Review: Updated: HP Spectre x360

Introduction and design

Update: HP has informed us a bios can be installed to fix a number of issues with the track pad and keyboard backlight on the Spectre x360. TechRadar will re-test the laptop and update this review accordingly.

If it transforms, it’ll probably look ugly. This is basically the precedent that has been set by anything that can change from one form to another from Transformers realized as toys to even real-life amphibious and flying cars. This hasn’t been more true than with 2-in-1 laptops, which for the most part have failed to gracefully walk the line between laptop and tablet.

The Surface Pro 3, for instance, comes at the hybrid machine problem as a tablet first, which makes it invariably lopsided when paired with the wafer-thin Type Cover. The Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi comes closest to balancing the needs of a thin tablet and sturdy laptop, but at the cost of all its full sized ports.

At long last, the HP Spectre x360 might be the first transforming laptop to finally strike the perfect balance. Unlike most other hybrid notebooks, this 13-inch machine looks like any regular, garden variety laptop. But in one quick motion, I can flip the screen back 360 degrees to turn it into a full-on Windows 8.1 tablet.

HP Spectre x360 review

Looks aside, the Spectre x360 is an honest-to-god, 13-inch laptop complete with an Intel Core i5 processor and a flex-free keyboard to boot. HP has finally arranged the ultimate marriage between laptops and tablets to make this premium hybrid – for a reasonable $999 (£899, AU$1,899) price – but I really wish it weren’t so dang heavy.

Design

If Lenovo and Apple ever got together to make a baby, it would be this. That’s not meant as a derogatory comparison either. HP has blended the best elements of the MacBook Air‘s aluminum body with the rotating hinges from Lenovo’s Yoga series of convertible machines to make one gorgeous computing device.

The outside shell of the Spectre x360 is wholly minimalistic with almost no embellishments on its plain, anodized aluminum chassis. The only things worth noting are the words Hewlett Packard embossed on the right side of the laptop lid. Another logo is also printed on the rear edge of the laptop’s base. Additionally there’s a thin slit of plastic that runs parallel to the top of the screen, which most likely hides the Wi-Fi radio.

HP Spectre x360 review

Speaking of slits and edges, the Spectre x360 is a marvelously thin device that measures only 0.63-inches thick. It’s a pretty piece of kit that almost looks white, thanks to its all-aluminum frame. An extra touch you won’t see on any other machine is the Spectre x360’s edges have been polished to a mirror sheen.

Things get a bit more interesting when you open up the laptop, as you can push the screen back a full 360-degrees, turning this everyday notebook into a Windows tablet. HP has come up with a seamless geared hinge, which allows the laptop screen to smoothly arc up and down.

HP Spectre x360 review

This transforming mechanic might sound very similar any of Lenovo’s Yoga hybrids – which have spawned more than a dozen copycat devices – but HP has come up with a design that blends in. Whereas the watchband-inspired strips of metal found on the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro stick out like a sore thumb, the metal hinges on the Spectre x360 look like they’re simply part of the machine.

A trackpad too far

Instead of noticing the hinges, your attention is likely to dart immediately to the unusually wide trackpad. Nearly double the width of a traditional pointing device, the Spectre x360 offers an expansive and smooth surface to glide your fingers over. Aside from the smooth feel of the trackpad, it’s accurate to a millimeter, thanks to Microsoft’s Precision trackpad software – co-developed with Intel, Synaptics and Elan.

Unfortunately, for all the excellent tracking this massive surface offers, it has just as much trouble accurately registering clicks. Almost every time I clicked on an icon, tab or anything on the screen, I have to press the mouse button a second time before anything actually happens. At the same time, because the trackpad stretches beyond the span of the space bar, my palms accidentally press into the oversized button as I type.

For anyone annoyed by constantly triggering Windows 8.1‘s navigation gestures by accident, HP and Microsoft have worked in some excellent palm rejection software.

