[In-Depth Comparison] Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320 – Very compelling little machines

Nowadays, even 13-inch laptops are quite powerful, as even low-TDP chips offer a lot of performance, allowing many people to take their work on the go.

Today, we have two representatives of the market, with the 2022 MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320. The MacBook brings the unique Apple user experience, including the new M2 SoC, which is one of a kind. On the other hand, the XPS 13 could be decently more powerful thanks to its Alder Lake P-series processors, due to the higher power limits.

As these are premium devices, performance is just a smidge of what you’re getting, so we find nothing better to do than to compare the two and see how the most affordable MacBook stacks up against the best portable notebook that Dell can offer.

Today we’re comparing the Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022) against the Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320.

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022): Full Specs / In-depth Review

Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320: Full Specs / In-depth Review

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022) configurations:

Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320 configurations:

Contents


Design and construction

Both laptops are enveloped in metal, giving them plenty of durability and flex resistance. However, there are some noticeable differences in the design.

The new MacBook Air has copied the bigger Pro 14 and Pro 16 models, with a sharper lid and a very rounded bottom panel, which looks a bit asymmetrical, but we got used to it pretty quickly. The lid has a glossy Apple logo, while the bottom has four large round rubber feet. In terms of weight, the laptop stops the scales at 1.24 kg, while having a very thin profile of 11.3 mm.

The Dell laptop has a much sharper and more futuristic design, with a debossed logo on the lid. It is a tiny bit heavier, with a weight of 1.27 kg, but also thicker, with a profile of 16 mm. On both laptops, the lid opens with one hand, revealing some big surprises.


Keyboard and touchpad

The MacBook greets us with a notch, along with a pretty standard keyboard. Typing on it feels great, as, despite the short travel, the feedback is exceptionally clicky. The power button also has an embedded fingerprint reader. The touchpad looks comically big and it is one of the best units that we’ve had in our lab, but it looked uneven, with the left side being lifted up, which is uncharacteristic of Apple, whose appeal is closely tied to the quality and attention to detail.

The XPS 13 doesn’t have a notch but has a very futuristic keyboard, surrounded by two glass slabs. The unit doesn’t have a lattice, the plastic frame between the keys, which leads to larger keycaps. The unit has a similar typing experience, with short travel and clicky feedback. The top piece of glass acts as the F-row of keys, using a haptic motor to mimic clicks. The bottom piece houses the touchpad, which uses the same tactic. However, the area of the pad isn’t highlighted, so you’ll be going in blind.


Ports

The port selection is definitely a weak point of the two laptops, with both offering two Thunderbolt 4 ports, with Gen 3 for the MacBook, and Gen 4 for the Dell XPS 13.

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022)

Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320


Disassembly, upgrade options

Due to the Unified Memory Architecture of the Apple M2 SoC, both the RAM and storage are soldered on the motherboard. This also means that there’s no need to disassemble the laptop, which also uses passive cooling, so there are essentially no moving parts inside. While the XPS 13 also has soldered RAM, it provides one M.2 PCIe x4 SSD slot, with support for Gen 4 drives.


Spec sheet


Display quality

Both laptops have a very simple display selection with only one panel. For the MacBook, this means a 13.6-inch IPS  panel with a resolution of 2560 x 1664p and a 14:9 aspect ratio. It’s not a regular IPS panel, as it’s LED-backlit, which Apple dubs a Liquid Retina Display. It has a pixel density of 224 PPI, a pitch of 0.11 x 0.11 mm, and a Retina distance of 39 cm.

On the Dell laptop, we have a 13.4-inch 16:10 IPS display with a pixel density of 169 PPI, a pitch of 0.15 x 0.15 mm, and a Retina distance of 50 cm.

The displays come with comfortable viewing angles. Here are images at 45 degrees to evaluate quality.

The MacBook’s display is the brighter of the two, reaching 514 nits in the middle of the screen and 502 nits on average across the entire area, with a maximum deviation of only 5%. It has a contrast ratio of 1340:1.

