This article is part of our series Battle of the Brands, in which we compare category-leading products to their counterparts to determine which are actually worth your money.
For years now, two heavyweights have stood tall at the top of our best laptop rankings: Apple’s MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13. Both of these notebooks pack fantastic performance into slim, lightweight and attractive designs that make it easy to get work done anywhere. And while they’re not cheap, they’re both reasonably priced, providing a ton of value for about a $1,000 budget.
However, choosing between these two excellent laptops isn’t quite as simple as deciding between MacOS or Windows. The latest MacBook Air M2 and Dell XPS 13 have a lot of key differences that make them each ideal for different users, and having tested both notebooks extensively, we’re here to help you pick the right one.
MacBook Air M2 vs. Dell XPS 13 at a glance
13.6-inch, 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display
13.4-inch 1920 x 1200 display (touch optional)
12th Gen Intel Core i5-1230U / i7-1250U
8GB / 16GB / 24GB
8GB / 16GB / 32GB
256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB SSD
512GB / 1TB SSD
Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), MagSafe charging port, headphone jack
Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), USB-C to USB-A adapter included
|Battery life (rated)||
Up to 18 hours
Up to 12 hours
Midnight, Starlight, Space Gray, Silver
|Size and weight||
11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches, 2.7 pounds
11.63 x 7.86 x 0.55 inches, 2.59 pounds
The MacBook Air M2 and Dell XPS 13 are two of the slimmest and best-looking laptops around, but if sheer portability is your priority, Dell gets the win here. The XPS 13 is notably smaller than Apple’s laptop, with razor-thin edges, a nearly borderless display and an edge-to-edge keyboard. There’s truly no wasted space on this machine, something that makes it that much easier to slide into your bag. The MacBook Air M2 is still a beautiful notebook — and very easy to carry around at 2.7 pounds — but it does look thicker when placed next to the XPS.
These are both notebooks you can feel good about using at your local coffee shop — it really just comes down to which colors you prefer. The MacBook Air offers a wider range of colors with Midnight (a bluish black) and Starlight (gold) joining the usual Space Gray and Silver, while the XPS 13 offers a smaller but arguably more eye-catching duo of Umber (dark red) and Sky (light blue). I’m personally partial to the Dell XPS 13’s bolder color options, but if I’m heading out for the day, I’d take the Umber XPS 13 and Starlight MacBook Air on my desk over pretty much any other laptop I’ve tested.
Both of these laptops are minimal on ports — packing just two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C inputs each — though there are some key differences here. The MacBook Air M2 has the advantage of a dedicated MagSafe charging port, which snaps on and off easily via magnets (and is ideal in the event someone trips over your cable) and keeps the two USB-C ports free for accessories. It’s also the only laptop of the two to still feature a built-in headphone jack for wired audio. Meanwhile, the more minimalist Dell XPS 13 gets points for including a USB-C to USB-A adapter, which is handy for connecting your older peripherals.
Finally, while both of these laptops have great keyboards, the MacBook’s Magic Keyboard gets the edge by offering just a bit more bounce — not to mention a larger touchpad for scrolling.
TL; DR: The XPS 13 is the smallest laptop of the two (and arguably has the best colors), but the MacBook Air has slightly better ports and a superior typing experience.
Display and webcam
You’ll have a great time watching movies and getting work done on both of these laptops’ screens — you’ll just need to make a choice between sharpness, size and how much you care about a touch display.
When watching an 8K nature video side by side on both machines, the XPS 13’s display pumped out colors that were just a bit bolder than what we got from the MacBook. The MacBook Air’s display is technically sharper than the XPS 13’s at a resolution of 2560 x 1664 versus Dell’s 1920 x 1200, but the difference is negligible in day-to-day use.
And while the MacBook Air’s screen looks a lot bigger at a glance, it only gives you a fraction of an inch of extra real estate. That’s a testament to the XPS’ excellent InfinityEdge display, which has almost zero extra bezel around the screen for a seamless, minimalist look. The Dell XPS 13 also has the advantage of an optional touch display, which is ideal for folks who want to do some sketching with a stylus or just want to be able to flip through webpages with their fingers. Unfortunately, the base XPS 13 no longer offers an OLED option like it has in past generations, so you’ll have to spring for the otherwise inferior Dell XPS 13 Plus if you want that extra pop.
The MacBook Air sports a 1080p webcam compared to the 720p shooter on the XPS 13, and the difference shows when looking at selfies side by side. Whereas Apple’s laptop captured my face and skin tone with plenty of detail and color accuracy, the XPS 13’s camera made me look a bit oversaturated and pixelated by comparison. Both of these laptops will get you through your daily Zoom meetings just fine, but if you want to look as clear as possible, go with the MacBook. The Air’s quad speakers were also clearer and louder than the stereo pair on the XPS, making it the better notebook for conference calls and casual music listening.
