Dell XPS 13 vs. HP Spectre x360: 13-inch Ultrabook battle royale!

Updated February 14, 2017: We refreshed this article with a few updates to hardware — namely HP's 4K offering and the optional XPS 13 fingerprint reader.

In late 2016 consumers have a great problem when buying a premium Ultrabook: too many good choices. Just a few years ago, Windows users were afflicted with Apple hardware envy — the MacBook laptop line was phenomenal hardware that shamed nearly every PC on the market — but those positions are now ironically reversing.

Today, we pit the redesigned Spectre x360 against the refreshed XPS 13 (9360), so you can have a better idea of the pros and cons of each. Both are at the top of our list for best premium Ultrabooks, but only one can be king.

Specifications: What's different?

You can't start a showdown without comparing specifications. For the most part, both devices offer similar hardware in the 13-inch Ultrabook range. Specifically, they're both using seventh-gen Kaby Lake Intel Core processors, can go up to 16GB of RAM (non upgradeable) and up to 1TB PCI-e solid-state drives (SSD) (user replaceable).

There are some significant differences, however, and those can make all the difference for some people. Here is a simple chart of where these two differ.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
FeatureXPS 13Spectre x360
ConvertibleNoYes
Precision yrackpadYesNo
QHD display optionYesNo
Matte FHD optionYesNo
Glossy FHD optionNoYes
4K display optionNoYes
SD card slotYesNo
LED battery checkYesNo
USB Type-C portOneTwo
USB Type-C Fast ChargeNoYes
Thunderbolt 3.1YesYes
Thin display bezelYes – 3 sidesYes – 2 sides
Pen supportNoYes

Obviously, some of those are a bigger deal than others. Personally, I find a 4K display option and the ability to convert to "tent mode" to be significant differences.

Display

When it comes to screens, both laptops offer fantastic displays. Dell offers two choices – non-touch Matte FHD (1920x1080), and a glossy QHD (3200x1800), touch option. HP offers a glossy 1920x1080 touch configuration, as well as a glossy 4K (3840x2160) touch option.

Dell's IGZO Infinity Edge is no slouch and is probably the better option for most people — especially anyone who values better battery life and a non-glare display. If you want the best display, however, you can't go wrong with HP's 4K touch offering with HP Pen support. It does come at a price, though — it's $300 more than the touch FHD version.

Update: The Microsoft Store sells a unique XPS 13 option: Full HD with Touch (opens in new tab).

Winner: HP

See at Best Buy (opens in new tab)

Keyboard

HP and Dell both deliver better-than-average keyboards. Dell's is black plastic and prone to picking up skin oils, although it does have better backlighting. HP goes for larger, all-metal keys that gives you more room when typing.

Travel is good on both, at 1.3mm, but HP's has a little more bounce-back and is less mushy.

While both are solid, HP's is better.

Winner: HP

See at HP (opens in new tab)

Trackpad

The trackpads on these devices are difficult to evaluate. Here's why: HP has better hardware (smoother and larger), but it relies on Synaptics for software. Dell's hardware is good – not great – but it uses Microsoft Precision for better gestures and movement.

Honestly, it's a wash. Both rate higher than average, and most people should be OK with them. But personal preference will matter here.

Winner: Tie

Build quality

HP opts for an all-metal chassis while Dell divides it between metal and premium carbon fiber. Dell's keyboard is plastic, but that is the only place you'll find it.

Personally, I like the all-metal unibody design. It just gives a better impression, and it feels great. Nonetheless, I can't complain about the XPS 13 either. In fact, the soft-touch finish is more inviting to use since it's not cold to the touch.

I'm going to give HP the nod here, but there's nothing damning about the XPS 13 either. Both are excellent.

Winner: HP

Features – Windows Hello, Wi-Fi and more

The HP Spectre x360 brings Windows Hello to the table with an IR camera so that you can log into Windows 10 with your face. Dell has added an optional fingerprint reader to its XPS 13 that costs an extra $25.

The Spectre x360 also turns into a tablet – a major feature – while the XPS 13 is a "classic" laptop. Both offer touchscreens.

Windows Hello-enabled camera goes a long way on the HP Spectre x360

Windows Hello-enabled camera goes a long way on the HP Spectre x360

Dell's XPS has a Killer Wireless AC35 card in it, but it's not something on which to decide. In most cases, Wi-Fi feels the same.

HP also has USB Type-C fast charge so that you can get a 90 percent charge in 90 minutes. You do need to use the proprietary charger, though. (Other chargers work, just not at full capacity.)

