It’s no secret that 15-inch laptops (and bigger) are the powerhouses. They’re used for gaming, content creation, video editing, and getting serious work done.
Two of the very best are the Dell XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro 16. Both are excellent laptops that offer great performance, outstanding build quality, and excellent input options — but which one is right for you?
The price difference between these two devices is substantial. Based on value alone, the XPS 15 is the laptop we’d recommend to more people. But to help determine which you should buy, we go in-depth on every aspect of these two laptops.
- Build quality
- Keyboard and touchpad
- Battery life
- Portability and connectivity
- Pricing and configurations
Riley Young/Digital Trends
If you’re looking to buy one of these laptops, you know why you need it, whether that’s for the larger screen or for the extra performance. A laptop also needs to have the basics, and you likely plan to use your laptop for typical web browsing, consuming entertainment, and more general work. Build quality is a good place to start.
Both laptops offer exceptional design and sturdiness. The XPS 15 is a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber, while the MacBook Pro 16 is a single chunk of aluminum. Both have a tight fit and finish and feel plenty rigid in hand. If I had to anoint a winner, though, I’d give the prize to the MacBook Pro 16. Apple’s usual quality is in evidence here. The laptop is incredibly well-built and feels like its worth every penny (more on price later).
I was impressed with both laptops as I used them, never feeling like they were cheap or prone to breaking. But the MacBook Pro 16 impressed me the most thanks to its flawless build.
Keyboard and touchpad
There was a time, in fact just prior to the MacBook Pro 16’s release, when a comparison between a MacBook keyboard and that equipping just about any premium Windows 10 laptop was very one-sided.
Apple’s butterfly-switch keyboard with its extremely low travel (i.e., it’s “typing on a block of wood” feel) couldn’t hold a candle to the best Windows 10 options. Apple’s keyboard was also extremely unreliable and suffered from a number of problems.
Apple did a complete 180 with the keyboard on the MacBook Pro 16, which uses a new scissor mechanism more similar to its popular external Magic Keyboard (a moniker that now applies to the laptop’s keyboard as well).
Despite having relatively low travel of 1mm, the new MacBook keyboard is crisp, snappy, and responsive. The keyboard on Dell’s XPS 15 is fine, with more travel and its own precise mechanism, but I find myself flying across Apple’s latest in a way that I just don’t on other keyboards.
The MacBook Pro 16’s touchpad is also a step above the XPS 15’s. While the Dell sports a fine touchpad that’s relatively large by Windows 10 standards and supports Microsoft Precision touchpad drivers, it doesn’t really compare to Apple’s expansive Force Touch touchpad.
It takes just a little bit of time to get used to the MacBook’s haptic feedback method of registering “clicks,” compared to the physical buttons on the XPS 15, Once you’re used to it, it becomes second nature. Apple’s touchpad also remains the most responsive when it comes to the plethora of multitouch gestures supported by MacOS.
Riley Young/Digital Trends
Apple has its usual Touch Bar LCD panel located above the keyboard that replaces physical buttons for system- and app-specific functions. You’ll either love it or hate it (or, maybe ignore it, like I do), and so I’ll leave that up to user preference. The XPS 15 offers a touch display instead, which I greatly prefer, on Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) and 4K (3,840 x 2,160) display options, but curiously not on our review unit with its Samsung AMOLED panel. Like I said, I prefer a touch display to Apple’s Touch Bar, finding it a real convenience when swiping through long webpages using my thumb and tapping on the occasional pop-up dialog button.
The XPS 15 uses a fingerprint scanner supporting Windows 10 Hello, which works well for logging in without a password. Apple has its very similar Touch ID that also allows for password-less login. Really, they’re both great solutions that work very well.
The XPS 15 is available with a 97 watt-hour battery, the most you’ll find in a Windows 10 laptop. The MacBook Pro 16 comes with a whopping 100 watt-hours of battery, the most that’s allowed on airline flights.
If you equip the XPS 15 with a 4K display, specifically the AMOLED screen, it will get similar (i.e., rather limited) battery life to the MacBook Pro 16 with its Retina (3,072 x 1,920) display. Of course, you can also configure the XPS 15 with a lower-power Full HD display and get much better battery life, which is a real advantage to anyone who doesn’t require high resolution and more accurate colors.
If you’re using the laptops for real work, you’ll probably get about five hours of use out of each before you need to plug back in — at least with high-res displays. You can get much better mileage with smaller and less powerful laptops.
Portability and connectivity
Riley Young/Digital Trends
The XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro 16 are within a few fractions of an inch of each other in width (around 14.09 inches), depth (around 9.7 inches), and thickness (around 0.66 inches).
They’re also roughly the same weight, at 4.3 pounds for the MacBook Pro 16 and 4.5 pounds for the XPS 15. Note that the MacBook Pro houses a 16-inch display in a taller 16:10 aspect ratio compared to the XPS 15’s 15.6-inch display in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
In short, both are equally portable — or non-portable, depending on your tolerance for size and weight. Personally, I didn’t have a problem carrying either laptop around in my backpack. They both manage to fit a lot of power and some very large displays into relatively small chassis, and are more than worth their size and weight.
As for ports, there are some important differences between the two. Apple is all-in on USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, offering four of the ports for excellent external display and peripheral support. You’ll need dongles, though, and plenty of them — or maybe a Thunderbolt 3 dock — to connect to both modern and legacy devices.
