MacBook Air M2 vs Dell XPS 13 Plus: Which laptop wins?

MacBook Air M2 vs Dell XPS 13 Plus
(Image credit: Future)

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Which 2022 laptop is right for you? It can be a tricky decision since both are sleek, powerful 13-inch ultraportables with great screens, good speakers and similar price tags.

But the similarities stop there. Now that we've published our Dell XPS 13 Plus review and MacBook Air M2 review, we can give you a comprehensive breakdown of how these two laptops compare in order to help you make the best choice for your needs.

Of course, a lot of it comes down to whether you prefer Windows 11 or macOS Ventura. Both are competent operating systems with their own strengths and weaknesses, and these two laptops show them off to great effect. 

But if you're open to either and want to know which of these flagship ultraportables is the best laptop for you, read on for our blow-by-blow breakdown.

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Specs

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Row 0 - Cell 0 MacBook Air 13-inch (M2, 2022)Dell XPS 13 Plus
Price from $1,199from $1,399
Display13.6 inches (2560 x 1664)13.4 inches (full HD+, full HD+ touch, 3.5K OLED or 4K LCD)
CPU8 core M2 CPU12th gen Intel Core i5, Core i7
GPU8-10 core M2 GPUIntel Iris Xe integrated graphics
RAM 8GB to 24GB8GB to 32 GB
Storage256GB to 2TB SSD256GB to 2TB SSD
PortsTwo Thunderbolt / USB-4, mic2 Thunderbolt 4 / USB-4
Size11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches
Weight2.7 pounds2.73 pounds

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Design

The Dell XPS 13 Plus takes some radical departures from the design of the venerable XPS 13, which we've long considered one of the best 13-inch laptops you can buy.

Most notably, it ditches the function row for a row of capacitive keys that can be toggled between function keys or shortcuts, a la the controversial MacBook Pro Touch Bar. It's a neat feature, but in our time with the XPS 13 Plus we weren't a big fan of the change because the keys don't provide feedback when you hit them and look a little cheaper than the rest of the laptop.

We were more excited about the new glass touchpad that blends in seamlessly with the keyboard deck, which is remarkably easy to use given that you can't look down and see its edges.

Dell XPS 13 Plus keyboard

The XPS 13 Plus is a sharp departure  (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When closed, the XPS 13 Plus is a slick ultraportable that, at 11.63 x 7.84 x 0.6 inches and 2.71 pounds -- or 2.77 pounds if you splurge for the OLED model -- is actually a bit lighter than the vanilla XPS 13 (based on our comparison of changes in the Dell XPS 13 Plus vs XPS 13). 

That means that if you don't get the OLED model, the XPS 13 Plus is actually slightly lighter than the MacBook Air M2, which weighs 2.7 pounds and measures 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches. However, the Air has the edge in thinness here, albeit by a matter of millimeters. It's a real engineering marvel, as Apple has managed to make the MacBook Air M2 roughly 20% smaller than its predecessor while simultaneously enlarging the screen slightly (don't miss our MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1 breakdown for more details on the differences).

MacBook Air M2 2022

The MacBook Air M2 is a smidge thinner than the XPS 13 Plus, and that little indentation up front makes it easier to open than Dell's ultraportable. However, the notch up top does take a little getting used to. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We also like how Apple's ultraportable has an easy-to-grab lip on the front which makes it easy to open with one hand. The XPS 13 Plus has no such feature, and during our review we missed that little lip on the front of the MacBook Air M2. 

The MacBook Air M2 has an old-fashioned physical function row instead of capacitive touch keys, which can be a plus given how unsatisfying we found the XPS 13 Plus' capacitive keys. However, you may find the notch that Apple's added to the top of the Air M2's display to contain its camera hardware a little less appealing -- but take heart, because in our experience the notch quickly becomes easy to ignore.

