Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 vs. HP Spectre x360 13t: Which premium laptop is best?

We compare them on features, performance and more.

Credit: Gordon Mah Ung

Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 and HP’s 5th-gen Spectre x360 13t embody the intense rivalry of the two top American PC vendors. Locked in a constant fight for market share, the companies seem to pour every technological advance they have into these two premium convertible laptops. With each iteration, one seems to challenge the other, "can you top this?" 

Both companies recently released new models, so it’s time to pit Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 against HP’s 5th-gen Spectre x360 13t in an epic battle, which we'll recount blow by blow as we talk specs, features, performance, and more.  

dell xps 13 2 in 1 7390 vs hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen 7 Gordon Mah Ung

Dell (left) HP (right)

Specs

On specs, both rivals are very similar. Both are based on Intel’s new 10nm, 10th-gen Core i7-1065G7 chip. The RAM is similar, too, with LPDDR4X/3733 in both. The Dell does, however, offer a higher optional maximum of 32GB of LPDDR4X. 

Both have 4K screen options, so there's a tie. The technologies differ, though: IPS with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, and AMOLED with the HP Spectre x360 13t. 

The only internal spec that varies is storage. Our XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 features a Kioxia BG4 TLC SSD NVMe PCIe drive. If you’ve never heard of Kioxia, it’s just the new name for Toshiba. Our Spectre x360 13t featured an Intel Optane H10 drive, an option sold at Best Buy at the 512GB capacity. Both laptops offer larger capacities on their websites, but the Dell stops at 1TB, while HP offers up to a 2TB NVMe PCIe drive.

You can argue the merits of the technologies and the capacities, but we’re going to declare this a tie, as each has specs the other doesn’t offer.

Winner: Tie

Storage

There's more to the storage story on these laptops, what you might call two schools of thought, so we're giving it a dedicated category.

Dell’s storage philosophy with the XPS 13 2-in-1 suggests that consumers are willing to think of their laptops as phones. Because 99 percent of users never replace SSDs, Dell solders it in place and takes the dividends to make the laptop thinner and smaller. Indeed, between the two laptops, the Dell is thinner by about 1.5mm to 2mm. 

HP, on the other hand, sticks with the tried-and-true M.2 standard for storage, though it’s not meant to be upgraded by the consumer.

Which is right? Again, Dell (and others who do the same, such as Apple) aren’t doing it to anger you. They're taking that space from the M.2 slot and using it for, say, better cooling, or shrinking the motherboard.

We, however, like to think long-term. While 512GB seems like more than anyone will ever need today, in three years when you pick up a 4TB SSD for $25 on Black Friday, you (or some authorized person) can crack open the Spectre x360 13t and replace the 512GB one that the HP came with. Dell’s SSD will be there for eternity.

We should also mention that the Intel Optane hybrid drive option is available only on the HP. There are times when Intel’s fancy new storage is a huge advantage, and times when it doesn’t help—you can read more on that here in our Optane H10 review.

We suspect the Optane hybrid SSD greatly contributes to just how crazy-fast the HP is at booting. You can see this captured on slow-motion film in the video attached to this story. Note: Our video was shot at a high frame rate, so it’ll appear these laptops are cold-booting slowly. In real time, the HP boots in about 8 seconds, while the Dell boots in about 13. The HP is so fast, it gets to the desktop using Windows Hello facial recognition before the Dell even hits the login screen prompt.

Both laptops include microSD slots, which let you add cheap 1TB memory cards for additional storage. We tested both and found the card readers performed about the same, with read speeds in the 77MB range and write speeds in the 70MB range.

Winner: HP Spectre x360 13t

dell xps 13 2 in 1 7390 vs hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen stacked Gordon Mah Ung

The Spectre x360 13t is slightly wider, while the XPS 13 2-in-1 is slightly deeper. That’s no surprise as the Dell has a 16:10 aspect ratio, while the HP’s screen is 16:9.

Size and weight

Both laptops are pretty darn close in size. While it’s a little difficult to tell from the perspective in the picture above, the Spectre x360 13t is basically about a half-inch wider, while the XPS 13 2-in-1 is about a half-inch deeper. In weight, our postal scale put the Spectre x360 13t in front at 2.7 pounds without AC, with the XPS 13 2-in-1 slightly heavier at 2.9 pounds without AC. Adding power bricks and pens for both, the gap basically vanishes, as both the Spectre and XPS 13 end up at about 3.4 pounds, with the Spectre only an ounce lighter.

