Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 vs. Dell XPS 15 – Digital Trends
We gave the latest Dell XPS 15 a perfect five out of five stars for its quality build, great looks, excellent performance, and stunning 3.5K OLED display. It’s the best 15-inch laptop you can buy, and in fact, it would be on our list of best laptops if its smaller sibling, the XPS 13, hadn’t taken the top spot already. Microsoft stepped into this competitive ring with its Surface Laptop, which is currently in its fourth generation.
Both laptops have their strengths, and Microsoft is no slouch at building hardware. But does the Surface Laptop 4 have what it takes to contend with one of the best laptops made today?
The Surface Laptop 4 is built around a 15-inch display with a very tall 3:2 aspect ratio, compared to the XPS 15 with its 15.6-inch 16:10 display. That means the XPS 15 is a bit shallower than the Surface Laptop 4, although they’re almost identically wide. However, Microsoft made its laptop incredibly thin at just 0.58 inches, and it’s maybe the thinnest 15-inch laptop around. The XPS 15 is quite a bit thicker at 0.71 inches, and it’s also heavier at 4.42 pounds compared to the Surface Laptop 4’s 3.4 pounds.
Each laptop is equally well built, however. Both the Surface Laptop 4 with its all-aluminum chassis and the XPS 15 with its mix of aluminum and carbon or glass fiber are solid as a rock. You won’t find any bending, twisting, or flexing in either laptop, and you can open both lids with one hand while the hinge holds the display firmly in place. The XPS 15 is a bit more comfortable thanks to the carbon fiber on the black keyboard deck and glass fiber on the right compared to the metal palm rest on the Surface Laptop 4. It gives the XPS 15 a warmth and softness contrasted with the Surface Laptop 4’s colder feel.
Aesthetically, both laptops are attractive. The Surface Laptop 4 has a more straightforward design, with slighter angles and no chrome parts that stand out. It comes in two colors, Platinum and Matte Black, and both colors carry throughout the laptop. The XPS 15 is a little more stylish, with sharper angles and a silver aluminum lid with a white or black keyboard deck. The edges utilize double-anodized chrome that adds some brightness to the look while resisting scratches. It’s hard to pick a winner in the looks department, but if we were forced to do so, we’d give the nod to the XPS 15.
The keyboards on these two laptops are among the best on Windows 10 machines. The Surface Laptop 4 has more travel with a comfortable bottoming action that’s crisp and precise. The XPS 15’s keyboard has a little less travel but it has an extra bit of snap to it that makes it just as precise. While the Surface Laptop 4 has a good touchpad that’s large enough and responsive, the XPS 15’s touchpad is the largest you’ll find outside of a MacBook. It’s just as responsive as Microsoft’s version, just much larger.
In terms of connectivity, neither laptop is particularly strong. The Surface Laptop 4 has a single USB-C port, a USB-A port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and the Microsoft Surface Connect that works for power and to connect to a proprietary dock. The XPS 15 is all-in on USB-C, with three ports and two supporting Thunderbolt 4 (lacking on the Surface Laptop 4), to go with a 3.5mm audio jack and a full-size SD card reader — a welcome addition. Both laptops enjoy Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth, 5.0 on the Surface Laptop 4 and 5.1 on the XPS 15. We like that the Dell includes Thunderbolt 4, which is faster and more flexible than the Surface Laptop 4’s offerings, and the SD card reader will make creative types happy.
You can configure the Dell XPS 15 with one of three 11th-gen Intel H-series processors, ranging from the six-core Core i5 and Core i7 to the eight-core Core i9, and GPU options include Intel UHD integrated graphics, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050, or the RTX 3050 Ti. We tested the laptop with the Core i7-11800H and the RTX 3050 Ti. The Surface Laptop 4 comes with a choice of the quad-core 11th-gen i7-1185G7 with Intel Iris Xe graphics or the eight-core AMD Ryzen 4980U with Radeon graphics. The AMD is a generation behind, and that’s the one we tested.
While the AMD Ryzen 4000 series was a fast chip for its time (a year or so ago), it’s been superseded by the much faster 5000 series. The Surface Laptop 4 was a good performer in CPU-intensive tasks, especially multi-threaded where AMD shines, but it couldn’t keep up with the XPS 15.