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Display

The Dell XPS 13 Plus comes with a 13.4-inch WUXGA (1,920 x 1,200 resolution) display by default. It's likely a good panel based on our testing of earlier XPS 13 displays, but we can't say for sure how it compares to the Air M2's display because our review unit arrived with the 3.5K OLED touchscreen upgrade. 

Dell XPS 13 Plus laptop streaming

The OLED panel on the XPS 13 Plus is a nice upgrade, if you can swing it. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That said, the OLED upgrade could be worth it if you can afford the roughly $300 extra it costs, because it makes everything you do on the laptop look better. OLED panels typically have brighter brights, darker darks and better contrasts than LED or LCD panels, and in our testing we found the XPS 13 Plus' 3.5K OLED touchscreen does a great job of accurately reproducing colors.

Specifically, it displayed 118.9% of the sRGB color gamut (100% is most accurate, higher tends to mean more saturated, vivid colors) and 84.2% of the more demanding DCI-P3 color space. It also registered a Delta-E color accuracy store of 0.21 (0 is perfect). 

Those numbers are a bit better than what the MacBook Air M2 was able to deliver in our tests. Even so, it's a great display that achieved 107% of the sRGB color gamut and 75.9% of the DCI-P3 color space, with an identical Delta-E score of 0.2.

MacBook Air M2 2022

The MacBook Air M2's screen gets brighter than the OLED panel on the XPS 13 Plus, but Dell's laptop handles colors slightly better (and the OLED panel has nice wide viewing angles). (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The MacBook Air M2 also gets a bit brighter than the XPS 13 Plus, achieving an average brightness of 489 nits. Dell's ultraportable looks a bit dull by comparison, averaging 366 nits of brightness in our lab testing. 

I don't think you'll be unhappy with either display, especially if you go for the 3.5K OLED upgrade on the XPS 13 Plus. However, in terms of sheer brightness Apple's laptop has the edge here.

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Ports

If you care about having access to a variety of ports, the Dell XPS 13 Plus is something of a disappointment. With just a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports this laptop can't handle much in the way of accessories, especially when one of those two ports is occupied by the charging cable. Yes, that means Dell ditched the headphone jack, something even Apple (with its penchant for axing headphone jacks in the name of thinness) didn't dare to do to the MacBook Air M2.

Dell XPS 13 Plus ports

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Dell tries to help you out here by including a USB-C to USB-A and USB-C to 3.5mm adapters with the XPS 13 Plus, but it's small comfort and more dongles you have to carry around and worry about losing while you're out and about.

Apple did slightly better with the MacBook Air M2, equipping it with a similar pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports as well as a headphone jack and a MagSafe charging port. 

Sure, that's still not much in the way of a port array, but it's far better than what you get on the XPS 13 Plus. For starters, having a separate headphone jack and charging port means you're free to use both those Thunderbolt 4 ports for peripherals like mice, monitors, USB hubs and more. And now that Apple's brought MagSafe charging back, you get a little more security in knowing that if someone trips over your Mac's power cable, the odds are better that it won't yank the laptop off the table.

There's no competition here: If ports matter to you, Apple's laptop is the superior choice. The downside is that both Thunderbolt 4 ports are on the left side of the Air, which gives you fewer options for routing cables.

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Performance

We put both laptops through our in-house performance testing regimen, and found that both the XPS 13 Plus with its 12th Gen Intel CPU and the MacBook Air with its M2 chip are some of the fastest laptops we've ever tested. 

That said, as we noted in our comparison of the MacBook Air M2 vs Dell XPS 13 Plus benchmarks, Dell's laptop beats out the Air M2 in terms of raw multicore CPU performance. As you can see from the chart of our testing results below, the XPS 13 Plus put up higher numbers in Geekbench 5.4's multicore CPU test. This is true even when we had it in the default power state, and when we switched the XPS 13 Plus into its high-performance Ultra mode it performed even better in our tests.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Dell XPS 13 PlusDell XPS 13 Plus (Ultra mode)MacBook Air M2
Geekbench Single core1,7971,7571,911
Geekbench Multicore10,62111,2178,965
Handbrake time8 minutes 31 seconds6 minutes 49 seconds7 minutes 52 seconds
Sid Meier's Civ 6: Gathering Storm (in frames per second)40.3 fps @ 1470 x 95633 fps @ 1080p22.9 fps @ 1080p
Blackmagic Write Test363840582800
Blackmagic Read Test487945292210
Pugetbench Photoshop test670691821
Pugetbench Premiere Pro test279325452

