OLED has been commonplace in high-end TVs for quite a while, but it’s still making its way into the laptop mainstream. That’s good news for shoppers looking for a more vibrant multimedia experience. OLED panels have unbeatable contrast ratios, combining the blackest possible blacks with the whitest possible whites. They bring entertainment to a new level, and they can lend a hand with creative photo and video work, too.
Not too long ago, OLED laptops were a luxury purchase. But smaller mainstream OLED devices are becoming more common each year. Whether you’re a die-hard OLED enthusiast or you’re just looking for a way to upgrade your movie-watching experience, you now have two excellent 13-inch OLED machines to choose from: the Dell XPS 13 and the Asus ZenBook 13. The question is — which one should you buy?
The TL;DR is that the XPS is a more expensive and more niche purchase, while the ZenBook has more configuration options. The specs and prices should make that clear. Dell’s machine only comes with an Intel Core i7-1185G7 — there are no other processor options. You can pair that processor with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage for $1,549.99, and can upgrade that to 2TB of storage and 16GB of RAM for $1,999.99 or 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage for $2,269.99.
With the ZenBook 13 OLED, you can actually choose your processor. For the starting price of $799.99, you can get an AMD Ryzen 5500U, 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage, or a Core i5-1135G7, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. Then you can get a Core i7-1165G7 or a Ryzen 7 5700U, both with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, for $899.99. On top of that, there’s a model with a Core i7-1165G7, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage for $1,099.99.
So these laptops fill pretty different niches. The ZenBook offers affordable options for a variety of needs, while the XPS is a powerful computer for folks with deeper pockets. The main question to ask yourself is whether the extra benefits of the OLED XPS are worth that extra money.
To help you answer that question, I’ve got a summary of each product’s selling points and drawbacks below.
- Processor options: AMD Ryzen 5500U, Intel Core i5-1135G7, AMD Ryzen 7 5700U, Intel Core i7-1165G7
- RAM options: 8GB, 16GB (only available with Core i7)
- Storage options: 256GB (only available with Core i5), 512GB
- Dimensions and weight: 11.97 x 7.99 x 0.55 inches, 2.5lbs
- Battery size: 67Wh
- Display resolution: 1920 x 1080
Don’t let the low price fool you — Asus’ ZenBook 13 OLED is one of the best 13-inch laptops you can buy. Its main selling point is battery life. The AMD configuration that I reviewed was a standout in this area, averaging over 11 hours in my testing. It’s also one of the lightest laptops in its category, weighing in at just over two and a half pounds.
The ZenBook’s other primary benefit is its flexibility — you can pick your processor. The eight-core AMD model delivered excellent performance (in addition to its long-lasting battery), tearing through my daily workload and running lighter games at playable frame rates as well. Folks who might prefer the four-core Intel models are those who want to connect Thunderbolt 4 accessories (a standard not available on the AMD models) or who want to take advantage of Intel’s Quick Sync feature for video work.
An impressive package for its price
That said, there are a couple compromises you’re making for this low price. If you put the ZenBook next to the XPS, it will be clear which one is more expensive — the ZenBook has a bit of a plasticky look and feel, with a fair amount of flex in the chassis and a floppy hinge. The lid is also quite a fingerprint magnet, which dampers the look of its otherwise-cool concentric swirl design.
The other major differentiator is the screen resolution. While many OLED panels are 4K, the ZenBook actually has an FHD OLED display. It still looks good, but it won’t look quite as stunning as you’d see from a 4K OLED device (such as Gigabyte’s creator-focused Aero 15 OLED). Oh, and there’s no headphone jack.
All in all, the ZenBook is still an impressive package for its price — but there are some potential dealbreakers. Here’s how I summed it up in my review:
There are some nice extra benefits (the LED numpad, the HDMI) and some drawbacks (the plastic look, the lack of headphone jack, the terrible webcam), but the screen and the processor are the stars of the show and the main considerations. While some of the drawbacks may be dealbreakers for some shoppers (they would be for me), many may see them as reasonable sacrifices in order to get this performance at this price point.
- Processor options: Intel Core i7-1185G7
- RAM options: 16GB, 32GB (only available with 1TB)
- Storage options: 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
- Dimensions and weight: 11.64 x 7.82 x 0.58, 2.8 lbs
- Battery size: 52Wh
- Display resolution: 3456 x 2160
The XPS 13 OLED is really a premium machine for customers who want the best of the best. The first thing to note is that this laptop has a 3.5K display, which delivers a truly gorgeous picture. If screen quality is important to you, you’ll probably notice a difference in the sharpness of this display over the ZenBook’s. (Though, again, the ZenBook’s still looks great and should be fine for many people.)
The other big differentiator is the specs available. The XPS 13 has a Core i7-1185G7, which beat our ZenBook unit in our content creation tests. That’s what we’d hope to see, of course, given how much more expensive this laptop is.
And, of course, Dell’s product offers some other benefits over the ZenBook. It has a 16:10 screen, which gives you a bit more vertical space. While it’s a bit heavier, it’s also significantly sturdier, and the build quality is noticeably nicer. The keyboard and touchpad are a bit better as well. It’s a small step up across the board — but the screen and the processor are the bulk of what that extra money gets you.
A very expensive computer
That said, even if you’re willing to pay extra money for the XPS’s benefits, there’s one really important thing to consider: battery life. The combination of the high-resolution screen, the powerful processor, and the smaller battery gave the XPS 13 OLED some disappointing longevity issues in my testing. I was only getting about five hours from the device in my testing, which is less than half of the lifespan I got out of the ZenBook.
So if price is no object, you still need to consider: is power or battery life more important to you? Given that the ZenBook’s options can do just fine with most of the tasks that most people need, my conclusion is that only people with pretty specific workflows who don’t need to move around that much are better off with the XPS. As I noted in my review, “If you’re someone for whom the OLED is worth the price, you probably know who you are.”
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge