Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Clash of the titans

Can Apple take on the king of enterprise tech?

Ultraportable laptops are trendy, and for good reason; they’re light, convenient, and highly efficient. The migration of businesses and IT buyers towards these slimmer systems is a demonstration of just how good the industry has become at minimizing excessive product bulk.

And while the favoring of low-powered processors and fanless designs have kept laptop sizes and weights to an absolute minimum, some jobs simply require a heftier machine with higher working capabilities. Graphic design and video work, for example, both require not only a full-fat quad-core processor, but also a dedicated GPU to handle substantial rendering jobs. 

An ideal machine, then, is a machine that tiptoes the line between high-performance notebook and mobile workstation: Enter Apple's 15in MacBook Pro and the Dell XPS 15.

These two devices have emerged as industry powerhouses - the most popular choices for users in need of an extra bit of durability and finesse. Their competition? Gaming laptops, mostly, which are capable of operating a variety of diverse tasks, ranging from leisure to the intricately complex. 

The 15in MacBook Pro and the Dell XPS stand their ground as fierce competitors, however - both are incredibly sleek devices with top-notch internal hardware and large, high-resolution screens for maximum productivity and visual fidelity.

These machines - thanks to the growth of interoperable, cross-platform software in recent years - are both outstanding and highly efficient. In consequence, the Mac-versus-PC question is less a question of compatibility and more one of personal taste. The only downside in choosing either is the money factor: neither machine is particularly cheap. With that in mind, we've put the two machines head to head to bring you the definitive ruling on which is most deserving of your hard-earned salary.

Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Design and appearance

Design-wise, Apple hasn't changed anything since last year's MacBook Pro - it's still the same dimensions and finish, and it's still sporting the OLED Touch Bar. We've absolutely no complaints about this, however; it's as still as sleek and beautiful as ever, with the same aluminium chassis and perfectly rounded corners. Not much needs to be said about the MacBook Pro's design - it's iconic.

Aerial shot of the Apple MacBook Pro 15in (2018) with the lid closed

It's also remarkably slim and light for a 15in laptop. It's not quite the lightest we've seen - that honour still goes to the featherweight LG Gram - but tipping the scales at 1.8kg, it's still svelte. A 1.6cm thickness is also notable for a notebook of this size, particularly one with so much power under the hood.

Surprisingly, it's a feat that Dell has very nearly managed to equal. The XPS 15 has a maximum width of 1.7cm, tapering to 1.1cm at its thinnest edge which, although the actual difference is negligible, makes it feel slightly thicker than the MacBook. The model we tested was also slightly heavier at 2kg, which does make a difference if you're going to be carting it around from meeting to meeting. Lighter configurations are available, but they have a 1080p non-touch display, rather than the 4K touch-enabled panel of our review unit as well as a smaller battery.

Aesthetically, the XPS 15 is every bit the MacBook Pro's equal. Although it eschews the MacBook Pro's smooth minimalism in favour of angular lines, black detailing and the signature carbon fibre-effect keyboard surround, it's just as attractive; which one you go for is pretty much up to your personal preference. They're both sturdy and well-built too, so longevity shouldn't be an issue.

Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Keyboard and trackpad

The keyboard and trackpad are the heart of any laptop. Even if you're planning to use an external mouse and keyboard, it's worth making sure that the inbuilt ones are up to scratch, just in case you need to take it on the road. Thankfully, both the XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro are absolutely superb in this regard.

Dell has fitted the XPS 15 with an excellent keyboard and trackpad. The keys are responsive, offering a decent travel depth and good, crisp feedback. Similarly, the trackpad is sensitive, with a smooth matte finish that makes gliding your finger over it very easy. Put up against any other laptop, the XPS would win this category by a country mile.

Unfortunately, the XPS is not up against any other laptop. It's up against a MacBook- a family of devices that consistently feature best-in-class inputs. It's fair to say that the new MacBook Pro represents Apple's best trackpad and keyboard combo to date, too.

The MacBook Pro's keyboard uses the same butterfly mechanism as the previous generation, but it's been further refined since then and now features a rubber underlay beneath the keys. Apple says this is to make the keyboard however - and it does - but it's also to stop dust ingress causing hardware failures - a problem which plagued last year's MacBook Pros.

As with last year's model, it's the best laptop keyboard we've ever used by quite some distance. There's virtually no travel depth - which is usually a negative - but on the flip side, you need barely a whisper of actuation force to trigger a keystroke. It will probably require you to modify your typing style slightly, but once you have, you'll find your fingers dancing over the keys like a concert pianist.