When we ran both laptops through BlackMagic's disk speed tests, which test how quickly an SSD can write and read data, we saw some interesting results. The MacBook Air M2's SSD is slower than the one in Dell's laptop, as it managed average write and read scores of 2,800 and 2,210 respectively. In the same test, Dell's XPS 13 Plus delivered an average write score of 3638 and average read score of 4879. These numbers are an abstract way of quantifying and measuring how fast a drive can read and write data, so they should give you some indication of which laptop is quicker to store and retrieve files. 

In our video encoding test, which times how long it takes a notebook to transcode a 4K video down to 1080p using Handbrake, the MacBook Air M2 did the work quicker than the XPS 13 Plus -- until we put the XPS 13 Plus into Ultra mode, at which point it once again sped past the MacBook. The Air M2 completed the task in an average of 7 minutes and 52 seconds, while the XPS 13 Plus took 6 minutes and 49 seconds in Ultra mode. 

Dell XPS 13 Plus laptop on table

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you care about performance in Adobe apps, though, you may want to go with the MacBook Air M2. When we ran both ultraportables through PugetBench's Adobe Creative Cloud suite benchmark tests, using a script which automatically runs through tests for different Adobe apps, Apple's MacBook Air M2 took an average of 4:49 to complete the Photoshop test (running Photoshop 23.3.2 via Rosetta) and earned an average score of 821, while the XPS 13 Plus performed worse (670) and took longer (6:28) to do it.

And when we ran these laptops through a similar test for Premiere Pro, the MacBook Air M2 earned an average score of 452, clearly outperforming the XPS 13 Plus with its average score of 279. If you plan to do a lot of work in Adobe's suite of apps, the new MacBook Air has a clear advantage over the XPS 13 Plus.

MacBook Air M2 2022

The MacBook Air M2 delivers outstanding performance in Adobe apps, and has the potential to be a solid gaming machine -- as long as you don't mind working within the limits of macOS. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Gaming

Finally, what if you want to relax and enjoy some games on your new laptop? The Dell XPS 13 Plus and MacBook Air M2 are both decent gaming machines, though neither will run the latest and greatest games the way they were meant to be played. To give you an idea of how well these machines run games we ran both through the graphical benchmark in Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, an oldie but a goodie that we use in testing because it runs on a wide variety of both MacBooks and Windows PCs. 

Unfortunately, it's hard to get MacBooks to run Civ VI in a comparable resolution to most Windows laptops. The highest resolution we could get the M2 Air to run Civ VI at was 1,470 x 956, which is significantly lower than the Air's 2,560 x 1,664 native resolution. At that resolution, the Air M2 achieved an average of 40.3 frames per second (fps) in the graphical benchmark.

That's more frames per second than the Dell XPS 13 Plus could manage to crank out, but that's at least partially explained by the fact that the XPS 13 Plus was also running the game at a higher resolution. At 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) resolution the XPS 13 Plus achieved an average of 22.9 fps in the Civ VI benchmark, though at its native 3.5K (3,456 x 2,160) resolution the XPS could only manage 14.6 fps. 

MacBook Air M2 with No Man's Sky on the screen

Apple has made a show of saying macOS Ventura (and its support for Apple's new Metal 3 graphics tech) will make Macs more capable gaming machines -- but great performance in demanding 3D games like No Man's Sky (seen here) is still hit-or-miss. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

So is the MacBook Air M2 a better laptop for gaming than the XPS 13 Plus? It's tricky to say. The Air can clearly handle some games quite well, but gaming on macOS is significantly different from gaming on Windows. For starters, many of the best PC games don't run natively on macOS, and even if you get them up and running performance often lags behind comparable Windows PCs. However, the Air M2 has access to all the games on Apple's App Store, which the XPS 13 Plus lacks. So if you're already invested in Apple's games ecosystem, the Air M2 will let you continue playing those games on a bigger screen.

