Laptops in 2017 are all about balance. You have to adopt the future while still pleasing those living in the present. Lately, it has been tough for some to find the right balance, but I think HP may have nailed it in their recent mid-size laptop — the HP Spectre x360 13”.
HP’s late 2016 release brings a new, modern design with updated specifications, new pricing, and also the latest assortment of ports, the most important being USB-C. I’ve been using the machine over the past few weeks as my daily laptop and — spoiler alert — I really love it.
When it comes to design, most ultrabook laptops are the same. They are thin, light, and usually offer similar traits. HP’s design on the Spectre x360 lineup, especially this newer version, is clean and sleek. The entire machine is built from aluminum with a matte texture on the lid, bottom, and wrist-pad. The borders of the machine adopt a slightly scratch-prone, almost chamfered finish.
As a whole, the entire machine looks fantastic. From a design standpoint, the entire machine looks excellent, and the thin and compact size is fantastic for working on the go. The laptop is also a 2-in-1 convertible with a touchscreen, like most other Windows ultrabooks on the market. Realistically speaking, I only have two minor gripes about the design, and they are both due to the hinge.
First of all, when you fold the Spectre around into “tablet mode,” the screen extends past the base of the laptop, which makes that mode even more pointless than it already is. The second complaint is how difficult it is to open the hinge. You definitely won’t be able to open the machine one handed, and in most cases, you’ll need to hold the laptop upright and “rip” the two halves apart. However, the hinge is pretty solid when using the machine as a laptop, at least compared to other convertibles. Honestly, I don’t recommend this laptop as a convertible. It’s a fantastic laptop, but it’s a pretty terrible tablet. Granted, that’s true about most convertibles.
The weight of the HP Spectre, or the lack thereof, is another plus for the machine. At just 2.85lbs, HP has created an ultra-portable machine which is just hefty enough to feel like the premium and powerful machine that it is, but not to the point where it weighs you down.
Like its competitors, HP’s latest efforts in the laptop field have had a goal in mind of cramming more power and a bigger display into the smallest possible footprint. In this case, the Spectre packs a 13.3-inch display in a smaller footprint, compared to its predecessor. It’s not the smallest option at this screen size, but thanks to HP’s use of “micro edges,” it’s a very compact machine. Further, by shaving the bezels only off the sides, HP has kept the camera and eye scanner at the top of the display rather than moving it to the bottom like other ultrabooks have done.
The display itself is a 1080p IPS panel. While a 1080p resolution on an expensive machine in 2017 might not sound all that exciting, it’s actually an excellent display. The resolution leaves plenty of room for tasks and web browsing, and apps scale properly for the available resolution and size. The touchscreen is great as well, but my main complaint is the brightness. The minimum brightness is excellent for using the machine at night, but this isn’t a laptop for outdoor usage as the maximum brightness isn’t all that impressive.
Keyboard & Trackpad
Where the HP shines, though, is in the input methods. The extra-wide trackpad is wonderful to use, especially with gestures. I did have some issues with multi-touch, but thanks to some software tricks which can be enabled, I felt at home using the trackpad.
As for the keyboard, nothing but fantastic things can be said. This keyboard is well spaced, has plenty of key travel (and a very satisfying click), and has extra function keys that other laptops lack. Along the right side of the keyboard, you’ll find home, page up, page down, and end buttons. Personally, I didn’t find myself using these all that often, but they came in handy when reading articles online and having them there is fantastic.
As for the keys themselves, they’re excellent. It took just a matter of minutes to adjust to using the keyboard on this machine and I can honestly say this is the best laptop keyboard I’ve tried in recent years.
Windows 10 & Special Features
As for the software, the HP Spectre runs on top of Windows 10 and works well. The form factor of the Spectre is ideal for Windows 10, allowing users to get work done when using the machine as a laptop, and having the ability to have some fun when using it as a tablet.
For the most part, HP hasn’t changed much on the Spectre. There are some minor changes and a few added apps, like one to help control the speakers, but overall this is a pretty clean slate for Microsoft’s platform.
