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March 24, 2017

Dell’s XPS 15 vs. Apple’s MacBook Pro 15: Which premium laptop is the best on the market?

by John_A

Any company can develop a powerful laptop. After all, everyone uses the same internal components: Intel Core processors, Nvidia or AMD graphics chips, and lightning-fast solid-state drives. You can even do it yourself if you have the knowhow, but Dell and Apple have the resources and institutional knowledge to take things a step further than the competition.

More: The best laptop you can buy

The Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 15 are natural rivals. Set them on a desk beside each other, and the comparisons almost make themselves. They’re both thoughtfully constructed from premium materials, feature high-end internal components, and they’re both flagship products from their respective companies.

Each one represents thousands upon thousands of hours of research, development, and industrial design — and it shows. These laptops are impeccable, so to find out which one comes out on top in a direct comparison, we’re going to have to dig deep and get picky. Read on for more details.

By the numbers

Dell XPS 15 9560

MacBook Pro 15 with Touch Bar

.45-.66 (H) x 14.06 (W), x 9.27 (D) inches
.61 (H) x 13.75 (W) x 9.48 (D) inches
4 pounds
4.02 pounds
7th-generation Intel Core i3, i5, or i7
6th-generation Intel Core i7
8GB, 16GB, or 32GB
15-inch 1080p or 4K Touchscreen
15-inch Retina
1920x 1080, or 3840 x 2160
2880 x 1800
256GB, 512GB, or 1TB SSD
256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB SSD
Killer 1535 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.1
802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
1x HDMI 1.4, 2x USB 3.0, 1x Thunderbolt 3, 1x Ethernet, SD Card Reader, 3.5mm headphone jack, Kensington Lock
4x USB Type-C, Thunderbolt 3.1, 3.5mm Headphone Jack
Widescreen HD 720p
FaceTime HD 720p
Operating System
Windows 10
MacOS Sierra
97 Watt-hours
76 Watt-hours
$1000 and up
$2,400 and up
Available now
Available now
4.5 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars (13-inch model)

Thunderbolt vs. everything else

The MacBook Pro 15 is a masterclass in thoughtful, inspired design. Everything from the key travel to the precisely calibrated display belies an uncompromising design philosophy that is characteristically Apple. It’s simple, streamlined, and sometimes a headache.

Apple’s been under fire for eliminating ports over the past year, namely the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack on the iPhone 7. The MacBook Pro has also eliminated nearly every extraneous port and replaced them with a quartet of lightning-fast Thunderbolt/USB Type-C ports.

It’s forward-thinking, and a year from now we might not even notice the absence of older port standards. But today, we certainly do. To be fair, being able to charge your laptop from either side is a joy, and having the freedom to choose where you plug in your devices is appreciably intuitive — carrying around a set of adapters is not.

More: Here are the 10 best USB Type-C cables on the market today

Which is why it’s refreshing that the Dell XPS 15 takes a different tack. By supplying a standard array of ports — including one HDMI, two USB, one Thunderbolt, and an SD card slot — Dell provides a straightforward peripheral experience that you probably won’t even need to think about in your day-to-day life. If you need a port, it’s there. Done and done.

Winner: Dell XPS 15

Outstanding design vs. remarkable engineering

Cover up the logos, put aside your personal feelings toward both companies and just look at these two notebooks. These laptops both represent the pinnacle of contrasting design philosophies and they’re both just fantastic products.

It’s 2017, and this is what laptops should look like, feel like, and offer to their users; exceptional design, solid build quality, and nimble performance in lightweight 1.5cm chasses.

So how do these two compare? The XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 15 are the perfect size for mobile workstations. The rich, vibrant 15-inch displays give you enough real estate to work from a desk without feeling cramped, and both notebooks are small enough to comfortably use from your couch.

More: A tale of two similar machines: HP’s Spectre 360 13 vs. Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1

Apple has doubled down on its signature aluminum unibody, updating a few elements to modernize the tried-and-true design — most notably, ditching the familiar glowing Apple logo for an etched metallic version.

The matte aluminum is just extraordinarily pleasant to the touch. It feels good under your wrists while you’re typing, and doesn’t attract fingerprints the way soft-touch TPU finishes tend to, and it just perfectly embodies the premium aesthetic Apple was undoubtedly shooting for.

Similarly, the XPS 15 benefits from an inspired industrial design. Featuring aluminum plates on the lid and underbody, the interior of the laptop is lined with carbon fiber layered over with a soft-touch coating. It’s an attractive, understated, and professional design, elevated by the inclusion of such an exotic material.

Viewed from the top, it looks just like a black plastic lining common to Dell laptops, but once the light hits it just right, those fibers give the XPS 15 a truly unique sense of depth. Nothing says “we’re living in the future” like carrying around a mobile supercomputer clad in futuristic metamaterials.

They’re both lightweight, remarkably well-made, and they both epitomize different design philosophies.

