To close out our week of Ultrabook comparison smackdowns, we take a look at two top brand Windows models. Both Dell and HP have strong mojo with the business traveler, and companies buy their products by the truckload to outfit workers. Now, some of you have an established fondness for one brand or the other, that's cool. For our readers/viewers who are open to both brands, we have today's Ultrabook Comparison Smackdown to help you decide.
1. Specs and Horsepower
Both machines start with the same base config specs: a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 ULV CPU, Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics, 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM (soldered to the motherboard) and a 128 gig SSD. They have TN LED backlit 1366 x 768 displays, WiFi, Bluetooth and a webcam with mic. While HP currently sticks to just this base model, the Dell is configurable, like most Ultrabooks. You can upgrade to a Core i7 PCU and a 256 gig SSD.
Dell also pulls ahead with their extremely fast SATA 3 SSD drives (Samsung PM 830) and Intel Advanced dual band WiFi 802.11n with Bluetooth 3.0 and Intel WiDi wireless display. The HP has single band WiFi and no WiDi. It has a slower SATA 2 SSD drive that benchmarks half as fast as the XPS 13. In part due to the slower SSD drive, the HP benchmarks slower overall in PCMark Vantage.
Winner: Dell XPS 13
Pricing is close enough to not warrant a value judgement (no pun intended). The Folio 13 in it's base config is selling for $949 in stores in our area, and HP is selling it direct for $899 ater a $30 instant rebate. The Dell XPS 13 starts at $999, and I haven't seen any of those glorious Dell coupons for it yet.
Tie, but a little edge to the HP for being $50 to $100 less.
Design and Materials
HP went for the Ikea of laptops look: it's clean, simple and boring. It says workman-like, not high styling "I want to take on the MacBook Air and Asus Zenbook" like the XPS 13. It has a thin aluminum lid and keyboard deck and a plastic bottom. It's an un-tapered rectangle that offends no one but doesn't create lust or a sense of premium materials. The lid has some flex, but it's not a alarming.
The Dell, though the lid bears more than a passing resemblance to the MacBook Air, manages its own unique look overall and mixes various high end materials in interesting and appealing ways. You get one of the cleanest and most attractive Ultrabooks, and it's made of aluminum, magnesium alloy, carbon fiber and Gorilla Glass. Not an ounce of flex here.
Winner: Dell XPS 13 thanks to edge to edge Gorilla Glass, attractive use of various materials and a carbon fiber bottom.
Keyboard and Trackpad
Both have very good Chiclet style backlit keyboards with better than average travel and tactile feel for an Ultrabook. The Dell has more attractive backlighting with each key getting its own LED, while the HP Folio 13 bleeds light out the edges of the keys. Still, both are quite viewable in dim locations. The sculpted Dell keys give better tactile feel, and it's my pick, though I don't mind the Folio's keyboard that's worlds ahead of the Zenbook and Toshiba Portege Z835.
The Folio 13 has a roomy trackpad but the buttons on this buttonless design (they're under there, you just can't see them) are stiff enough to pop a tendon. Yikes. Out of the box, the trackpad responds fairly well with multi-touch gestures. The Dell XPS 13's drivers were off to a rocky start, but soon to be released trackpad drivers that we've been testing turn it into a pleasant product, and the buttons are just right.
Winner: Dell XPS 13
Both Ultrabooks have 1366 x 768 resolution, which is standard on Windows Ultabooks. The Asus Zenbook, larger HP Envy 14 Spectre and MacBook Air are currently your higher resolution picks. Both the HP and Dell use an LED backlit TN display with mediocre viewing angles, though we find the XPS 13 to have better viewing angles than the HP. The Folio 13 fights back with good contrast, but its colors aren't quite as true as the Dell. The Folio falters on brightness: at 192 nits, it's one of the dimmest Ultrabook displays on the market. It's fine for indoor use (unless the location is very brightly lit), but forget using it outdoors or in locations where sun streams through windows. The Dell XPS 13 has a higher than average brightness near 300 nits.
Winner: Dell XPS 13
You give up display brightness and performance, but you get fantastic battery life in return with the HP Folio 13. HP claims 9.25 hours on a charge, and while that's optimistic, we did manage 7 hours with WiFi on and brightness set to 50%. The Dell XPS 13 managed 6 hours at the same settings when doing the same sort of business tasks (MS Office, web and email). Both machines support Intel Rapid Start for extremely fast 8 second or faster resumes from hybrid sleep (like hibernation, but the notebook saves contents of RAM to a special partition on the SSD and turns completely off).
Winner: HP Folio 13
Ports and Expansion
Ultrabooks are port-starved compared to full size notebooks, because there isn't room on the motherboard to fit lots of connections. Both machines have two USB ports (1 USB 3.0). HP pulls ahead with an Ethernet jack and SD card slot. The Dell has a smaller footprint than other Ultrabooks, so the SD card slot was axed. The HP Folio 13 has an HDMI port, while the Dell has a more versatile but less common Mini DisplayPort.
Winner: HP Folio 13
My personal pick? The Dell XPS 13 for a high higher end design with excellent esthetics and materials. I prefer its brighter display and faster performance too. And the keyboard is a pleasure, even when writing long reviews. Though the HP Folio weighs .3 pounds more, I didn't really feel that weight, and I do like its long battery life and Ethernet port. You won't go wrong with either one.
Here's our HP Folio 13 vs. Dell XPS 13 Comparison Smackdown Video.