The reason? Dell runs the XPS 13 2-in-1 off of a smaller 45-watt PSU, while the Spectre comes with a larger, heavier 65-watt PSU. Overall, once both laptops are in your shoulder bag, it’s a wash.

Winner: Tie

dell hp bricks Gordon Mah Ung

The HP's (left) power brick is 65 watts and features braided cabling. The Dell's (right) is smaller and puts out only 45 watts. It does have a cool LED indicator top to let you know it’s actually plugged in.

Chargers

Both laptops come with very small, USB-PD spec power bricks. The Dell’s is smaller and lighter and puts out less power at just 45 watts, but it features a nifty LED at the end of the cable. While the LED doesn’t indicate the charge condition of the laptop like Apple’s older Magsafe bricks, the LED does confirm it's plugged in properly, so you don't wake up to a dead laptop. The HP lacks the LED, but its cable features a classy cloth braid, and it puts out 65 watts, or 45 percent more power output, than the Dell.

We had no issues with interoperabiilty. Both laptops charged off OEM USB-PD chargers from Dell, HP, and Apple, as well as a third-party Delta USB-C charger.

The only problem for the Dell is that tiny 45-watt charger. With brightness cranked and as decent load on the GPU or the CPU, we found it often consumed right up to the limits of the brick. Dell did its homework, and the laptop did not use so much power that it discharged the battery. However, performance will occasionally suffer as the laptop prioritizes either charging the dead battery or running the CPU hard. Dell lets you mitigate this by changing the charge priority, but on auto we found performance dipped when the battery capacity was under about 20 percent.

We also looked at the charge rates of both by discharging both to zero, then tasking each with an hour-long encode before letting the laptops continue charging, with the systems idling at the desktop.

To show the disparity between brick sizes, we recorded power consumed at the wall using a pair of watt meters.

In the graphic belong, you can see the HP's power output in red and the Dell's in purple.The HP used 65 watts until HandBrake completed and then dropped down to about 45 watts as it continued to charge quickly. Once the battery was filled beyond 90 percent, the charge rate gradually tapered off.

With its smaller brick, the Dell ran at a maximum of 48 watts and then dropped off once Handbrake was done. It continued to charge harder until it also reached above 90 percent, where it tapered off to preserve battery longevity.

screenshot 2019 12 13 17.58.12 IDG

The HP's larger 65-watt power brick let it run and charge faster than the Dell's 45-watt brick. Beyond about 20 percent though, the Dell's performance lead comes back, and it charges to 93 percent in about 2.5 hours.

Based on our test, the HP has a big advantage in charge rates and performance with a dead battery, but it comes at the cost of a little more weight. The Dell is at a disadvantage, but still charges up reasonably fast despite the smaller brick. In the end, you get a lighter brick as well. One last word: The Dell's charging system does support using a larger power brick, and with the HP's USB-C in place used up to 65 watts.

While we'd prefer a more powerful brick, we understand that this probably isn't something most people would prioritize above having less weight in their bag. We'll just call it a tie.

Winner: Tie

hp spectre x360 13 5th gen 13 Gordon Mah Ung

The newest HP Spectre x360 13t (top) features a USB Type-A port using a drop-down latch. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 (middle), throws USB Type A under the bus. On the bottom is an older Spectre x 360 13t with the fully exposed USB Type-A port.

Ports

This one is fairly easy. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 offers two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a microSD slot and a combo headset jack. The HP also offers two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a microSD slot and a combo headset jack. The thing that pushes it over to the HP is the inclusion of a USB Type-A port. You know, the good old rectangular slot you can’t live without.

Sure, Dell gives you a dongle, and it has Thunderbolt 3 ports on both sides (which means you can charge from either side), but we can’t quit USB Type-A just yet. We know what it's like to be on the road and have to go dongle-begging from others just to access a USB memory stick.

Winner: HP Spectre x360 13t

You stare at your laptop display all day. Keep reading to see how these two compare.

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Gordon Mah Ung

Gordon Mah Ung

PC World (US online)
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