Take Cinebench R23, for example. The XPS 15 scored 1,513 in the single-core test and 9,979 in the multi-core, compared to the Surface Laptop 4 at 1,137 and 5,881. That’s a significant gap. In our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video as H.265, the XPS 15 finished the process in 101 seconds compared to the Surface Laptop 4’s 122 seconds. While 21 seconds might not sound like a lot, it’s still close to a 20% advantage for the XPS 15 — performance that adds up for longer tasks.
And let’s not even go into gaming, where the XPS 15 with the RTX 3050 Ti makes for a decent entry-level gaming machine capable of running modern titles at its native 1920 x 1200 resolution, with reasonable graphics settings. Try to run those on the Surface Laptop’s onboard Radeon graphics, and you’ll be staring at a slideshow.
Simply put, the XPS 15 is a much faster laptop. It’s suitable for creators who want to edit large photos and video, with the option to game when you’re done for the day, while the Surface Laptop 4 is best for productivity work.
The Surface Laptop 4 comes with one display, an IPS panel at a resolution of 2256 x 1504 and in the 3:2 aspect ratio. Its performance is average for the premium field. It’s bright enough at 378 nits, with a contrast ratio of 970:1 that’s just below our preferred 1,000:1. Its colors were OK at 73% of AdobeRGB and 96% of sRGB, which we expect to see from a productivity-oriented laptop but not good enough for creators who crave wide colors. Color accuracy was good at a DeltaE of 1.44, where 1.0 or less is considered excellent.
The XPS 15 comes with a choice between three different 16:10 displays, Full HD+ IPS, UHD+ IPS, and 3.5K OLED. We reviewed the latter, and it’s simply stunning. It’s not terribly bright for an OLED display at “just” 381 nits, but the contrast ratio is the usual ridiculous level, 381,130:1, making for inky blacks. Colors are wide at 99% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB and accurate at a DeltaE of 0.49. And the display supports Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) video, making it superb for binging Netflix and any other streaming service that supports HDR. Really, this is one of the best displays you can buy on a laptop today. We haven’t tested the Full HD+ and UHD+ IPS panels, but typically the former meets the same premium segment average as the Surface Laptop 4, while the latter tends to offer wide and accurate colors and high contrast.
There’s really no comparison. The Surface Laptop 4’s display is very good and will make productivity users happy, especially the tall 3:2 aspect ratio. But Dell offers superior display options, including the OLED panel that creative types will absolutely adore.
We’ve already established that the Surface Laptop 4 is considerably thinner and lighter than the XPS 15. It’ll fit into your backpack much more comfortably and won’t weigh you down nearly as much. The XPS 15 is small for a 15-inch laptop, but it’s still thicker and heavier than Microsoft’s offering.
Battery life is definitely in the Surface Laptop 4’s favor. It has a much smaller battery at just 47 watt-hours compared to the XPS 15’s 86 watt-hour battery, but its IPS display is less power-hungry than Dell’s OLED display, and the AMD Ryzen chipset is energy efficient. We saw 13.5 hours in our web browsing test, which is an excellent score and stronger than the XPS 15’s 10.7 hours. We didn’t run all the same tests on the Surface Laptop 4 as we did the XPS 15, but we guarantee that you’ll get more longevity out of Microsoft’s laptop than the Dell — at least given the configuration. The XPS 15 with a Full HD+ display will last hours longer, but the display won’t be as spectacular.
The Surface Laptop 4 starts at $1,300 with the Ryzen 7 4980U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. You can spend as much as $2,400 for an Intel Core i7 processor, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. It’s a premium laptop, without a doubt.
The XPS 15 starts at $1,274 for a Core i5-11400H, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, Intel UHD graphics, and a 15.6-inch Full HD+ display. The highest-end model goes for a whopping $4,704 for a Core i9-11900H, 64GB of RAM, an 8TB SSD, the RTX 3050 Ti GPU, and either the UHD+ IPS or 3.5K OLED display. Fully configured, the XPS 15 is one expensive — and powerful — laptop.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 puts up a good fight, at least for productivity users. But the Dell XPS 15 is just too powerful and too configurable to lose this battle. It’s the better 15-inch laptop by a country mile.
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August 5, 2022 at 11:18PM