Dell offers a more diverse range of connectivity, including two USB-A 3.1 ports, a single USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3, a full-size HDMI 2.0 port, and an SD card reader. The XPS 15 offers Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, which is an advantage over the MacBook Pro 16’s Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 5.
The MacBook Pro 16 comes with just one display option, a Retina (3,072 x 1,920) IPS panel that offers excellent contrast at 1250:1 and brightness at 443 nits, a wide color gamut (100 percent of sRGB and 91 percent of AdobeRGB), and very good accuracy at 1.41 (less than 1.0 is considered excellent).
The XPS 15 offers a variety of displays including nontouch Full HD, a touch Full HD, a 4K IPS, and 4K AMOLED panels. We reviewed the AMOLED version, and it was a truly spectacular experience. Brightness was very high at 457 nits and contrast was 479,980:1 with inky blacks. The color gamut was also incredible, at 100 percent of sRGB and 99 percent of AdobeRGB, with slightly lower rate of color error at 1.6.
You can get a great display with either laptop, but Dell’s AMOLED option is superior. It offers unparalleled contrast (except for other AMOLED systems) and colors, and will suit photo and video editors to a T. Today’s AMOLED displays are the best displays you’ll find on laptops, and if you’re a creative professional, then you owe it to yourself to give one a try before making your decision.
Unsurprisingly, both laptops are experts in tasks like photo and video editing. We tested the most powerful configurations of the laptops, which both used an eight-core Core i9 processor, a discrete graphics card, and plenty of RAM.
According to our creative benchmarks, they’re within a few percentage points of each other. For example, the XPS 15 finished our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video file to H.265 in 1 minute and 42 seconds, while the MacBook Pro 16 finished in 1 minute and 58 seconds.
In our more demanding Premiere Pro test that renders a 4K video to ProRes 422, the XPS 15 finished the task in 4 minutes and 55 seconds, while the MacBook Pro 16 took 4 minutes and 41 seconds.
The XPS 15 consistently wins, and if you’re handling larger projects, that difference is noteworthy. Note that if your needs aren’t quite as intense, you can spend over a thousand dollars less on an entry-level XPS 15 that’s still going to provide decent creative performance. Just make sure to at least stick with one of the six-core configurations.
Let’s face it: A lot of people want to be able to take breaks from work with the occasional gaming session. Can these laptops play today’s modern titles at decent resolution, graphics, and frame rates?
Simply put, the MacBook Pro 16 will be able to play only a tiny fraction of the games that are available for the XPS 15. Fire up Steam or any other digital distribution service and you’ll find Windows 10 to be a much more compelling gaming platform. That doesn’t mean you won’t find any games available on the MacBook Pro 16, but temper your expectations.
All configurations of the XPS 15 (other than the base model) are equipped with the GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, meaning that you don’t have to spend much extra to game. On the MacBook side of things, you have a few graphics options, starting at the Radeon Pro 5300M. To move up from there, it’ll cost extra.
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 is going to provide better gaming performance, generally speaking, than the AMD Radeon Pro 5500M. At least, in the games that are available on both platforms. You can play games like Fortnite and Rocket League on the MacBook and get decent frame rates of around 60 frames per second (FPS) at medium settings, but you might run into issues with many titles because of the MacBook Pro 16’s odd resolutions.
The XPS 15, on the other hand, plays all of today’s titles fairly well as long as you’re willing to pare down the resolution and graphical detail. It’s not a “real” gaming laptop, but it’s enough to keep you occupied when you’re taking a break from editing that video.
Configurations and pricing
Riley Young/Digital Trends
Here’s where the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16 diverge the most. Dell offers a configuration of the XPS 15 that starts at just $1,100 for an Intel 9th-gen Core i5-9300H, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), and a 15.6-inch Full HD non-touch display. It’s more of a general productivity laptop as it is capped at just four processing cores and integrated graphics.
You can spend as much as $3,330 for a Core i9-9980HK, 64GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, and a 4K AMOLED display. All configurations (except the base model) come with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 discrete GPU.
The MacBook Pro 16 is a much more expensive laptop, especially at the low end. The entry-level configuration is $2,400 for an Intel 9th-gen Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M GPU. At the very high end, you can spend as much as $6,100 for a Core i9-9980HK, 64GB of RAM, an 8TB SSD (!), and an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M GPU.
Clearly, the MacBook Pro 16 puts the “premium” in premium pricing. The XPS 15 will cost you roughly half as much from the low end to the high end.
Where the MacBook Pro 16 wins out is in its option of a massive 8TB of SSD storage, compared to the XPS 15’s maximum of 2TB of SSD. You’ll be more reliant on external storage if you choose the Dell.
Verdict: The XPS 15 wins out
Riley Young/Digital Trends
Wow, this is a tough one. I love the MacBook Pro 16’s keyboard, touchpad, and general build quality. It has a few noteworthy advantages over the XPS 15.
That’s not to knock Dell, though. The XPS 15 costs a fraction of what you’ll spend on the MacBook Pro 16, and you can get equally good performance, an even better display, and better port selection.
In my book, that makes the Dell XPS 15 the better laptop, and certainly, it’s the more accessible. You don’t have to have to make nearly as great an investment to get a great laptop as you do with Apple’s offering.