One addition HP has made on the Spectre is an iris scanner that works with Windows Hello. While not quite as quick as something like a fingerprint sensor, this iris scanner is an excellent addition to the machine which I absolutely love. It saves time with typing in passwords, and it’s crazy accurate. Once the sensor turns on, it takes just seconds for the machine to identify your face, and I’ve only had it fail a handful of times since buying the machine, regardless of the amount of light in the room.
As you’d expect by looking at the spec sheet, HP has some spectacular performance here in the HP Spectre. The model I tested is powered by an Intel Core i7-7500U dual-core processor with 16GB of RAM, and it runs Windows and all my programs without breaking a sweat. The included Intel HD Graphics 620 also handles most tasks as well, including some gaming. I commonly played Rocket League on the Spectre and as long as the graphics were adjusted properly, it was a solid experience.
What really impressed me, though, was how well this laptop handled very intensive tasks. Early on this year, I brought the Spectre to CES 2017 as my only laptop, and it handled editing several 1080p videos in Adobe Premiere Pro without a hitch, along with editing various photos in Photoshop. Needless to say, this machine went well above my expectations.
Another aspect of the HP Spectre that blew me away, quite literally, were the speakers. Powered by Bang & Olufsen, the HP Spectre packs two speakers above the keyboard and two under the machine and they sound absolutely fantastic. Audio quality is great, despite suffering just a bit when it comes to bass. The volume, though, is what really impressed me as this laptop can get far louder than most other laptops I’ve tried.
An unfortunate trend over the past few months in laptops has been removing ports all in the name of being thin, and the Spectre has been no exception to that. Compared to the previous model, the late-2016 Spectre has dropped the majority of its ports, leaving just a single USB 3.0 port and two USB-C ports. Both of those USB-C ports work with data transfer and charging, as well as using adapters to plug in HDMI and adding extra ports. Really, there’s no way around it. If you buy this laptop, you’ll be living the “dongle life.” Personally I have a handful of USB-C dongles that add ethernet, HDMI, extra full-size USB ports, and an SD card reader.
Keep in mind, though, that USB-C isn’t the only thing you have available. The single USB 3.0 port on the left side of the laptop comes in handy constantly, saving the need to always keep an extra cable on hand.
Battery Life & Charging
Battery life isn’t easy on the super-thin machines available today, but HP seems to have solved the puzzle on the Spectre. The company doesn’t make too many public claims about the laptop, but typically I find myself pulling between 8 and 12 hours out of a charge depending on what I’m doing. Obviously running intensive tasks like games, video editing, or photo editing will pull away from the battery, but when simply web browsing, I have fantastic battery life on this machine.
To supplement that excellent battery life, the Spectre also has an easy charging method in USB-C. The included charger is very quick, but the true benefit is that the machine can be charged by almost any USB-C power source, as long as it pushes enough power. Personally, I picked up an extra power brick and a power bank both from RAVPower which both work fantastic with the laptop.
It’s 2017. We live in a time where laptops are impressing us left and right, but are typically full of compromises just beneath the surface. Some trade size for battery life, build quality for weight, or thinness for power and ports. The Spectre, on the other hand, just doesn’t. It packs all the power you’d expect from a top-of-the-line laptop, while still offering the battery life and weight you want on the go. The biggest compromise on this laptop is the lack of ports, but that’s where the market is headed, and eventually we’ll have to give in. If you ask me, the Spectre is where it needs to be. It mixes the potential of the future with the bit of legacy we still need.
Right here right now, the HP Spectre x360 is the best 13-inch laptop you can buy, but that comes at a price which in all honesty, isn’t all that crazy. HP starts pricing at about $1,000 for the i5 model, and goes up to $1,500 for the i7, 512GB, 16GB model. However, you can head over to Best Buy to save just a bit on that pricing — I picked up the top model for about $1,100 on a sale, but it usually starts at $1,300 from the retailer.HP Spectre x360 13 at HPHP Spectre x360 13 at Best Buy