Review: HP Spectre

Introduction and design

Ever since HP released the Spectre x360, the company has been clearly putting a greater emphasis on design and top-of-the-line materials. And, it’s evident this philosophy has come to all of HP’s machines, from the thinning Envy line to even its budget Pavilion line, which are now painted with a tennis shoe-inspired design.

Now, HP has released the Spectre, its most luxurious laptop yet complete with gold bling and carbon fiber. The 13-inch Ultrabook also claims to be the world’s thinnest notebook, while being the first laptop of this thinness (0.41 inches) to offer Intel Core i5 and i7 processors – a step up from the Intel Core M-powered MacBook.

While the HP Spectre is a looker and substantial on the inside, it’s not quite a homerun for the storied PC maker.

HP Spectre review

Design

Measuring in at 0.41 inches, HP Spectre is about as thick as a fluffy pancake, and it feels just as light despite weighing 2.24 pounds. Thanks to its broad 12.8 by 9.03-inches frame, the Ultrabook feels like it has the airy density of a wafer.

However, as a consequence of the laptop’s wider footprint, we find the Spectre is sometimes a tight squeeze even with bags and sleeves designed for a 13-inch machine.

Dimensions aside, the HP Spectre is a down right stunner. Instead of being another cookie cutter, silver and black Ultrabook, this 13-inch machine features a gold on black color scheme.

HP Spectre review

While gold on any type of device might seem gaudy, the gilded material adds a contrasting accent to the Spectre’s dark finish. There’s a golden panel that sits at the rear and defines the machine’s thickest point. Gold is also sparingly used for HP’s edgy new logo and a pair of specially designed hinges.

Thankfully, HP also went with a polished and redder shade of gold rather than a champagne or rose gold treatment seen on the MacBook and Asus ZenBook 3. Unfortunately, the mirrored finish easily picks up fingerprints and looks absolutely gross even after handling it for a moment.

You might notice the Spectre casts a very similar silhouette to other ultrathin laptops, like the Dell Adamo, with a skinny base and thicker backside to accommodate ports and cooling.

However, this 13-inch Ultrabook is more curvaceous, thanks to its rounded back corners. And, while it’s thick enough to accommodate a full-sized USB port, users are only left with three USB-C ports – only two of which support video, data and charging.

HP Spectre review

Little touches

Aside from the extra golden touches, it’s clear HP went back to the drawing board to redesign a ton of elements for the Spectre.

For starters, the Spectre’s 13-inch screen doesn’t sit on a traditional laptop hinge. Instead, it hovers over the keyboard base, held up by two crescent-shaped strips that magically tuck into the Ultrabook’s svelte form. HP calls this its ‘piston hinge,’ and it’s a slick mechanism that glides closed and holds the display steadily in place.

Unfortunately, one limitation of the piston hinge is you can only push the screen back to a roughly 120-degree angle. So, it’s not as flexible as other Ultrabooks, including HP’s own EliteBook Folio G1, which lets you tilt the screen back a full 180-degrees.

HP Spectre review

The bulk of the Spectre’s chassis is made up of CNC cut aluminum, but to help reduce weight, HP went with a carbon fiber underside. However, without knowing that, you probably wouldn’t notice the difference. The woven filament feels just as rigid and has nearly the same finish as the metal. Another plus side of the carbon fiber is it radiates less heat onto your lap than aluminum would.

HP has basically injected style into every element it could find, including the fractal pattern found on the speaker grills. On the machine’s underside, you’ll even find the intake and exhaust vents have been arranged into a symmetrical "V" shape.

Specifications, performance and features

While most ultrathin laptops up until now have stuck with power sipping Intel Core M processors, the Spectre comes packing a full fat Intel Core i5 or even i7 CPU. Our own configuration is the mid-range spec model, priced at $1,249 and only available in the US.

While that’s a bummer for anyone across the ocean, the entry-level Spectre comes with nearly the same configuration, save for a slower Intel Core i5 processor at a more affordable $1,169 (£1,149, AU$2,399). HP also offers the Spectre with an Intel Core i7 chip and 512GB SSD for $1,499 (£1,299, AU$3,099).

Compared to competing Ultrabooks, the HP Spectre asks for a higher premium, thanks in part to its gold accents and high-end styling. For instance, a Dell XPS 13 configured to match the Spectre’s starting specs is roughly 20 bones cheaper, while the $999 (about £763, AU$1,330) Samsung Notebook 9 is a much bigger bargain.

If touchscreens and high-resolution displays are must-have features on your Ultrabook checklist; you’ll also want to look elsewhere, as the Spectre can’t be configured with either option.

HP Spectre review

Spec sheet

Here is the HP Spectre configuration sent to techradar for review:

  • CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.1GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 SDRAM (1,866MHz)
  • Screen: 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 FHD IPS UWVA BrightView Corning Gorilla Glass WLED-backlit display
  • Storage: 256GB SSD (PCIe; NVMe; M.2)
  • Ports: 2 x USB-C Thunderbolt 3, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, headphone jack
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: HP TrueVision HD Webcam
  • Weight: 2.45 pounds
  • Size: 12.8 x 9.03 x 0.41 inches (W x D x H)

Performance

We’ve never felt like Intel Core M-series processors we’re lacking in power, but the Intel Core i7 chip certainly gives the Spectre an extra spring in its step. Beyond everyday web browsing and email correspondence, this Windows 10 is machine powerful enough to run Lightroom and even handle some light PC gaming despite being as thin as a tablet.