TL; DR: The XPS 13 has a sleeker and more versatile display, while the MacBook Air has a superior webcam and set of speakers.
Performance and battery life
Both of these laptops held up well to our daily routine of juggling Slack chats, email apps and an ungodly number of Chrome tabs, but when you put them side by side on our performance tests, it’s not even close.
Powered by Apple’s class-leading M2 chip, the MacBook Air M2 ran circles around the XPS 13 on general performance benchmarks like Geekbench 5, turning in numbers that nearly doubled what we got from Dell’s laptop. To be fair, we tested an XPS 13 with a 12th Gen Intel Core i5 processor, which you can upgrade to a Core i7 when configuring your machine (recent Core i7 laptops we’ve tested held up better to the Apple M2). That said, when you’re comparing each laptop’s starting configurations, the performance per dollar you get from the MacBook can’t be beat. And while MacBooks aren’t necessarily built for gaming (more on that later), Apple’s laptop was able to muster more playable frame rates for top titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Battery life proved to be a different story, however. While both of these machines got us through entire workdays on a charge, the MacBook Air M2 buckled more quickly on our intensive 4K video playback test — tapping out at five hours and 21 minutes compared to the XPS’ impressive eight and a half hours. That’s a three-hour difference, and while your own mileage may vary, it’s worth keeping in mind if you plan on doing lots of video editing or other demanding visual work on your laptop.
TL;DR: The MacBook Air M2 is the clear winner in terms of overall performance, while the Dell XPS 13 has better battery life during more demanding usage.
What’s the better value?
The Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Air are two reasonably priced laptops that see frequent discounts, but if you’re looking to spend as little as possible, the XPS is your best bet. As of this writing, the XPS 13 is starting at a sale price of just $799, which gets you an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, a 512GB SSD and a non-touch display. Upgrading to a faster Core i7 model will run you $899, and you can tack on up to 32GB of RAM or up to 1TB of storage for a few hundred bucks each.
Meanwhile, the MacBook Air M2 starts at a notably more expensive $1,199 but is almost always on sale for $1,049 these days. That configuration gets you the ultra-powerful Apple M2 chip, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, all of which can be upgraded for folks who need some extra graphics muscle, memory or free space. The XPS 13 definitely wins on value here — offering twice the starting storage for a much lower price — but the MacBook Air gives you more room to upgrade if you’re willing to shell out for upward of 2TB of storage.
TL;DR: The Dell XPS 13 is the better value buy, but the MacBook Air M2 offers power users and future-proofers more options for storage and speed.
Windows or MacOS?
For some, choosing between these two laptops may simply come down to whether you prefer MacOS or Windows. The MacBook Air is the obvious choice for folks deep in the Apple ecosystem, as it’ll sync up with your iPhone and iPad to let you access things like photos, notes and messages across all of your devices. Macs are also a popular pick for creatives, thanks to support for first-party apps like Final Cut Pro (for video editing) and Logic Pro (for music production) in addition to the full Adobe suite. MacOS isn’t exactly known for gaming, though the library of quality Mac games is growing, thanks to recent additions such as Resident Evil Village and No Man’s Sky.
Meanwhile, the Dell XPS 13 ships with Windows 11, which is arguably more flexible and customizable in some ways. I personally prefer the multitasking experience on Microsoft’s software, as it’s easy to snap windows to separate corners of the screen and get to work. Windows is generally the superior platform for gaming, though the Dell XPS 13’s modest specs are more suited to the likes of Rocket League and The Sims rather than the latest blockbuster PC games. Windows also offers a Phone Link app for accessing your Android (and soon, iOS) messages from your PC, though it’s not quite as seamless as sending a quick iMessage from your Mac.
TL;DR: The MacBook Air is better for devout Apple users and creatives, while the Windows-based Dell XPS 13 is a little more flexible and well rounded.
While you can’t go wrong with either of these two titans, there’s a reason the MacBook Air M2 is our overall top pick for most people. It just feels better to use than anything else in its price range, from its superb keyboard, useful MagSafe port and booming speakers to its absurdly fast M2 chip that can handle the kind of work that was previously reserved for the MacBook Pro. And if you’re already an Apple user, the MacBook Air will fit seamlessly into your digital life, letting you chat with friends and sift through your photo library without even having to touch your iPhone.
That said, there are plenty of reasons to consider the Dell XPS 13 instead. It’s the smaller (and for our money, more attractive) laptop, its touch display is handy for note-taking and quick scrolling and it lasted longer on our battery tests. And if you’re not locked into the Apple experience, you’ll find plenty to like about Windows. The good news? No matter what you pick, you’ll be treated to an attractive, highly portable powerhouse that you’ll actively want to use everywhere.