Similarly, the MacBook's Force Touch trackpad dwarfs that of the XPS, providing a surface area that's almost 50% bigger. This makes both standard navigation and touch-based gesture shortcuts much easier and provides a generally more pleasant user experience.

The MacBook Pro offers the best typing experience we've had, bar none. While Dell's offering is more than capable, it won't change the way you work - and the MacBook Pro's keyboard genuinely feels like it will. The same is true of the trackpad; after using the MacBook Pro, it's very hard to go back to anything else.

Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Display

Apple is well-known for its impressive displays, packing in as many pixels as possible into its 13-inch and 15-inch MacBooks (hence the "Retina display" moniker the company introduced to its laptop lineup in 2012).

Although in numbers the 2,880 x 1,800 pixels of the 15-inch MacBook may not match the Dell XPS's 4K panel, it really does excel in terms of vibrancy and contrast. The MacBook's 445cd/m2 maximum brightness and 1,409:1 contrast ratio add depth and quality, even if the pixel count is lacking.

What transforms the experience even further is its True Tone display, which has migrated over from the iPad Pro. This means the MacBook Pro's display will automatically change according to the ambient light and, therefore, it's designed to reduce the strain on your eyes when looking at your screen in dwindling light (or of course, bright sunshine).

It does, unfortunately, knock some of the colour accuracy off the screens when enabled, but the benefits far outweigh this little niggle if you're using the computer over a prolonged period of time.

Although Dell's screen has a higher resolution than Apple's MacBook Pro, this doesn't mean it's better. The resolution does look good, but it's not noticeably different to Apple's, even when editing photos and videos when you'd expect to see a vast improvement.

Unfortunately, the only alternative to the 4K panel is to drop down to 1080p, which is a little too much of a downgrade for our liking. We would have preferred a compromise of QHD, which would occupy a comfortable middle-ground between the two. The 4K version is the only one that's touch-enabled though, so bear that in mind if it's a feature you're particularly keen on.

It's also not quite as accurate as the MacBook Pro, with a sRGB gamut coverage of 95.5% as opposed the 99% achieved by Apple's machine. Don't get us wrong, the XPS is still a great screen, and a very capable one at that - but it's not quite as impressive as the MacBook Pro when it comes to colour-sensitive work. The maximum brightness of 428cd/m2 also trails slightly behind, although the 1638.1:1 contrast ratio is a little better.

It must be said, however, that Dell's virtually bezel-free InfinityEdge display is much more visually striking than the MacBook Pro and its thick screen borders. It also means that the XPS has a slightly smaller footprint than the MacBook Pro, which adds to the portability a little.

Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Specs and hardware

For big 15in devices like these two, performance is always a key consideration, and now that both devices have been updated to feature Intel's 8th-generation processors, the two are on a more or less even playing field. Before we get into performance, however, let's talk hardware.

Both devices are based on Intel's 8th-gen chips, but Dell (unsurprisingly) offers a greater degree of choice, with Core i5, Core i7 and Core i9 models and a maximum RAM of 32GB.

Apple, meanwhile, offers two base configurations, both with Core i7 processors and 16GB of RAM, with a Core i9 processor and a 32GB RAM allocation available as optional upgrades. Both devices come with professional GPUs - in the case of the XPS 15 that's the Nvidia 1050 Ti (unless you opt for the cheaper Core i5 configuration) while the MacBook Pro features the Radeon Pro 555X or 560X. Both GPUs come with 4GB of GDDR5 memory.

We tested the highest-spec MacBook Pro, complete with a hexa-core Intel Core i9-8950HK clocked at 2.9GHz, an AMD Radeon Pro 560X GPU and 32GB of RAM. The XPS 15 was more modest, with 2.2GHz hexa-core Intel Core i7-8750H, 16GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti. As such, we'd expected the MacBook Pro to significantly outperform the XPS, but we were wrong.

Instead of being left in the dust, the XPS 15 more or less kept pace with the MacBook Pro, despite its less powerful hardware. Its single and multi-core scores in the Geekbench 4 benchmark were 4,952 and 21,485, around 10% behind the MacBook Pro's results of 5,558 and 23,463. This was backed up by our own benchmark tests, in which the XPS 15 was just five points behind the MacBook Pro.

Even more impressively, it kept this performance up in our workstation-grade benchmarks. The MacBook was less than 200 points faster in the LuxMark GPU rendering test and in fact, the XPS 15 actually beat the MacBook in both parts of the CineBench test.

