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

Credit: Gordon Mah Ung

When you're trying to decide on a great laptop, Apple's MacBook can take a backseat. For the PC faithful, the only grudge match that matters is the one between Dell and HP. Specifically, the companies' flagships, the New XPS 13 ($1,199 from Dell) and the Spectre x360 13t (officially $1,250 from HP, on sale as configured for $990 as of this writing) are constantly competing to be top dog in the laptop universe.

With completely refreshed models at hand, we're putting these two dream machines through an old-fashioned smackdown. We're comparing them on everything from design and features to price and performance, declaring a winner in each category. Keep reading to see who comes out ahead. 

You can read our review of the New XPS 13 here, or our review of the HP Spectre x360 13t here. Or you just carry on without doing your homework as we referee the most intense laptop rivalry in ages.

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 14 Gordon Mah Ung

The Dell New XPS 13 is a traditional clamshell that can’t compete with the versatility of a convertible 360 laptop like the HP x360 13.

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

This category really comes down to how versatile a laptop is in different scenarios, and considers whether a laptop can be used in an “A-frame” or tent mode, or as a tablet. And yes, it’s really a proxy war for 360-degree-convertible (HP Spectre x360 13t) vs. clamshell (Dell New XPS 13) design.

We’ll admit that the first 360-degree convertibles didn’t impress us with their weight and thickness. More recent models have convinced us that they’re the way to go. No, it doesn’t mean a clamshell is obsolete, but it’s feeling pretty limited when a 360-degree convertible can do everything a clamshell can do, plus give you a reasonable tablet experience too.

The one caveat to all this is performance. We’ll dive deeper later in this story, but for now let’s just say that in general, clamshell laptops outperform similarly outfitted convertibles. For most users, though, having touch, pen, tablet, and tent-mode capabilities outweigh performance.

It’s almost like clamshell laptops are sedans and 360 laptops are “crossover” SUVs. And yes, Ford did just discontinue making all sedans, so we know where this is going.

Winner: HP Spectre x360 13t

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 5 Gordon Mah Ung

The New XPS 13 (left) is slightly smaller and slightly lighter than the Spectre x360 13 (right.)

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

Let’s be clear: Both laptops are extremely portable for what they offer in capability and performance. In pure weight contests, our scale put the New XPS 13 at 2 pounds, 10.5 ounces, and the Spectre x360 13t at 2 pounds, 11.7 ounces. Unless you’re looking for a true featherweight-class devices that's closer to two pounds, it’s going to be hard to beat these two.

Where it might matter to someis how large the actual body is, which can affect the size of your laptop bag or your comfort on a cramped airplane. While we think this is a pretty close battle, the nod obviously goes to the New XPS 13, which is just incredibly small despite having a 13.3-inch screen.

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 6 Gordon Mah Ung

The New Dell XPS 13 is about an inch smaller than the HP Spectre x360 13.

Although we’re talking fractions of inches in width and depth, the New XPS 13 just feels tiny when you carry it around closed, thanks to its toothpick-thin bezels.

Of course, HP would counter that its somewhat broader bezels allows the webcam to be on top of the Spectre x360 13t's display, which is where it ought to be to show your best side during a videoconference. This is a justifiable dig at the New XPS 13's low-slung webcam, which loves to stare up your nostrils. But this detailmatters less when you're just trying to survive a cross-country coach flight.

Winner: Dell New XPS 13

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

Thinner laptops struggle to fit all the ports users might want. These flagships have their compromises. 

The HP Spectre x360 13t has a single USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type A (5Gbps) port on the left side, along with a combo headset jack and microSD port. On the right, you get two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, which also charge from USB-C Power Delivery.

The Dell is the more controversial one. On the right you get a single USB-C port (with charging support) and MicroSD, and on the left, you get a Noble lock port and two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports with charging. Yup, no USB Type A. Dell says the port’s size was simply too big and would have made the laptop larger, so it includes a USB-C to USB-A adapter. 

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 10 Gordon Mah Ung

The left side with Dell’s New XPS 13 on top and the HP Spectre x360 13 on the bottom. Yup. The winning combo is that square port in back of the HP.

We appreciate that Dell included the a dongle, which is what any responsible computer company should do. But we also know from direct experience that dongles get lost all the time, So yeah, this one is easy to pick. Winner: HP and Type A ports.

And if you want HDMI, ethernet, or other perks, you'll be looking for thicker laptops than these.

Winner: HP Spectre x360 13t

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 11 Gordon Mah Ung

The right side of the Dell New XPS 13 (top) and the HP Spectre x360 13 on the bottom

Dell New XPS 13 vs. HP Spectre x360 13t: Keyboard and trackpad

It’s interesting that both the XPS 13 and Spectre x360 13t are the last refuge of “good keyboards.” There's no marketing to make you believe that less key travel is better. For most of us (not all), less keyboard travel is like less space on a coach flight. No fun.

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 9 Gordon Mah Ung

We give the New XPS 13 *right)  the nod for trackpad and keyboard combo.

Overall, we’d say both offer very good keyboards with no badly placed keys (which happens more often than you'd think). The New XPS 13's slightly larger keys address our main complaint with the previous generation. 

The cursor keys are a problem for both, in different ways. With the Spectre x360 13t, we constantly hit the cursor key column placed to the right of the Enter key, instead of the Enter key as we intended. The New XPS 13’s cursor keys are tucked into the lower right corner and very tiny. 

Both units use piano-hinge style trackpads made by Synaptics. We prefer the New XPS 13’s, because the wider aspect ratio of the HP Spectre x360 13t's forces us to crank up palm rejection. 

In the end, it’s always about personal preference, so this is pretty much a tie. 

Winner: Tie

dell new xps 13 vs hp spectre x360 13 7 Gordon Mah Ung

Dell’s New XPS 13 (left) features slightly larger keys than in the previous design. The HP Spectre x360 13t’s keyboard (right) is equally good, but each has its drawbacks, too.

Keep reading to see how performance shakes out.

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Gordon Mah Ung

PC World (US online)
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