I’ve spent the past few days making the most of my time with one of the most sought-after, high-profile convertible laptops released in the past year. Sadly, it’s time to ship it back—this thing is in high demand—but not after gaining a new respect for what the combination of premium design and Windows 10 can offer to new laptop buyers. Here’s my review of Hewlett-Packard’s impressive Spectre x360.
Unboxing and Initial Impression
There has been a lot of hype around HP’s Spectre x360 series of convertible laptops and it’s only increased over time. When it first arrived in March 2015, the Spectre x360 was lauded as have been developed in an unusually close partnership with Microsoft, ensuring it offered a best-in-class Windows 10 experience. Made of machined aluminum with a durable hinge that allowed the display to rotate 360 degrees for use in range of configurations including traditional laptop mode and as a tablet, the ultra-thin Spectre x360 was a worthy flagship for Hewlett Packard. In October, the company refreshed the Spectre x360 series with 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core CPUs, offering improved performance with increased battery life.
The latest buzz has been courtesy of the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show where HP was showing off a new 15-inch version of the Spectre x360 with a 4K display and a new option for the 13-inch Spectre x360: a gorgeous, QuadHD OLED display. You can read about those Spectre x360s and other standout tech in my CES 2016 computer wrap.
The Spectre x360 review unit I’ve been using is a 13-inch model and while it doesn’t have that OLED display, it is equipped with the new 6th generation Intel Core i5 CPU and it’s a model that cranks appeal to 11 courtesy of its Ash Silver with Copper accents paint job and dual-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio. Instead of a sticker or air brushed label, the company’s name is proudly displayed on the lid in raised lettering, adding to the high quality details. Despite a very reasonable price tag, everything about this laptop screams premium, including the box it arrived in.
|Spectre x360 Specs (as tested, 13-4128ca model)
Comparing it to my MacBook Air
Naturally, with an ultra-thin laptop that’s machined out of a chunk of CNC-milled aluminum and designed to catch the eye before you ever sit down to use it, it’s worth comparing it to the laptop that more or less kicked off this category: Apple’s MacBook Air.
Mine is the 11-inch MacBook Air as opposed to a 13-inch model, so I can’t really do a direct comparison, but you get the idea.
The two laptops share a number of design choices besides the solid aluminum construction, including standard SSD storage, RAM that’s soldered to the motherboard and a built-in, non user-replaceable battery to help achieve their sleek profiles and long battery life.
The HP Spectre x360 may not be quite as thin and light (it’s a much closer contest with a 13-inch MBA, although the Apple laptop is still a bit lighter at 1.35 kg), but it still looks very sleek. Compared to the aging MacBook Air, the Spectre x360’s display is higher resolution, brighter and offers multitouch support.
The Spectre x360’s CPU is a new 6th generation Intel Core version, which means better performance and improved battery life while the current MBA remains stuck at the 5th Generation Core processors. And the HP Spectre x360 can do this:
The MacBook Air is a laptop, period. And one with a display that’s been begging for an update for years now. Advantage, Spectre x360 …
HP Spectre x360 Hands-On
This is the first laptop I’ve use where I’ve really felt Windows 10 is being used to its full advantage. I’ve tried out a number of convertible laptops before and with the HP Spectre x360, the combo seems to be just about seamless. While I wouldn’t use the tablet mode all that often (I find the keys on the back of any device that uses this trick, as well as the added thickness to be a little awkward), having the ability to do so if needed is a nice feature to have. I would probably get a lot more use out of the other modes, particularly using Stand Mode to watch videos.
The display may not be 4K or OLED like the versions HP was showing off at CES 2016, but the Full HD screen was plenty sharp, very bright and had great viewing angles. One word about the display, though. HP calls it a “Radiance Infinity” display, but it’s not quite the same as the “Infinity” display found in Dell’s XPS-13 laptop. In the Spectre x360’s case, “Infinity” means no metal bezel surrounding the glass, but the screen itself still has a black frame surrounding it. of a centimetre or so in width. That being said, I loved the display; combined with the Bang & Olufsen audio and Stand Mode, the Spectre x360 is an excellent choice for mobile entertainment.
Performance was snappy, thanks to the SSD and Core i5 CPU. I used the laptop mostly for web browsing, writing and watching video, none of which pushed it particularly hard. It got slightly warm on the bottom back left corner after extended use, but not to the extent that it became uncomfortable to use on a lap. Obviously, this is not a gaming laptop—ultra thin and ultra high performance just don’t go hand in hand—but checking in on gaming tests, users are reporting the Skylake CPU-equipped Spectre x360 (which includes upgraded Intel Graphics 520) can get Bioshock: Infinite up to 27 fps at Medium settings and 1366 x 768 resolution. If you want more power, the Spectre x360 is also offered in a configuration with a beefier Core i7 CPU.
HP says Spectre x360’s battery is good for up to 12.5 hours. I liked having the display brightness cranked up a bit and streamed HD video over Wi-Fi with audio also at a fairly high level. That brought battery life down more into the 8-hour range, but that’s still very good and definitely in “all-day” use range. The keyboard was excellent. Keys are full-sized, backlit and offer enough travel for accurate, high speed typing. The Imagepad was also one of the better Windows trackpads I’ve used, very responsive and smooth.
The high gloss display can be a very reflective and the metal case does attract finger prints, but that’s all I could really find fault with. And HP includes a microfibre cloth for taking care of those prints.
The HP Spectre x360 is a keeper. Well, not for me—I have to send it back. But this is a convertible Windows laptop that checks all the boxes. It offers good performance, excellent battery life, a great display, solid build, portability and unbeatable versatility. The fact that the premium design and colour scheme is practically guaranteed to turn heads is just icing on the cake.