. So somewhat better vs. “comes free with the laptop” likely neutralizes it for most consumer use, which will largely involve signing documents and playing Hangperson during boss meetings.

Winner: Tie

hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen video run down IDG

Battery life on the HP Spectre x360 13T clocks in an impressive 16 hours or run time. You can thank the larger battery and “1 watt” screen.

Battery Life

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 features a 51-watt-hour battery. In our video rundown test in airplane mode with ear buds, it cranks out a very respectable run time of 707 minutes, or just under 10 hours.

The HP, with its power-efficient “1-watt” panel and larger 61-watt-hour battery, takes it out to 969 minutes, or almost 4 more hours of video run time over the Dell. The HP's battery life is basically annoyingly long—for reviewers who need to run it all the way down to finish their testing. 

We kind of wished Dell had integrated a larger battery, but maybe it chose to use that space for more cooling instead.

Winner: HP Spectre x360 13t

Performance

Some have argued that performance doesn’t matter as much on small laptops. It's a fair point, given that pushing Outlook, Chrome, and PowerPoint is basically the same experience on any premium laptop.

hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen cinebench nt IDG

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and its aggressive profiles makes it the fastest quad-core ultra portable laptop in town most of the time.

Still, when push comes to shove, you want to know that the money you paid for your Core i7 is actually getting you Core i7 performance. In that case, the winner most of the time is the XPS 13 2-in-1 7390. There are times when the Spectre x360 13t comes pretty close, but the edge goes to the Dell, which pushes its 10th-gen Core i7-1065G7 far harder.

How much harder? We recorded the clock speed, temperature, and TDP of each laptops during a Cinebench R20 run, each set to their performance setting.

You can see the solid blue line of the Dell constantly pushing up to 3.5GHz as much as possible. The HP, meanwhile, maintains a solid, consistent clock speed—albeit lower than the Dell's. Basically, the Dell takes the “15-watt” CPU and pushes it to 46 watts most of the time, while the HP is more conservative at 28 watts to 35 watts (although it will boost to 51 watts briefly).

cinebench r20 IDG

We recorded the vitals of both laptops during a Cinebench R20 run and it’s clear Dell is far more aggressive with its clock speeds.

The Dell is plain faster most of the time. There is a cost, though: The Dell was far quicker in triggering its fans, while the HP tried to keep the fans silent longer.

The other bill for all this performance is thermals at the keyboard deck. Below you can see a thermal image of both laptops after running the CPU near 100 percent for 40 minutes. The Dell’s keyboard temps on the left are definitely toasty compared to the HP's on the right. HP also says its newest Spectre features small air inlets below some of the keys to allow cool air to be sucked in from the keyboard and exhausted out the back. We suspect they may have contributed to the cooler keyboard on the HP as well.

All of this performance testing is on AC, which is how most people will use their laptops during intensive modes. When running off of the battery, both laptops significantly throttle performance, by about 50 percent.. It actually ends up being a tie when running on battery between the two.

screenshot 20191206 130429 Gordon Mah Ung

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 pushes harder when set to performance but that also means a higher keyboard deck temperature over the 5th gen HP Spectre x360 13T when also set to its performance mode.

In the end, we have to give it to the Dell for this category because in a drag race, the first one across the finish line wins. By a huge margin? No, but there can be only one winner here.

Winner: Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390

hp price value HP

The Spectre x360 13T’s value is impressive 

Value 

To compare prices, we configured the XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 and a Spectre x360 13t with a 10th-gen Core i7-1065G7, 16GB of LPDDR4X/3733, 512GB SSD, Windows 10 Home, and standard-res screens (1920x1080 for the HP, and 1920x1200 for the Dell.) The Dell had a list price of $1,699 and was on sale for $1,599 in early December when we priced it out. The HP had a list price of $1,379 and was on sale for $1,129. When you remember that HP bundles an active pen and a leather carrying case, the easy winner is the HP Spectre x360 13t.

Winner: HP Spectre x360 13t

dell xps 13 2 in 1 7390 vs hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen bottom Gordon Mah Ung

Bottom of Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 (left) and HP’s Spectre x360 13T (right.)

Conclusion

We tallied up the wins, losses and ties, and we can only conclude the overall winner to be the HP Spectre x360 13t. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 gets some very critical wins in display quality and performance, so if those are your priorities, go ahead and pick the Dell. But big-picture, the wins in storage, ports, keyboard, battery life, and value easily push the HP to the front for us.

Winner: HP Spectre x360 13t

hp spectre x360 13 5th gen 8 Gordon Mah Ung

The HP wins enough categories that it’s our overall winner for most people.

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At a Glance
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