Winner: Tie

Intel vs. Intel

Pop the hood, and you’ll notice a few key differences between the XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro 15. First, the XPS utilizes Intel’s latest 7th-generation Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 chips — depending on the model — while the MacBook Pro 15 employs a few of Intel’s quickest 6th-generation processors.

The difference here is minor, but important. If you’re unfamiliar, Intel’s 7th-generation “Kaby Lake” processors are the successors to the 6th-generation “Skylake” models. Essentially, the newer chips are a little faster and a little more power efficient. You might not notice a difference in everyday use today, but you might a year or two down the line.

Similarly, the Dell XPS 15 features one of Nvidia’s latest graphics cards, the modest performing GeForce GTX 1050, with 4GB of RAM. The MacBook Pro features the AMD Radeon Pro 450, 455, or 460 depending on your specs. Only the most expensive Radeon offering, the Pro 460, can come close to the GTX 1050 in gaming performance.

Both laptops feature lightning-quick memory options, but the XPS can be scaled up to 32GB of RAM, while the MacBook Pro is currently stuck with 16GB. Moving on to storage space, the opposite is true. The MacBook Pro is scalable from 256GB to 2TB, while the XPS 15 only ranges from 256GB to 1TB. Of course, these days we all have a few external drives handy, but the extra storage space in the MacBook Pro will be important for video and photo editors.

More: AMD rumored to be working on a 16-core, 32-thread Ryzen CPU due later this year

Still, this round goes to the XPS 15 for its quicker CPU, and well-rounded graphical performance with GTX 1050 equipped. It’s not a gaming laptop, but you can play games without much difficulty. The same cannot be said for the MacBook Pro.

Winner: XPS 15

4K vs. Retina

Before we dig into display quality, it’s important to point out that both of these notebooks feature absolutely stunning displays. The 4K touchscreen panel in the XPS 15 is a marvel to behold, while the MacBook Pro 15’s Retina display is so clear it’s like you’re looking out a window.

Looking at the numbers, the XPS 15’s 4K display is capable of rendering 99 percent of the AdobeRGB scale, an impressive number for any display especially for a laptop display. A good laptop display will usually hit around 76 percent. The MacBook Pro 15 hits only 91 percent, but it pulls ahead in another important metric.

Color accuracy is one of those measurements you see thrown around alongside brightness, and black levels, but when you can compare two displays side-by-side showing the same image, all three come into sharp contrast.

macbook pro  vs dell xps hero

macbook pro  vs dell xps apple with touch bar hands on

The MacBook Pro features an average color error of 0.61, meaning colors are reproduced so faithfully that you can rely on this display for color-sensitive work like photo and video editing. More than that though, the pitch-perfect color accuracy means that everything appears vibrant and alive on this display. Colors are clearly delineated, shifts from one shade to another are subtle but noticeable.

More: BenQ’s E-Series line has a new display for PC gamers and one for graphic designers

Additionally, the contrast ratio on the MacBook Pro’s Retina display is fantastic, at 910 to 1, so photos have an unusual sense of depth. Movies and videos all seem to pop in a way that they just don’t on the XPS 15’s 4K display, which features a contrast ratio of 770 to 1 at max brightness.

There are hundreds of metrics by which you can judge display quality, but at the end of the day, your eyeball is the most important tool. So, which one looks better? The MacBook Pro. While the XPS 15 looks great in 4K, higher max brightness, the MacBook’s superior contrast ratio, and excellent color accuracy push the Retina display just slightly ahead of its nearest competitors.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Click vs. travel

Both the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 15 are perhaps best used as daily drivers, your everyday work-and-home laptop, as constant a companion as your smartphone. For that reason, usability is extremely important. If you’re going to sit in front of a laptop for a substantial part of your day, it should be pleasant to use. The keyboard and trackpad should melt away, and never even cross your mind. They should feel as natural as your own hands.

Let’s start with the XPS 15. Here, the keyboard is almost invisible. Once you start typing, you never even think about it. It doesn’t feel too soft, too clickety-clackety, and key travel is just enough without feeling too deep or too shallow. This keyboard rests comfortably in the Goldilocks’ zone. It just feels natural.

The trackpad is similarly inoffensive. It’s smooth and accurate, with multi-touch gestures that respond naturally and without any input delay. The trackpad itself feels very good to the touch, it’s soft and slick, your fingertips just effortlessly glide across.

More: GPD demonstrates prototype of 7-inch netbook running Windows 10

The MacBook Pro 15 on the other hand, features three very polarizing input devices. First up, the keyboard. It’s snappy and quick, with an appreciable amount of backlighting — though it appears the keys are just slightly too thick in some places, so the backlight doesn’t show through evenly when turned all the way up. The built-in butterfly switches offer a satisfying click but very little key travel, which can be a dealbreaker for users more accustomed to keyboards with deeper travel. Here, it’s purely a matter of preference though, since both keyboards are quick, accurate, and well-laid out.