So is the MacBook Air M2 a better laptop for gaming than the XPS 13 Plus? Well, it's complicated. In terms of raw graphical performance, maybe -- but gaming on macOS is a different beast than gaming on Windows. For starters, many of the best PC games don't run natively on macOS, and even if you get them up and running performance often lags behind comparable Windows PCs.

However, the Air M2 has access to all the games on Apple's App Store, which the XPS 13 Plus does not. And with MacBooks potentially about to become legit gaming laptops thanks to macOS Ventura, our own Tony Polanco finally has hope for the future of Mac gaming.

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Webcam

The Dell XPS 13 Plus still sports a 720p webcam, which is disappointing now that many people are working remotely more often and spending more of their day in video calls. 

Dell XPS 13 Plus video conferencing

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Still, in our hands-on testing we found the XPS 13 Plus' webcam to be more than serviceable, and if you add in an inexpensive ring light you can do a lot to make yourself look presentable. We also like how the laptop's webcam supports Dell's Express Sign-in, which aims to let you quickly log into the laptop by standing in front of it using the facial recognition tech of Windows Hello.

It would be nice if Apple's MacBooks offered a similar feature, given the company already has effective facial recognition log-in tech for its mobile devices in the form of FaceID. The MacBook Air M2 offers no such feature, but it does have a higher-res 1080p webcam built into the notch which delivers decent picture quality. 

MacBook Air M2 webcam

Apple's MacBook Air M2 has a 1080p webcam built into the notch that does a good job of capturing detail, but the colors look a little yellow-green to us and some details could be sharper. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

You might think that the Air's 1080p webcam clearly beats out the lower-res 720p camera on the XPS 13 Plus, but in our testing it's not quite that simple. We liked the XPS 13 Plus' camera more than we expected, though sharpness was lacking. Conversely we liked the Air's 1080p webcam a bit less than expected, appreciating the sharp details but disliking the color reproduction. 

So which is better? I think I prefer the 1080p camera on the MacBook Air M2, based on the test images captured above, but you can look for yourself to see which you prefer. Certainly neither can compare to the image quality delivered by the best webcams, and Tom's Guide Global Editor-in-Chief Mark Spoonauer (who appears in both test shots) found both laptop cameras inferior to his Logitech C920 webcam.

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Heat

We've never known the Dell XPS 13 line to be lap-scorchers, but the XPS 13 Plus may change that. When we put it through our heat test, which involves tasking the laptop with playing an HD video for 15 minutes and then scanning it with a heat gun, we found Dell's latest laptop got as hot as 102.6 degrees on the bottom. 

That's bearable, but it's hotter than we'd like. However, the silver lining may be that even under heavy load the XPS 13 Plus' fan cooling system doesn't generate a lot of noise. You'll hear it, but you shouldn't be too put out by it.

Man holding Dell XPS 13 Plus laptop

The XPS 13 Plus can get quite warm under heavy use. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple's MacBook Air M2 is quieter by comparison, since it relies on passive cooling (that is, no fans or moving parts) and performance throttling to keep the laptop cool under pressure. In practice, it works well; in our heat test we measured a peak temp 83.5 degrees at Air M2's hottest point, on the underside of the laptop near the hinge. 

MacBook Air M2 2022

The MacBook Air M2 stays cool under pressure, even without fans. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That's quite a bit more comfortable than the XPS 13 Plus' 100+ degree underside, which means the MacBook Air M2 should feel quite a bit more comfortable in your lap during extended work sessions.

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Battery life

Dell's XPS laptops have had a hard time lasting much longer than 8 hours in our in-house battery test, and the XPS 13 Plus is no exception -- if you splurge for the OLED display upgrade. 

