Round one: design
Good looks aren't everything.
Proudly declaring "Designed by Apple in California" on all of its packaging, Apple has helped fetishise clean product design — and the MacBook Pro is no exception. With a sleek aluminium case and minimalist, unibody design, the MacBook Pro inspires a desire to cradle it protectively. That said, the Dell Studio XPS 13 is no slouch in the aesthetics department; although its plastic construction makes it look cheaper than the MacBook, the stylish grey accents, military lines, leather and white LEDs should be pleasing to most eyes. Unlike the Mac you also have a choice of colours — white, red or black.
But as any designer will tell you, good looks will get you only so far. In the case of laptops, a great design is one that's functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Apple's dedication to simplicity and minimalism has resulted in some truly elegant innovations. The multi-touch touchpad here is a prime example: it lets you scroll through documents and web pages by dragging two fingers across it, right-click by tapping two fingers, access Exposé by swiping four fingers vertically or switch applications by doing the same horizontally. You can also navigate through images by swiping three fingers, and pinch your fingers to zoom, or rotate them to, yep, rotate the image. It's an elegant system that you soon find you can't live without.
It also has a backlit keyboard that automatically adjusts to changes in ambient light levels (so long as it's dark enough first) and the MagSafe power connector, which gracefully detaches from the laptop if you accidentally trip over the cord. The screen even closes softly with a satisfyingly soft "whump".
PCs have caught up on the Mac in recent years, with the Dell featuring a multi-touch touchpad as well. Sadly it's tiny and nowhere near as advanced as the touchpad in the Asus U80V let alone the Macbook, with only two-finger scrolling enabled.
It also has a backlit keyboard that, unlike the Mac, allows the user to turn it on and set the brightness in the daylight — on the Mac, you'll need a third party tool to achieve this. On the flip side, the Dell features no ambient sensor at all, meaning that if you forget to turn off the backlight, you're potentially wasting battery.
Both feature chiclet-style keyboards, buttons that illuminates LEDs to tell you how much battery is left and glossy screens; the first two being good, the latter annoying in high light situations or if a light-source is near.
While the powdered grey plastic, leather and white LEDs of the Studio XPS go some way to adding to the style, the Dell fails to reach the same simple elegance of the MacBook Pro, and while the Dell cuts a smaller figure than the Apple in width, depth and height, it loses out on weight, at 2.20kg compared to the MacBook's 2.04kg.
A warning about heat: the MacBook can get uncomfortable after prolonged use, but the Dell gets searingly hot when running intensive tasks such as games. We frequently had to move it off our laps, reminding us of why companies like to call these "notebooks" instead of "laptops" these days.
The winner? Despite the closing gap in the style stakes, it's still the MacBook Pro for its innovative usability features and stunning good looks. Does that make us shallow?
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