HP includes no less than four speakers (two on top, two on the bottom) that can get super loud, as in "this-is-possibly-the-loudest-laptop-ever" loud. Dell uses just two but offers more bass and is richer sounding. Both have advanced software tuning abilities.

Both companies are great for software and driver support, offering frequent updates and fixes. I like HP's update system a bit better, though.

Dell does give you a dedicated SD card slot. For some people, that is a major feature they still want and need.

Overall, for features, HP comes out ahead because of Type-C Fast Charge. And it's a convertible. It's also stupid loud.

Winner: HP

See at HP (opens in new tab)

Battery

HP features a 58Whr battery in its FHD models, while Dell now squeezes in a 60WHr one across the line. Both laptops are great "all day" choices, but Dell can get further especially if you choose the Full HD, non-touch display.

Winner: Dell

See at Dell (opens in new tab)

Performance

In testing both devices with a Core i7 dual-core processor, it should be no surprise that they get similar scores on Geekbench 4.0 in single- and dual-core tests.

Geekbench 4.0 benchmarks (higher is better)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
DeviceSingle coreDual core
XPS 13 (9360) Core i74,1207829
Spectre x360 Core i74,1007469

There is some slight difference with the SSD performance, with the XPS getting faster write speed and the Spectre getting slightly faster read scores.

CrystalDiskMark benchmarks (higher is better)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
DeviceReadWrite
Spectre x360 5121,332589
XPS 13 (9360) 2561,287794

For all intents and purposes, when evenly spec'd, these laptops are the same.

Winner: Tie

Pricing matters

To be clear, my favorite Ultrabook and "ultimate" Windows 10 laptop is still the Surface Book with Performance Base. If money is no object, I think that device is the one to consider. Nonetheless, that Surface starts at $2,400 and goes up to $3,300 (opens in new tab), putting it out of reach for most users.

By comparison, a maxed-out Dell XPS 13 (9360) is $2,250 (opens in new tab) (with 1TB SSD) while the HP Spectre x360 with a 4K display (opens in new tab) and a 512GB SSD sits at around $1600 — an FHD model with a 1TB SSD also sits around the same point. Starting price for the Dell is just $799 with a Core i3, while the Spectre x360 starts higher with a Core i5 at about $1,050 (opens in new tab).

In other words, you can still get a premium laptop that looks and feels like something in the $2,000 range for a lot less money.

Which laptop is the "best" comes down to what you specifically need. For instance, if you value pen and inking, the Spectre x360 with 4K touch display is a better option.

There is no doubt, though, that your dollar goes further with the HP Spectre x360 than with the Dell XPS 13.

Winner: HP

The overall winner is …

Winning five categories is HP versus Dell's one. Both laptops are tied for two categories.

But whichever one you choose, you should be very pleased. Both Dell and HP have shown the world that they can deliver premium and drool-worthy hardware that's on par or beyond the Apple-quality threshold.

Nonetheless, it's hard to deny that you will pay more for less "stuff" with the Dell XPS 13. A lot of that is because of that IGZO QHD Infinity Edge display. It is not cheap, and it's just marvelous. Still, it's hard to pass on the value found in the Spectre x360.

Dell XPS 13:

XPS 13 | See at Dell (opens in new tab)

For those on a budget, it's a bit reversed. You can get a Dell XPS 13 (9360) with a Full HD non-touch display, Core i3, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage for $799. While those are not amazing specs, you're still getting a high-end premium laptop for well below a thousand bucks.

Update: The Microsoft Store sells a unique XPS 13 option: Full HD with Touch (opens in new tab).

HP Spectre x360:

If you have a little more room in the budget, however, the HP Spectre x360's starting price of $1,050 goes a lot further than the same cash spent on a Dell XPS 13.

A note on the XPS 13 2-in-1

Dell recently released a convertible XPS 13 that closely resembles the original notebook. We'll post standalone face-off between the XPS 13 2-in-1 and the HP Spectre x360 when we've had a chance to compare the two models.

