Head-To-Head: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Vs. Dell XPS 13

Face Off

At the CRN Test Center, two of the laptops we most look forward to trying out with each new generation are Dell's XPS 13 and Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Both laptops have long been a delight to use -- but this is especially true of the 2018 updates. For laptops that combine portability with power, both the newly redesigned XPS 13 and the latest X1 Carbon are feats of engineering. But there are some important differences that we uncovered in our tryouts of each laptop. Which is a better fit for you? In the following slides, we break down how Dell's new XPS 13 for 2018 compares vs. the 6th gen Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon on specs and price.


The first difference between the laptops in our comparison is on display size, with Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon at 14 inches compared to 13.3 inches for the Dell XPS 13 display. Our tryout model of the X1 Carbon came with an FHD resolution (1,920 x 1,080) display. It looks good but isn't as stunning as the 4K/UHD (3,840 x 2,160) display that we tried out on the XPS 13. For X1 Carbon users that want better display quality, there is a WQHD (2,560 x 1,440) model that supports Dolby Vision HDR. The 4K XPS 13 supports HDR as well.

Likewise, the new XPS 13 comes with an FHD display option, too. Both laptops feature high brightness, with the X1 Carbon going up to 500 nits at the top end and the XPS 13 reaching up to 400 nits. And both have touch screen configurations, though only with FHD screens.

For users that prioritize having the best possible display quality -- though not necessarily the largest display -- the XPS 13 with 4K resolution is going to be the ideal choice.


We rank the new XPS 13 among the best-looking laptops we've tried out to date, with its rose gold exterior and newly added "alpine white" woven glass fiber on the palm rest, keyboard and display bezel. It's glorious -- and distinctive from anything else out there right now. (There's also a standard XPS 13 model with a silver exterior and black interior.)

Dell has also shrunk the XPS 13 bezel around the display even further from the previous model, which already sported one of the smallest laptop screen borders out there. The result is that the new XPS 13 feels even more futuristic, with the display now almost inseparable from the rest of the world.

The latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon has also shaken things up in terms of design choices, with a silver option now offered in addition to the familiar black color. It certainly doesn't look as amazing as the alpine white XPS 13, but the X1 Carbon does have the advantage of placing the webcam above the display -- which is a much better spot than the XPS 13, which has the webcam at an unflattering angle in the center beneath the display.


Both Lenovo and Dell are leaders when it comes to laptop portability for their respective devices. But there are some big differences in terms of portability attributes. In a nutshell, the XPS 13 is thinner and smaller overall, but the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is actually lighter. In terms of taking a laptop on the go, we've found that weight is usually the most important factor, and the X1 Carbon is impressive with its weight of just 2.5 pounds. The XPS 13 is still lightweight at 2.7 pounds, but given the laptop's small overall size, it "feels" heavier than it seems like it should. The X1 Carbon, by contrast, feels much lighter than you'd expect.

On overall size, the XPS 13 has a total volume of just 43 square inches -- much smaller than the X1 Carbon, which comes in at about 67 square inches in volume. The XPS 13 is also significantly thinner at 0.46 of an inch thick, versus the 0.62 of an inch thickness of the X1 Carbon.

We found both laptops to be fantastic for travel, though in our view the lighter weight of the X1 Carbon gives it a slight edge in the portability category.


One thing we haven't mentioned so far is that our comparison is not apples-to-apples in one important sense: the XPS 13 is marketed as a consumer laptop, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is intended for business users. But the lines are pretty blurry these days, and the horsepower of the XPS 13 is only making them blurrier. The XPS 13 offers eighth-gen Intel Core i5 or i7 chips, going up to the Core i7-8550U (quad-core, with a clock speed of up to 4GHz). That is nearly as fast the top-level processor available in the X1 Carbon -- the Core i7-8650U (quad-core, up to 4.2Ghz). In our tryouts, both laptops showed admirable performance around multi-tasking -- meaning that you can expect to get a lot done, fast, on either the X1 Carbon or the XPS 13.

Battery Life

We try to gauge battery life based on real-world scenarios, which means putting laptops through their paces with heavy usage over the course of a day. Some combination of using PC apps, web browsing with multiple browsers (Edge and Chrome) and video streaming is involved. We think this gives us a better feel for how a laptop really performs on battery life (as opposed to just seeing how long the battery lasts when looping a video). Using our method, with the brightness set to 75 percent in both cases, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon provided significantly greater battery life -- nine hours of usage after a fully charge. The XPS 13, by contrast, gave us just 6.5 hours of battery life on a charge. We expect that the FHD model of the XPS 13 would fare a lot better, though, while the WQHD model of the X1 Carbon would likely not offer as much in the way of battery life.

Clearly, this is one of the biggest trade-offs that potential buyers will have to contend with when comparing these devices: which do you value more, battery life or display quality? Generally, we tend to gravitate toward getting longer battery life rather than more pixels.

Keyboard And Touchpad

We've loved the smooth touchpad responsiveness and the comfortable, quiet keys on the latest X1 Carbon. For fans of the Chrome browser, this is the best Windows touchpad we've tried for using Chrome.

The XPS 13 touchpad is pretty close, though -- it was a pleasure to use in our tryout. And the keyboard is a top feature, too. The XPS 13 keyboard is amazingly comfortable to use thanks in part to its deep keys -- an impressive feat for a laptop that's so thin.


Lenovo maintains a range of ports with the new X1 Carbon, unlike Dell's new XPS 13. The X1 Carbon features two USB-A ports, two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, a microSD card reader, HDMI and a docking connector for native Ethernet.

Depending on how you work, the port situation on the XPS 13 could put you at a disadvantage. The XPS 13 relies on three USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports along with a microSD slot -- meaning that you'll need to have a dongle for using USB-A or attaching to a display.

Price & Bottom Line

For models with 8 GB of RAM (which we recommend), the new XPS 13 is available for a lower starting price of $1,150, compared to $1,367 for the 6th gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Those prices will get you an eighth-gen Core i5 chip and FHD display in both cases. Getting the HDR WQHD display on the X1 Carbon will add $180 for a price of $1,529, while getting the 4K display on the XPS 13 will add $400 for a price of $1,600. So for users that favor the best possible display, the two laptops are actually pretty comparable on price.

As mentioned, the XPS 13 is not marketed as a business laptop but it goes a long way toward serving the needs of a highly productive user. We still would favor the ThinkPad X1 Carbon for use as a primary work device, however, due to its impressive combination of portability, battery life and performance.