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Dell XPS 13 vs. MacBook Air: A closer look at battery life

Gordon Mah Ung | Feb. 10, 2015
Dell's XPS 13 can't really be a MacBook slayer unless it can compete with the legendary battery life of the Air. We test both to find the truth.

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The MacBook Air's battery life is legendary. Colleagues who drive MacBook Airs claim they can get all-day battery life, and that no similarly sized PC can do the same. But now we have a real contender: The Dell XPS 13. Time to test those claims.

Before we dig in, it's important to note that there's no single test that can compare PC and MacBook battery life directly. We have to arrive at comparable numbers through reasoned use of similar tests. I'll also be discussing other reviewers' tests to help paint a more detailed picture.

Other outlets have actually expressed disappointment with the XPS 13's run time. Jason Evangelho of Forbes said: "Dell's battery life claims miss the mark by a not-insignificant amount, and the XPS 13 still can't match or exceed the Air in that department. I was desperately hoping it would. But is it poor battery life? Absolutely not." 

Here's an important detail, though: Evangelho's comparison was with a MacBook Air 13, which has a larger battery than the MacBook Air 11. He's also planning to retest after disabling Windows Indexing and seeing the Dell's life shoot from 7.5 hours to 9.5 hours. 

Over at Gizmodo, Sean Hollister was  also deeply disappointed: "Dell quotes up to 15 hours of battery life, and I struggled to get even half that in the real world." But he, too, tested the XPS 13 agains the MacBook Air 13. Hollister tested the QHD+ version and the 1080p version of the XPS 13, getting 5 hours and 6 hours respectively, while the MacBook Air 13 gave him 8.5 hours of practical use.

We think differently
Here's where my tests will differ. In my view, the MacBook Air 13 is quite a bit larger than XPS 13, despite the XPS 13's similarly sized panel.The fairer comparison to the XPS 13 2015 should be based on size. So I reached into our locker for a MacBook Air 11 2014. That model is just slightly smaller than the XPS 13. 

That's also where you'll see some pretty big differences in specs. While the CPU and storage options don't change, Apple takes advantage of the Air 13's larger chassis to pump up the battery capacity. The MacBook Air 11's battery is 38 watt hours. The MacBook Air 13's is a massive 54 watt hours. That's about a 40 percent increase in battery capacity over the MacBook Air 11, and a little better than the Dell XPS 13's 52-watt-hour battery.

I'll also point out that both Dells pack far more pixels than the competition. The top-end XPS 13, with its QHD+ screen, has a resolution of 3200x1800. The base model's is 1920x1080. The MacBook Air 11 is 1366x768, while the 13-inch model is 1440x900.


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