HP Spectre x360 review

The keyboard follows a more traditional layout and a complementary white backlight to help you see the keys in the dark. Of course, there’s the option to turn off the keyboard backlight – but when you do so, the F5 key always remain lit. It’s an odd, eye catching quirk I haven’t seen on any other machine before, and it can be distracting until you get used to it.

The keys themselves feel a bit mushy and don’t offer the same crisp typing experience as a 13-inch MacBook Pro. However, the typing experience on the HP 2-in-1 is more than serviceable, and most users won’t notice unless they’re sticklers for the very best laptop keyboards.

Specifications and value

Just looking at the HP Spectre x360’s 12.79 x 8.6 x 0.63 inches or 324 x 218 x 16mm (W x D x H) dimensions, there’s no doubt this is one of the smallest 2-in-1 hybrid laptops ever made. However, with this convertible notebook weighing in at 3.26 pounds (1.47 kg), it’s also quite unwieldy as a tablet.

You’ll have a much easier time holding up the 1.76-pound (7.98 kg) Surface Pro 3. Even with the Type Cover attached, Microsoft’s tablet-laptop combo still weighs in at a lower 2.62 pounds (1.18 kg). The Surface Pro 3 dimensions, meanwhile, are 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36 inches (292 x 201 x 9 mm), making it considerably thinner than HP’s hybrid.

HP Spectre x360 review

The Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi is an even lighter tablet device that weighs in at 1.58 pounds (7.2 kg). With the Bluetooth-connected magnetic keyboard attached, the T300 Chi comes closer to tipping the scales at 3.14 pounds (1.43 kg) as a full-on laptop.

Here is the HP Spectre x360 configuration sent to TechRadar for review.

Spec Sheet

  • CPU: 2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5200 (dual-core, 3MB cache, up to 2.7GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5500
  • RAM: 8GB DDR3 (1600Mhz)
  • Screen: 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 FHD Radiance LED-backlit touchscreen
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Ports: 3x USB 3.0; HDMI, mini DisplayPort, headphone/microphone combo
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac (2×2) and Bluetooth 4.0 combo
  • Camera: HP TrueVision Full HD WVA Webcam (front-facing); Integrated dual digital microphones
  • Weight: 3.26 pounds
  • Size: 12.79 x 8.6 x 0.63 inches (W x D x H)

Priced at $999 (£899, AU$1,899), HP offers up the Spectre x360 with the well rounded package you see above. All-in-all, it’s a full option that comes outfitted with 8GB of memory, 256GB SSD (128GB SSD for those in the UK) and a gorgeous 1080p screen, which I’ll get into more later on.

Those who want to save a bit more scratch can buy the Spectre x360 at its base configuration for $899 (or AU$1,499) at the expense of halving the machine’s available memory and storage space. That’s hardly a fair trade, and so I recommend you get the configuration I tested instead.

HP Spectre x360 review

Alternatively, users bump up the configuration with a 2,560 x 1,440 display, faster Intel Core i7-5500U processor and 512GB SSD for $1,399 (or AU$2,399). A similarly specced machine is available to those in the UK for £1,225. However, the flash storage options are limited to only 256GB and the processor upgrade jumps to an Intel Core i7-5600U chip instead.

In some ways, the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi comes even better stocked at $899 (£799, AU$1,299). For the price, this tablet-laptop hybrid comes outfitted with a 2,560 x 1,440 WQHD resolution display and 8GB of RAM. That said, the T300 Chi comes packing half as much SSD storage and a significantly slower-clocked Intel Core M 5Y71 running at 1.2GHz to the Spectre x360’s 2.2GHz CPU.

Microsoft’s darling Surface Pro 3 is looking very long in the tooth these days, since it was introduced over a year ago, but it’s still a contender into today’s field of 2-in-1 computers. Expect to shell out $999 (£769, AU$979) to get set up with a comparable 1.9GHz processor from Intel’s aging Haswell days. Going with this route also means having to contend with a small 128GB SSD, only 4GB of RAM and the added expense of a $129 (£109, AU$149) Type Cover.