Moving on, the MacBook Pro’s multi-touch trackpad is luxuriantly large. It’s more like a small football field than a traditional trackpad. Seriously, this thing is massive, almost double the size of a traditional trackpad. With all that extra space, you have a lot more room for those big sweeping multitouch gestures built-in to MacOS — three finger, four finger swipes, five-finger pinches.

So what’s controversial about a big trackpad? The Taptic Engine, Apple’s proprietary haptic-feedback device which simulates a mechanical click, when you tap the trackpad. There’s no actual click here, just a simulation of one, but it’s so convincing you might not even notice.

More: Outlook 2016 for Mac now works with the Touch Bar and all of those cool add-ins

Otherwise, the MacBook Pro 15’s trackpad remains one of the best, if not the best trackpad on the market today. It’s smooth, glassy, with just enough texture to give you a nice tactile feel without slowing you down.

What’s the third input option? The Touch Bar. Yep, that thing we all speculated about for months, and then totally forgot about right after it was announced. The added functionality isn’t exactly essential, but you might find yourself using it more than you’d expect. Not for anything exciting, just for minor things like changing font color, and locking your screen.

This one’s really close, but we’re going to have to give it to the MacBook Pro. Not because of the Touch Bar, or the next-generation butterfly switches in the keyboard, but because of that trackpad. It remains the most responsive and most intuitive trackpad on the market, and the increased size really gives your hands room to stretch out.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Optimization vs. longevity

Let’s say you have a messenger bag. In that messenger bag there is a zippered, padded pocket for a laptop, the bag is designed to carry a 13-inch laptop in that pouch. There’s a chance the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 15 will both fit inside that pouch. At the same time.

Because both laptops have narrowed their display bezels to the absolute minimum, they’ve both managed to fit 15-inch displays into a chassis with the overall footprint close to what you’d expect from a laptop with a 13-inch display from 2014 or 2015.

Close them up, and it’s hard to believe they’re 15-inch laptops. At four pounds, they’re extremely light, and easy to pick up, not to mention impossibly thin. Toss one in a bag, and you’ll almost forget it’s there.

What about overall form factor? The XPS 15 has a tapered design, which means it’s thicker at the back than it is at the front, while the MacBook Pro is thin across the board. Further, the MacBook Pro is a fraction of a pound heavier, but it somehow feels lighter. Due to overall weight distribution, it’s a little easier to just pick up and carry. Due to its uniform thickness, it’s easier to slip into a bag, but only a little.

So this round goes to the MacBook Pro, right? Well, there’s more to portability than footprint. Let’s talk about battery life.

More: Razer Power Bank looks good while keeping USB devices charged up

The MacBook Pro 15 features a 75WHr battery, which provides enough longevity to get through most of a single workday on a single charge — we tend to get around 6 hours of mixed use with the display brightness turned up to compete with bright office lights. The XPS 15 features a 95WHr battery, and it’s capable of hitting closer to 7 hours on an average workday.

There are two other factors to consider when you’re looking at those battery life estimates. First, by default the MacBook Pro has GPU switching enabled — which means it switches off the AMD Radeon Pro GPU when you’re on battery power, which can increase your battery life significantly. Without it, you’d be hard pressed to get more than five hours at high brightness — and closer to four if you’re running Windows via Boot Camp.

Secondly, the XPS 15 has a higher resolution display, and more power-hungry GPU, but still manages to outperform the MacBook Pro’s battery life due to its larger battery size. Both laptops deliver acceptable battery life, and the XPS 15 wins when it comes to longevity, but the MacBook Pro wins on overall footprint and portability. This round is a tie.

Winner: Tie


This round is simple and straightforward. Just look at the numbers: the MacBook Pro 15 starts at $2,400 and goes all the way up to $4,300. The XPS 15 on the other hand, starts at $1000, and tops out around $2,600. There’s just nothing more to say, the XPS 15 wins this round by a huge margin.

Winner: XPS 15

Who wins?

It’s cheesy to say, but really, laptop users are the real winners here. Dell and Apple have each outdone themselves with these computers, they’re both just superb — and they both have their flaws. You’re not going to agree with our picks for each category, and that’s because everyone weighs those categories differently. For some, price and performance take precedence over design and display, for others, the opposite is true. There’s no right or wrong answer here, it’s like picking between a BMW and a Mercedes. Dig into the details and you’ll find the one that’s right for you.

More: Looking for something even more professional? Check out the Dell Precision

That said, the XPS 15 is the better value. For most people it’s the best laptop on the market, and it’s probably the one you should buy. If you’re not sure, go to an Apple Store and get your hands on a MacBook Pro 15. Are the display fidelity and build quality worth the extra cash? Maybe, maybe not. Objectively speaking though, the XPS 15 wins this battle if only by a hair.

Winner Overall: Dell XPS 15

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