When we put the OLED-equipped XPS 13 Plus through our battery test, which tasks the laptop with endlessly surfing the web via Wi-Fi with its screen brightness set to 150 nits, Dell's latest laptop lasted 7 hours and 34 minutes. That's not even enough to get through a full day at the office without plugging in to charge, though Dell claims that the non-OLED XPS 13 Plus can last a bit longer, up to 13 hours on a single charge.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 13-inch MacBook Air M2 (2022)Dell XPS 13 Plus (2022)
Battery life (hours:minutes)14:067:34

The MacBook Air M2 lasts longer than that by a solid margin, though that's not a huge surprise; MacBooks have delivered stellar battery life ever since Apple started equipping them with its own bespoke silicon. Apple's M1 and M2 chips are both remarkably powerful and power-efficient, which is why the  MacBook Pro M2 is the longest-lasting laptop we've ever tested, lasting over 18 hours in our battery test.

The MacBook Air M2 can't quite match that, but it still lasted an impressive 14 hours and 6 minutes in our testing. That's damn near double the battery life of the XPS 13 Plus OLED, so if battery life matters to you Apple's laptop is the clearly superior choice.

Dell XPS 13 Plus vs MacBook Air M2: Bottom line

Choosing between the Dell XPS 13 Plus vs Apple's MacBook Air M2 is tricky because, as you can see, they're nearly identical 13-inch ultraportables with excellent performance and similar prices. But if you know what you need your laptop for, the choice becomes a lot easier. 

The Dell XPS 13 Plus OLED we tested outperformed the MacBook Air M2 in terms of pure CPU and SSD speed, plus it has a beautiful OLED screen with better color reproduction than the Air. If you want a Windows ultraportable for work. entertainment and some light gaming, the XPS 13 Plus is a great choice that looks as slick as an old-school MacBook Air, right down to the ultra-thin wedge design and bad port selection.

However, Apple appears to have learned from the design issues of MacBooks past and equipped the 2022 Air M2 with some excellent improvements, including a 1080p webcam, an ultra-thin rectangular design with rounded edges (plus a handy lip for easy opening) and MagSafe charging. Plus, it stays cool under pressure and lasts far longer on a charge, making the Air M2 2022 an excellent choice if you need a laptop to carry all day and use comfortably on your lap for hours at a time.

The Air also outperforms the XPS 13 Plus when it comes to video transcoding and Adobe apps, making it the superior choice for creatives who do that sort of work on the regular. 

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice. 

  • Get Serious
    “the edge in thinness here, albeit by a matter of centimeters”
    Centimeters? Might want to relook at that measurement.
    Reply
  • Spork3001
    Ummmm. The numbers in your performance table seem to not match what the article testing describes for the Adobe tests and SSD tests (wrong columns). I didn’t check the other tests but it seems like some numbers and conclusions might need to be cleaned up.
    Reply
  • cny_ap
    256gb air? It is known to have only one chip so it's 50% slower than the larger options.
    Odd comparing OLED optional display against LCD.
    Smaller display but still impressive that Dell has a fan and I assume heat pipes or heatsinc, yet weighs 99% same as Air2. Wish Apple had lightweight low speed/noise cooling system. I'll wait for updated pro models.
    Apple OS is very annoying...give us Unix/windows style directories and File Explorer. It keeps me from buying the Air (I own a 9.7" iPad and iPhone 12 work phone, made $90k so far on apple investment, so hardly any I anti apple).
    Reply
  • Alex Wawro
    Spork3001 said:
    Ummmm. The numbers in your performance table seem to not match what the article testing describes for the Adobe tests and SSD tests (wrong columns). I didn’t check the other tests but it seems like some numbers and conclusions might need to be cleaned up.

    Yep that's my mistake, I accidentally swapped those two sets of data in the chart. Thanks for the heads-up! We've updated the story accordingly.
    Reply
  • JNoonan
    MacOS over Windows any day.
    Reply