Going into 2020, it’s clear that Hewlett-Packard and Dell are ahead of Apple on light laptop design.
Review backgrounder: I used a third-gen MacBook Air (late 2018) for six months and am now using an HP Elite Dragonfly and Dell XPS 13 7390.
HP Elite Dragonfly (late 2019): The 13-inch HP Elite Dragonfly’s tagline, “Lighter than Air,” is an obvious jab at the MacBook Air.
Rightfully so. The Dragonfly is not only much lighter than the MBA at a starting weight of 2.2 pounds (very close to the discontinued 12-inch MacBook’s 2 pounds) but has phenomenal battery life. Those two things (extreme lightness and long battery life) are usually mutually exclusive. So, kudos to HP for investing the time and R&D to figure this out.
Why the HP Dragonfly is ahead of the MacBook Air:
- Chassis is made from magnesium which makes it sturdy but very light
- Fast 4-core Intel processors (MBA is dual-core)
- Both fingerprint and face ID
- A slot for 4G/LTE or 5G SIM cards
- 360-degree touch display
- Battery life longer than the MacBook Air based on my testing
And road warriors know that shaving a half-pound from a laptop can make a big difference when you’re lugging around a backpack all day and constantly pulling your laptop out of your bag and putting it back in. The Dragonfly makes this really easy. Oh, and it’s a lot faster than the MacBook Air too.
Dell XPS 13 7390 (late-2019, 6-core): the design I’m using is what Dell, until very recently, called the XPS 13 9380. In other words, I’m using the last version* of the standard clamshell XPS 13 form factor.
The XPS 13 hasn’t gone on an extreme diet like the Dragonfly (the XPS 13 I’m using weighs about 2.7 pounds) but it still packs an amazing amount of mobile and materials tech into a very-high-quality and stunning-looking laptop.
Why the Dell XPS 13 is ahead of the MacBook Air:
- Smaller chassis than the MacBook Air, thinner display bezels
- Palmrest is made from “arctic white” woven glass fiber, which reduces weight and provides a soft texture to rest your hands on
- Fast 6-core Intel processors (MBA uses dual-core)
- 4K touch display (MBA Retina resolution falls well short of 4K)
- Despite the faster 6-core Intel processors and 4K display, battery life is only marginally less than the MacBook Air
The argument that many MacBook diehards will make is that “it’s the OS, stupid.” Or to put it more accurately, the macOS/iOS ecosystem. That’s true and one of the reasons (among many) I have a 16-inch MacBook Pro on my desktop as a daily driver.
But on road trips, I prefer a superior hardware design to the vaunted Apple ecosystem. That’s why the HP Dragonfly or Dell XPS 13 will go with me on long road trips, not a MacBook.
*For 2020, Dell has updated the XPS 13 so it is much closer to the existing XPS 13 2-in-1, i.e., sporting even smaller bezels and a slightly larger 13.4-inch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio vs the 16:9 on the 2019 13.3-inch version.
I also have the newest XPS 13 2-in-1 (I know, it’s confusing), which boasts many of the same features.
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I was a founding member of CNET news and hardware editor at CNET, a contributing technology reporter for the New York Times, and a reporter and editor at the Asian Wall Street Journal Weekly — the latter in Japan, where I lived for ten years. Currently a contributing reporter for Fox News.