The XPS 13 isn’t that far behind, with a peak brightness of 451 nits in the middle of the screen and 434 nits on average across the surface with a maximum deviation of 14%. The contrast ratio is a lot higher, however, at 2140:1.


Color coverage

To make sure we are on the same page, we would like to give you a little introduction to the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. To start, there’s the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye, giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy.

Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that is being used by millions of people on HDTV and on the web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used in professional cameras, monitors, etc for printing. Basically, colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is the essential part of the color quality and color accuracy of a mainstream notebook.

Still, we’ve included other color spaces like the famous DCI-P3 standard used by movie studios, as well as the digital UHD Rec.2020 standard. Rec.2020, however, is still a thing of the future and it’s difficult for today’s displays to cover that well. We’ve also included the so-called Michael Pointer gamut, or Pointer’s gamut, which represents the colors that naturally occur around us every day.

The yellow dotted line shows the color coverage of both the MacBook Air and the XPS 13 Plus. The Apple device has 100% sRGB and 99% DCI-P3 coverage, while the Dell covers 88% of the sRGB gamut.


Color accuracy

We tested the accuracy of the display with 24 commonly used colors like light and dark human skin, blue sky, green grass, orange, etc. You can check out the results in factory condition and also, with the “Design and Gaming” profile.

Below you can check the results from the test of both laptops, with both the factory settings (left) and with our “Design and Gaming” profile applied (right).

The MacBook’s display comes calibrated from the factory, but the dE value is still a bit high. The Dell panel gets a lot more accurate with our profile, with a dE value of 1.4.

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022)

Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320 


Response time (Gaming capabilities)

We test the reaction time of the pixels with the usual “black-to-white” and “white-to-black” method from 10% to 90% and vice versa.

Both panels have the same Fall + Rise time of 23.3 ms.


Health Impact – PWM / Blue light

PWM – screen flickering

Pulse-width modulation (PWM) is an easy way to control monitor brightness. When you lower the brightness, the light intensity of the backlight is not lowered, but instead turned off and on by the electronics with a frequency indistinguishable by the human eye. In these light impulses, the light/no-light time ratio varies, while brightness remains unchanged, which is harmful to your eyes. You can read more about that in our dedicated article on PWM.

Both laptops use no PWM across all brightness levels, meaning that the displays are comfortable to use, without presenting any excessive eye strain in this aspect.


Blue light emissions

Installing our Health-Guard profile not only eliminates PWM but also reduces the harmful Blue Light emissions while keeping the colors of the screen perceptually accurate. If you’re not familiar with the Blue light, the TL;DR version is – emissions that negatively affect your eyes, skin, and your whole body. You can find more information about that in our dedicated article on Blue Light.

Buy our profiles

Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320 13.4″ M91GW-134WU1 (INT3480) (FHD+, 1920 × 1200) IPS: Buy our profiles

Battery

Both laptops carry similarly sized batteries, with 52.6Wh for the MacBook and 55Wh for the Dell XPS 13. The Apple device has a much more balanced battery life, and while the XPS 13 lasts for 2 hours and 47 minutes more in web browsing, the MacBook comes back strong, outlasting its competitor by 6 hours and 15 minutes in video playback. The way we test the laptops is with the screen brightness adjusted to 120 nits and all other programs turned off except for the one we are testing the notebook with.

For every test like this, we use the same video in HD.

In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script for automatic web browsing through over 70 websites.


Performance

In terms of hardware, the MacBook is powered by the M2 SoC, which includes an octa-core CPU with 4 Performance and 4 Efficiency cores. It uses either an 8-core or a 10-core GPU. On the side of the Dell device, we have the Alder Lake P-series, with one Core i5 and three Core i7 chips. It doesn’t have a discrete GPU, relying on iGPU power only, with the Iris Xe Graphics G7.