Daniel Rubino
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

53 Comments
  • There actually is a FHD w/touch option for the 9360 and 9350. Check the Microsoft Store.
  • Oh yeah, that's such an odd thing. Never seen one myself.
  • Personally, I think you can stop reading after "Convertible" and "Windows Hello".  Heading into 2017, I'm not interested in any computer that doesn't have both of those (I own the 2016 Spectre x/360 and love it).
  • It's a fair point. Though I'd say the XPS 13's secret weapon is that IGZO display, it's so impressive.
  • Hey Daniel!! Messenger recieved an update with new UI and loads of new feature
  • I'm still a massive fan of matte screens, i wish more devices used them as sunlight can still be a major issue in usability. I never actually use my Surface as a tablet so I'm not sure I'd miss that feature. Windows Hello though, my God I wish I had that on my PC.
  • The downside, though, is that it's a Dell. And Dells are the worst.
  • When is the last time you used a Dell? Sure, all manufacturers have their issues and all make cheap laptops but none of the XPS line are cheap or problematic. You sound like someone who had a bad experience with Dell Support in the mid to late 2000's and is holding a grudge against the entire company.
  • I used to think Dells were horrible too until about 2 years ago when they redeemed themselves with better laptops. But yeah he is behind on the news. He obviously never read a full review of an XPS 13 or XPS 15.
  • And plus dell driver support is just epic
  • I returned a Dell XPS 15 last year that was the biggest POS ever. To make matters worse, their tech support has sold my information to every scam artist on the planet and I get calls about that computer (which is long gone) being hacked every other day. Dell has a huge problem with their $2 a day, third world slugs selling your information.
  • I totally agree Daniel.  The screen on the Dell is hard to bypass 
  • I have Spectre x360 2015 and love it. But have not used the convertible feature more than 1-2 times during the time I have had it. To me it does not count much.
  • I've started to grumble a little whenever I sit down at our desktop and have to type a password. My other devices all have Hello: 1. HP Elite x3 (phone): fingerprint or iris scan 2. HP Spectre x360 (home laptop): face scan 3. ThinkPad T450 (work laptop): fingerprint, although it's not nearly as reliable so I do end up typing a password a lot Passwords need to die. I wouldn't have called it a must have feature before I bought it, but now I have a hard time imagining going back.
  • Have you tried using Window 10's Picture Password option? It still is my preferred way of logging in on my Surface Pro 4 and desktop due to good balance between reliability and ease. Works well with both touch and mouse and does not require specialized hardware like camera or fingerprint scanner.
  • I still have a hard time to understand what's the point being convertible and not having the possibility for a stylus. There are more things that could be inputted to a computer these days than just typing, and touching controls with fingers. For me, as good this HP is, it's a fail.
  • I generaly prefer ASUS, but if I had to pick one, I'd go with the XPS 13. For two main reasons: the display which is amazing and the fact that it comes in black. Backlit silver is pretty pointless given how faded the light becomes. And I'd need to see the keys well in low light.   Unfortunately for Dell and fortunately for HP, Dell computers are nowhere to be seen in this country. We can't buy one. Which pretty much would ensure that I'd end up having to buy either the 360 if I could only pick between the two. Which is a shame.
  • @DJCBS
    What country do you live?
    No Dell computers?
    Surely, you must be able to order at Dell website.
    In UK, Dell is easily the most popular brand in corporate environment.
    Although, my company give you choice between:
    Dell desktop
    Surface Pro 4
    Mac Pro (last gen)
  • Thanks for the excellent discussion, Daniel. I have a first generation X360 (on which I use digital inking every day), and I am glad that HP has improved on that already excellent device for 2016. I have seen emotion-laden negative statements regarding quality control against both HP and Dell in these forums, but the fit and finish on my HP have been flawless for me. This is a great time for PC users, as there is so much high-quality tech made by many different manufacturers.  The decision to buy a particular PC comes down to what combination of features does one need. The "best" 13-inch laptop is the one that fits your needs, and not necessarily what other people think about the device. Thanks again.
  • Cheers. Yeah, the quality control issue is funny. I follow all the forums closely and AFAIK they all have that same rep. Even Razer. And it's not that they are bad in QC or CS, but people have personal bad experiences and generalize them to all devices or ignore that companies can improve. Nonetheless, I do think all these companies could get a bit better. Even Microsoft has had some QC issues with Surface. It's a hard problem.
  • Quality of HP has historically been miles ahead of Dell. Not that it was all that good, just that Dells are beyond awful. I don't know about recent history, but I literally had multiple Dells explode in the 90s and 00s. One just made an incredibly loud bang and then smelled like ozone (no pieces actually went flying and there was no fire, but it never turned on again) and two others burst into smoke/sparks -- one at the power supply and one inside the laptop. It may well be that Dells are better now, but I will never trust them again. I have PDSD (post-Dell stress disorder). Indeed, for about 15 years, my one piece of advice to anyone looking to buy a PC has been, "Just not a Dell." A few people have not heeded my advice. Every one of them has regretted it.
  • I don't know about that....I had 3 DV series HPs all take a crap on me. I had 3 dells that were perfect. Acer was actually the most reliable Computer brand in my stable. I had probably 30-35 of them with nothing more than a battery replacement (which was really just from the amount of use it had)....