Performance and features

Like the little engine that could, the HP Spectre x360 never failed to overcome any challenge I threw it’s way. The convertible laptop deftly took on any task, whether it was simple web browsing to playing a virtual hand of Hearthstone with the quality settings at their highest. As if that weren’t impressive enough, you can squeeze a surprising amount of battery life of this petite 13-inch convertible laptop.

Here’s how the HP Spectre x360 fared in our benchmark tests.

Benchmarks

  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 4,722; Sky Diver: 2,297; Fire Strike: 621
  • Cinebench CPU: 257 points; Graphics: 30 fps
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,424 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 4 hours and 38 minutes

From these benchmarks, we can see how an Intel Core i5 Broadwell processor puts the HP Spectre x360 a step ahead of its competitors. It’s all really not too surprising, considering the Transformer Book T300 Chi‘s Intel Core M processor was tuned for power savings rather than bare knuckled performance.

HP Spectre x360 review

This is especially evident when you look at the HP’s 2,424 points PCMark 8 score, which hovers a bit over the T300 Chi’s 2,273 point performance. The Surface Pro 3, meanwhile, lags behind by a wider margin with a PCMark 8 score of 2,190 points, thanks to its two-year-old Haswell chip.

The HP hybrid also shows more gusto when it comes to gaming thanks to headier Intel HD 5500 integrated graphics chip. With the higher-end GPU onboard, the Spectre x360 was able to complete the 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark test with 621 points. By comparison, the Asus T300 Chi scored 516 points, and the Surface Pro 3 only accrued 347 points.

HP Spectre x360 review

HP’s 2-in-1 laptop doesn’t hold a massive lead, but you’ll have a better time running Hearthstone at max settings, thanks to the beefier GPU. Just don’t expect to it to play much more than low impact indie games, like Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge.

Convenient features

You don’t know how convenient a 2-in-1’s transforming ability is it until you actually need it. On a bus trip to Philadelphia, I whipped out the Spectre x360 for a bit for work. However, I quickly realized the extremely tight cabin space prevented me from opening up the laptop fully.

Luckily I was able to bend the laptop back to have it stand on top of its keyboard, while I pecked at the screen oriented at an angle to write a portion of this review. On the same trip I, converted the laptop into tablet to play a match of Hearthstone and then to read some web articles while holding the device in a vertical orientation.

HP Spectre x360 review

Cases like these prove what a flexible machine the Spectre x360 is. That said, holding up a 3.26-pound tablet can get very tiring. And as a tablet, the device pretty much cuts into your hand with its sharp edges. Hopefully, with the next iteration of this machine, HP will add more rounded edges and figure a way to lighten the load for a better tablet experience.

Gorgeous screen

Hands down, the HP Spectre x360 has one of the best screens of any laptop I’ve reviewed. The convertible hybrid’s display offers some of the best viewing angles I’ve ever seen – that’s backed up by wide color gamut and a very bright panel. Though this HP 2-in-1 comes with a glossy, glass fronted display, I had almost no problems using it outside, even on a sunny day. It comes as a complete rarity and makes this laptop truly a machine you can use in any scenario.

The laptop’s downward firing speakers are equally impressive. Even with the laptop resting on top of my legs, music played through the covered speakers with full clarity. They definitely don’t offer the same tonal range as a good pair of headphones, but the built-in tweeters do a fine job.

HP Spectre x360 review

I especially enjoyed watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones on this machine. Thanks to the excellent display, I could discern all the dark details inside the House of Black and White, while the speakers clearly projected everything from gravely dialogue to the sharp clash of swords.

Battery to last

With a lean machine like the Spectre x360, I usually expect to get a middling four to five hours of lasting power. And so, it came as a delightful surprise to see HP’s hybrid get me through 5 hours and 53 minutes of regular use. Just under 6 hours of battery life might not sound too impressive, but this was all done with running the convertible machine through a gauntlet of tasks including streaming the last episode of Game of Thrones, a handful of Hearthstone games and editing photos in Photoshop.