That is an absolutely astonishing result, and it stands the XPS 15 in very good stead indeed. While the MacBook Pro is technically a little faster, the XPS is almost equalling it with lower-classed components - we'd be very keen to see what the Core i9 version can do in light of these results.

One area where the XPS 15 can't equal Apple's notebook, however, is storage. The MacBook Pro's 2.6GB/sec read and write speeds remain unequalled, and although the Dell isn't far behind for read speeds, it can't even get halfway towards matching it for writes.

The MacBook Pro's trademark power efficiency is also firmly on display here; it achieved a score of 8hrs 1min in our battery tests, with a clear 45 minutes between that and the XPS 15's 7hrs 14mins. It should be noted, however, that the XPS's 4K screen will be sucking up an awful lot of power; we'd expect the 1080p model to fare significantly better in this test. Still, that's impressive results from both, given the power of the hardware, but Apple has the XPS 15 beat for longevity.

One other thing to bear in mind, though, is that Apple's machines are notoriously difficult to service and upgrade. If you want to swap out or fix any components of the MacBook Pro, chances are you're looking at a trip to the Apple store, which can be costly and time-consuming. Dell has made it much easier to get inside the XPS; all you'll need is a screwdriver to open it up and get at the hardware.

Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Ports and features

Just as it's not particularly surprising that Apple has the edge over Dell in terms of display quality, it's equally unsurprising that the XPS 15 has the MacBook Pro on the ropes when it comes to ports and inputs. As with the previous generation, the latest MacBook Pro has gone all-in on Thunderbolt 3 ports and although it does have a rather generous allocation of four, you'll likely have to pick up an adapter of some kind if you want to plug in most peripherals.

Close up of the ports on the right-hand side of the Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018)

The XPS, on the other hand, is positively bristling with ports. Not only does it include a Thunderbolt 3 port, it's also got two USB 3.1 ports, an SD card reader and even an HDMI port - a comparative rarity on modern notebooks. There's only one Thunderbolt 3 port, but although we'd usually penalise a laptop for this, there's a dedicated charging port to handle power duties which leaves the Thunderbolt 3 port free for high-speed data or display connections.

The XPS 15 also boasts a couple of neat features that the MacBook Pro doesn't, such as facial recognition via Windows Hello in addition to the fingerprint reader built into the power button. Although Apple also has Touch ID for biometric login ability, It's not as convenient as Windows Hello.

We're still on the fence about the overall utility of the Touch Bar, too. While it's nice to have the ability to customise your shortcuts on a per-app basis, and some of the contextual features for apps like Adobe Photoshop are very cool, we found ourselves forgetting to use it most of the time - although that may be more of an indictment against us than anything else.

It's also worth mentioning that in order to accommodate that lovely InfinityEdge display, Dell has once again stuck the camera on the bottom edge of the screen, so be prepared for some hilariously unflattering upward angles if you ever need to do any video conferencing.

Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Verdict

The MacBook Pro is, by virtually every metric you could imagine, a near-perfect laptop. It's lightweight, attractive and it goes like a bat out of hell. The XPS 15's not far behind, however, and the fact that Dell has managed to close the performance gap means that they're more evenly matched than ever.

While that sound like an open and shut case, the MacBook Pro has a few key advantages. It's got a much better display, for a start, and a lighter, more streamlined chassis. However, there's one very important thing that we've yet to mention: the price. Apple products have always come at a premium, and so far that hasn't impacted their rising profile as enterprise-grade hardware. In this case, however, the MacBook Pro is just too expensive.

The XPS 15 on test costs 1,541 excluding VAT. The cheapest 15in MacBook Pro is over 800 more expensive, and at 2,774 before tax, the configuration we reviewed is very nearly double the price of the XPS 15. In fact, even that's giving Apple a fair amount of leeway; the company is actually charging a monstrous 5,174 for the model we tested, but around 3,000 of that can be lopped off by switching the 4TB SSD for the 512GB version at checkout.

The MacBook Pro and the XPS 15 are neck and neck in terms of quality, jockeying for position in all the key areas. Given that they're so closely matched, then, it is frankly outrageous that Apple is charging as much as it is for the 15in MacBook Pro. If you're charging double the price of the competition, your product had better be twice as good - and the MacBook simply isn't.

If you've got several thousands of pounds burning a hole in your IT budget, by all means go for the new MacBook Pro - it is, pound for pound, the best laptop you can buy. Anyone with an ounce of sense, however, should choose the Dell XPS 15; it's MacBook quality at half the price.

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