CPU benchmarks

We tested the M2 against the Core i7-1260P, with the Core i7 mopping the floor with its opponent, scoring 84% higher in the Cinebench 20 3D Rendering benchmark.

Results are from the Cinebench R23 CPU test (the higher the score, the better)

The newer Cinebench R23 favors the Intel CPU as well, with the Core i7 scoring 30% higher, while the MacBook is quicker in Geekbench 5, with an 11% higher single-core score and a 22% higher multi-core score.

Cinebench R23single/multi Geekbench 5
Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022)83611911/8979(+11% , 22%)
Dell XPS 13 Plus 932010847 (+30%)1729/7369

Temperatures and comfort

The MacBook uses passive cooling, so no fans or moving parts inside the machine. On the other hand, the XPS 13 has one big thick heat pipe with two fans at the left and right sides.


Max CPU load

Apple M20:02 – 0:10 sec0:15 – 0:30 sec10:00 – 15:00 min
Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022)89°C104°C90°C

The laptop isn’t made for prolonged loads, going as high as 104°C. In the final stage, temperatures are more bearable, at 90°C. Sadly, we can’t check out the clock speeds, since Apple is so uptight about letting their customers get deeper knowledge about their own devices.

Intel Core i7-1260P (28W TDP)0:02 – 0:10 sec0:15 – 0:30 sec10:00 – 15:00 min
Dell XPS 13 Plus 93202.88 GHz @ 2.39 GHz @ 78°C @ 47W2.76 GHz @ 2.33 GHz @ 94°C @ 44W2.08 GHz @ 1.67 GHz @ 82°C @ 28W

The Dell’s Core i7-1260P starts off pretty good, with a sub-50W TDP and decent clock speeds. In the end, the laptop runs at its advertised 28W TDP, while the clock speeds are pretty low.

Comfort during full load

Both laptops have an external temperature of 43°C, while the MacBook is dead-silent. The XPS 13 makes some noise, however, the whole base heats up, so even the palm rest area loses its cool spot.


Verdict

As much as these two laptops are similar, they are also very different. Starting with the similarities, the build quality is amazing, with the aluminum chassis on both devices being as tough as nails. The input devices are also pretty good, with large and accurate trackpads, while the keyboards are great for typing, with shorter but consistent key travel and clicky feedback. I/O coverage is pretty slim, with only two Thunderbolt ports for both machines.

The Dell device is the better one when it comes to upgradeability, with one M.2 slot. However, you’d have to replace the drive that’s already inside, so you’d either have to clean install Windows or find a way to clone the existing SSD.

Both laptops have displays that are suitable for Creator work, and while the Dell panel has slightly lower color coverage, its colors get more accurate. The battery life of the MacBook is more balanced between web browsing and video playback, with around 18 hours for either. And while the XPS 13 lasts longer in web browsing, it’s significantly, behind in video playback.

Moving over to performance, the Dell laptop does have more power, scoring higher in the Cinebench R20 and Cinebench R23 benchmarks. Its Core i7-1260P reaches quite high TDPs in the entry stages of our stress tests, which also spices up the temperatures. However, it still runs cooler than the M2, mainly due to the presence of the two fans, which is much better than the passive cooling on the MacBook.

If you’re already part of the Apple ecosystem, with other Apple devices in your household, you will probably appreciate the new MacBook Air. That said, if you already own the M1-powered model, you should wait out, since the generational gap in performance is nice, but nothing extraordinary. On the other hand, the XPS 13 is more performing, while looking just as amazing. However, it’s a bit more expensive, with the Core i7 model hovering around $1,600, which is quite a lot more than the $1,049 that Apple wants for their laptop.

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022): Full Specs / In-depth Review

Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320: Full Specs / In-depth Review

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022) configurations:

Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320 configurations:


Why choose the Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022)?

  • More balanced battery life
  • No noise, regardless of workload
  • Display with much higher color coverage


Why choose the Dell XPS 13 Plus 9320?

  • Active cooling does a better job in prolonged loads
  • Futuristic design

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