With a typical day of word processing and web browsing, I was able to eke out another 30 minutes of juice before the Spectre x360 ran dry. This laptop also ran for 4 hours and 38 minutes on the strenuous PCMark8 battery test.

HP Spectre x360 review

The Surface Pro 3, on the other hand, ran for only 3 hours and 55 minutes, a shorter screen-on time that could be attributed to its higher-resolution 2,160 x 1,440 display. It’s also fair to say the extra power draw of the high-res screen, coupled with almost no room for a massive battery, led Asus’ own hybrid to an unimpressive 4 hours and 42 minutes of battery life.

Bundled software

Unlike Asus, Lenovo or even MSI, HP is one of the better companies that don’t preload their laptops with a heap of unwanted applications. There are a few bits of bundled software you’ll want to get rid of almost immediately, like Dragon naturally speaking. But, for the most part, you should find most of the apps listed below useful in some way:

HP Support Assistant – An essential always-on system tray application, which keeps an eye out for software updates such as new BIOS installs and Intel HD Graphics patches.

HP Connected Drive – HP in-house cloud network, which lets users save an unlimited number of files as long as they’re under 100MB large.

HP Connected Music – A cloud based photo sharing service powered by Snapfish, beyond editing photos this app is also tuned to help users print their photos on to cards and other mediums.

HP Recovery Manager/Media Creation – Back up your laptop and restore it with these preloaded apps.

McAfee LiveSafe – Although this anti-virus and firewall software comes with a free 30-day trial offer, you may want to uninstall it the first chance you can for a less obtrusive solution, like Windows Defender.

Verdict

Together, HP and Microsoft have put together one of the sharpest looking 2-in-1 convertible laptops ever. Without any foreknowledge, most people would think the HP Spectre x360 was nothing more than an attractive, all-aluminum laptop.

Thanks to a pair of well-engineered gear hinges, the transforming element of this laptop adds almost no extra weight, awkward proportions or clunky mechanics. Instead, the x360 only inherits the added flexibility of a 2-in-1 machine; letting you use it more ways than just on your lap.

We liked

There’s a long laundry list of things to like about the HP Spectre x360. The all-aluminum body is solid and sleek. Performance is more than adequate for anything you might need to do from word processing to image editing to playing a few games. Frankly, the overall showing is pleasing, with a glossy screen that’s a joy to use and enjoy media with a decent pair of speakers backing it up.

And that’s just using the Spectre x360 as a laptop.

Transforming this machine is a cinch, thanks to a pair of smooth geared hinges, which also firmly hold the laptop in any mode you wish. As a tablet, the Spectre x360 is an excellent, albeit heavy, handheld computing device. Alternatively, the extra modes and ways in which you can orient the screen makes it so much easier to set up as a personal movie screen when the airplane tray is too tiny or you’re squeezed into a tight train seat.

We disliked

The overly wide trackpad is by far my biggest complaint for the HP Spectre x360 – it should be replaced with a narrower pointing device. The extra few inches don’t help much with navigating the laptop’s 16:9 screen. The trackpad only ends up getting in the way while I type. A narrower surface would also likely fix the unresponsive click button, as it takes firm pressure to actuate such a broad switch.

Then there’s the fact that this machine weighs so dang much. You’ll need a firm grip and endurance to hold this heavyset convertible up for long.

Final verdict

Buy the HP Spectre x360. It easily comes as one of my most recommended machines, with an excellent 1080p screen, solid performance, good battery life, and sturdy build quality; all for an excellent deal at $999 (£899, AU$1,899). If more screen resolution is a priority for you, then the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi comes at a steal for its WQHD display.

If it weren’t for a few missteps with the trackpad and being too hefty for tablet use, this laptop would have easily stood amongst the Asus ZenBook UX305 and Dell XPS 13, two of the most highly rated laptops TechRadar has ever reviewed. Despite its flaws, though, the Spectre x360 is one of the best-looking and powerful devices HP has ever produced and well worth a look over many, many other 2-in-1 laptops.

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