HP was able to do this all by going with an unorthodox, hyperbaric cooling system, which essentially uses two fans to pull air into the laptop. That’s pretty normal for any laptop, but there isn’t a heat sink sitting on top of the CPU.

HP Spectre review

Instead, the laptop is designed with positive pressure in mind, as it funnels a stream of cool air directly over the processor and exhausts heat out through the back of the machine.

It’s an effective system that keeps the CPU running at full power without throttling issues. However, this machine expels plenty of heat, and you can feel it radiating everywhere.

The laptop’s carbon fiber underside gets warm to the touch, and the aluminum keyboard deck essentially becomes a hot plate. Luckily, the hot zone stays primarily above the function keys and away from your hands, but you can feel exactly where the internals are creating a geyser of heat.

HP Spectre review

Benchmarks

Here’s how the HP Spectre performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 4,703; Sky Diver: 2,746; Fire Strike: 731
  • Cinebench CPU: 257 points; Graphics: 31.28 fps
  • GeekBench: GeekBench: 3,172 (single-core); 6,693 (multi-core)
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,615 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours and 17 minutes
  • Battery Life (techradar movie test): 5 hours and 33 minutes

HP claims the Spectre is just as powerful as any Ultrabook, and these figures back up that claim. The ultrathin laptop keeps in step with the Dell XPS 13 and Samsung Notebook 9 in processor intensive benchmark tests, like GeekBench and PCMark 8. That said, the Spectre lags behind in the graphical department, putting up lower 3DMark scores across the board.

This machine isn’t built for any intensive graphical challenges, like video editing and hardcore gaming. But, the integrated graphics are surprisingly robust – we were actually able to play a round of Overwatch at full HD resolution with high graphics settings at a relatively solid 30 frames per second.

HP Spectre review

Battery life

Although HP claims users can achieve a battery life of 9 hours and 45 minutes, in our testing we found run times last about 6 hours at most. Our movie-based battery test exhausted the ultra-portable’s battery cells after just 5 hours and 33 minutes, and regular usage reduced screen-on time by an hour.

The battery life numbers are well beneath the lofty expectations HP put forth, but it’s still pretty impressive given how thin the Spectre is. This 13-inch notebook won’t get you through a full work day on its battery cells alone, but it should be fine for long meetings or web browsing in a café – plus, fully recharging the Ultrabook only takes about two hours.

Still, if you’re looking for a machine designed for longevity, you might be better served by the Asus ZenBook UX305 or a 13-inch MacBook Air.

HP Spectre review

Top notch features

Aside from the premium feel and high-end style, the Spectre’s most stand out feature is its bright and vibrant screen. Almost all laptop manufacturers have stepped up their display game, but this 13-inch Ultrabook in particular displays deeper blacks than even the Dell XPS 13 or MacBook.

If you’re looking for the best image quality screen to watch the dimly shot scenes in Daredevil or Stranger Things, HP’s Spectre is the machine to get.

HP Spectre review

The HP Spectre also sports one of the best laptop keyboards I’ve ever used. Despite having to cut key travel down to 1.3mm over HP’s usual 1.5mm standard, the electronics firm engineered a higher force curve, so it takes more pressure to type each key stroke. The result is a firmer typing experience and a satisfying click to go with it.

Unfortunately, the trackpad isn’t as stand out and a bit smaller than all of HP’s other laptops. It feels as smooth as other glass-coated touchpads out there, but it feels a little spongy when you actually click it.

Verdict

HP is doubling down on its ultra-thin laptop game. After introducing the stunningly thin EliteBook Folio G1, we didn’t think the firm could up come up with anything even smaller, but it has with the Spectre – and in style.

Beyond the luxury styling and gold accents, the Spectre has spurred a wave of more powerful ultrathin computers packing the full might of Intel Core I-series processors, like the Asus ZenBook 3 and Acer Switch Alpha 12. We’re digging this trend quite a bit.

We liked

The HP Spectre is arguably the most stylish laptop to come out this year and the closest thing to a mass-produced luxury device. The touches of gold are surprisingly tasteful, and we love the seamless inclusion of carbon fiber to save on weight and our laps from burning on contact.

Beyond that, the Spectre is a case study of how you don’t have to give up performance for a thinner package. The 13-inch laptop performs just as well as other thicker and heavier Ultrabooks, all while including one of the best looking screens and a wonderfully tactile keyboard.

We disliked

Although the Spectre taps into the full power of its processor, it can’t bend the law of physics to eliminate all the heat it produces. This machine gets uncomfortably hot on your lap to practically searing temperatures in certain areas.

Another potential annoyance is the battery life might be shorter than you would like. Four to six hours is below the average use time we’d expect from an Ultrabook. But, given the Spectre’s thin dimensions, this can be partially forgiven. It’s also worth noting this machine lasted longer than the shorter-lived Samsung Notebook 9 and Toshiba Satellite Radius 12.

HP Spectre review

Final verdict

The Spectre is HP’s finest laptop yet, and it’s clear it was engineered from the ground up from the piston hinges and specially layered batteries to the tactile keyboard. That said, we wish it could last a bit longer – even if it meant a few more millimeters of thickness.

Otherwise, the HP Spectre is a hit in our book, but it’s higher price tag may sway you towards picking up a more affordable option, like the Dell XPS 13, Samsung Notebook 9, Asus ZenBook UX305, or any of the other myriad Ultrabooks out there. One thing here is for absolute certain: Apple better look out because it’s no longer the only one that can make a luxury laptop with stunning performance to back it up.

Source: Tech Radar