Dell vs. Apple: Which laptops are better for business?

Dell unveiled the latest generation of the Latitude series of business laptops. Here's how they stack up to Apple's MacBook lineup.

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Dell has unveiled refreshed versions of the company's Latitude and Vostro notebook computers as part of a wave of announcements at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas this week.

Dell's Latitude series and Apple's MacBook series are popular options for business users, though the two could not be more different. As a PC vendor, Dell is beholden to Windows (and a vocal minority of Linux users, which the company makes advances toward), while Apple's ecosystem stands alone from the PC OEM fray. TechRepublic compares the two product lineups to help you decide what's best for you.

The business case for Dell Latitude systems

Based on specs sheets alone, Dell's newly-announced systems are feature-complete, though essentially indistinguishable from business-class systems sold by HP and Lenovo—you'd only know the difference by the branding. The trio feature, under different trade names, switchable privacy settings for display panels that narrow the field of view, preventing others from shoulder surfing for personal data. Likewise, their enterprise features like integrated smart card readers are too niche for consumer-focused MacBooks.

Compared to Dell's consumer-facing XPS series, the newest Latitude and Vostro models return the webcam to the top center of the screen bezel, avoiding the "nose cam" effect. Both Dell and Apple laptops lack a physical shutter to close the webcam, leaving privacy-conscious users who need to close the camera reliant on tape or sticky notes.

SEE: The Apple Developer Program: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Dell offers a wider variety of form factors and screen sizes, with the aluminum and carbon fiber Latitude 7000 series comprising 13- and 14-inch models, complemented by a 2-in-1 12-inch model (Latitude 7200), that uses a 360° hinge. The carbon fiber-reinforced Latitude 5000 series includes 13-, 14-, and 15-inch models. Apple provides no 14-inch variants or 360° hinges on any MacBook model.

Dell caters to the budget-focused, with the plastic-bezeled Latitude 3000 using the same form factors. The newly-announced models use 8th generation Intel Core processors, and are now available starting, with the 7000 series starting at $1,299, the 2-in-1 Latitude 7200 starting at $999, the 5000 series starting at $819, and 3000 series starting at $599—a full $400 cheaper than Apple's budget-targeted previous generation MacBook Air, which uses a 5th generation Intel Core processor.

The business case for Apple MacBook systems

Apple is quite often the first choice for video editors, musicians, photographers, and writers—collectively, "creative professionals"—as Apple's creative software such as Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X are popular, easy-to-use packages. Likewise, Adobe Creative Cloud treats OS X as a first-class citizen, making it a popular option for PhotoShop users.

The MacBook range is also lauded for use of 16:10 screens, which proponents contend are more convenient for productivity compared to 16:9 screen common among PC OEMs, which are better for media consumption. For comparison, Microsoft's Surface line of devices adopted 3:2 screens in 2014, similar to Google's Pixelbook and Pixel Slate systems.

The October 2018 13-inch MacBook Air incorporates many of the engineering advantages found in recent MacBook Pro models, including Touch ID, Retina displays, and large Force Touch trackpads, and start at $1,199, for a 1.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU, with Apple claiming up to 12 hours of battery life.

For comparison, the July 2018 MacBook Pro models include the Touch Bar, rather than function keys, and start at $1,799 for a 2.3 GHz quad-core on the 13-inch model, with a 2.7 GHz upgrade available for an added $300. The 13-inch models are limited to a maximum of 16 GB RAM, with 2 TB SSDs available, for a $1,200 premium. The 15-inch models start at $2,399 for a 2.2 GHz six-core CPU, with 16 GB RAM default, or an optional upgrade to 32 GB for an added $400. SSD upgrades up to 4TB are available, for an added $3,000.

There are some disadvantages to Apple systems, however. Newer models of MacBooks exclusively use USB-C, prompting the need for dongles to convert legacy devices to standard USB Type A connectors. While it's unlikely that end users will notice a significant difference, only the 15-inch MacBook Pro ships with DDR4 memory, with all other current models using LPDDR3. Apple is also facing controversy over the state of the butterfly-switch keyboard, which is prone to individual key failures, which are expensive to repair out of warranty (though Apple has repeatedly extended warranties for this issue on previous models.)

The verdict

Creative professionals are likely to derive the biggest benefit from MacBooks and OS X, while more traditional professions such as accounting may not see a particular benefit to Apple's ecosystem over a standard Windows PC.

Apple hardware is priced at a premium, and relies on often soldered-on or proprietary parts, making aftermarket upgrades impossible or challenging to perform. That said, Apple's use of a unibody aluminum chassis does make it the best-in-class, and Apple has had that distinction for years.

Fundamentally, the choice comes down to an ecosystem play. If you have a demonstrable need for Apple equipment, where performing a task is more time-consuming or not possible on Windows or Linux due to software incompatibilities, the lost productivity from using the wrong tool for the job will result in losses larger than the upfront investment needed for a MacBook.

But if you're doing taxes, the ability to edit video might just be a bit squandered.

Also see

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Apple Inc.

By James Sanders

James Sanders is a technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on Asia.