HP Spectre 13 x360 (2016) Review


When HP released the original Spectre x360 last year it did so to enormous praise. The machine was developed in association with Microsoft in order to show case Windows and prove that OEMs could deliver machines every bit as good as Apple. In that respect it was an enormous success.

In the subsequent year much has happened, there has been an explosion in the number of manufacturers building flexible laptops – either detachable or flip screens – and we’ve had the arrival of Windows 10, Intel’s new Skylake sixth generation processors and Microsoft have entered the market with the Surface Book.

In response HP delivered an updated Spectre x360, with new processors and a new 15” screened version. The option of QuadHD screens and a new copper accented Ash Silver model round out the major updates.

Here I’m looking at the 13” model, with the i5-6200U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The screen is a beautiful 1080p IPS display with excellent brightness and colour reproduction. The screen is a touch screen, supporting ten point multi-touch. It also has an active digitiser from Synaptics, which means true stylus support, with palm rejection and hovering support.

As before the Spectre is well connected for an Ultrabook. It packs three USB 3 ports – all with device charging support, HDMI and Mini Display Port for video out and a full size SD card slot support SDXC cards up to a theoretical 2TB.

The main body of the Spectre is milled from a single piece of aluminium and has some very nice design touches. I love the way the back edges of the screen and body are circular, a design forced by the hinge but a beautiful detail none the less. The hinges themselves are worthy of mention. These aren’t the clutch based hinges used by other laptop manufacturers. Instead there is an exquisite gearing mechanism inside them which ensures they work together in unison and also hold the screen in exactly the position it’s put into,  and it stays there whether you’re interacting with touch or stylus.

WP_20160526_16_56_30_Pro_LIThe keyboard was rightly praised when the original Spectre x360 launched and HP has done nothing to change that opinion. It’s a full size, island style setup, with excellent travel. There has been some criticism of the silver key / black legend design although I can’t see why. It’s a perfectly legible setup and in darkened rooms the backlight enhances that legibility. The backlight control is via the F5 key, which stays permanently lit, you can disable this if you choose, although that requires a trip into the BIOS.

There are three keys spread around the side of the Spectre. The power key and Windows key are on the left and right sides respectively with the latter joined by the volume rocker. This arrangement ensures you can still use the Spectre when in one of its touch friendly modes.

Powering up the Spectre is a lesson in how optimisation can deliver a great experience. Boot time is around ten seconds. Wake from sleep is all but instant. Once you start using the Spectre in anger you’ll find another example of the excellent controls that HP has built in to this machine. In this case the trackpad – another Synaptics offering.

It is by far the largest trackpad I’ve come across and it works brilliantly, supplanting Apple’s own trackpad as the best on the market today. Even though it doesn’t support Microsoft’s Precision drivers, Synaptics own drivers deliver an experience that matches or surpasses the Windows 10 standard in every way. This is a laptop which won’t require the use of an external mouse unlike almost all of its competition.

Windows 10 runs very well on this configuration of the Spectre. This really is a great showcase for how the platform should be presented. HP has been very restrained about what it adds to the machine. Only the MacAfee AV package is incongruous, although its easily removed. Otherwise there are HP tools for, amongst other things, creating restore media and a one year subscription to the iPass Wi-Fi service.

Then there’s battery life. HP claims 12.5 hours for this particular machine. I’ve yet to reach that mark, however I’ve been able to repeatedly get ten hours or more in normal, day to day use without having to make any compromises to longevity. This machine will get you through a working day comfortably.

WP_20160526_16_57_21_Pro_LILastly, to the stylus. HP doesn’t supply this with the Spectre, however it is available if you are looking for the full inking experience. It works very well, with the only oddity being the spring loaded tip which I suspect helps with pressure sensitivity. Palm rejection works well and writing in OneNote or in the handwriting input panel feels very paper like. I’m no artist but I found that I was able to produce passable drawings in both Fresh Paint and Sketchbook.

The stylus has a flat arc to its circular profile, so you can put it down confident that he can’t roll away. There are also magnets embedded so you can park it on the lid of your Spectre. It’s the one strange decision in the design, as the magnets aren’t strong enough to hold the stylus in place except when the Spectre is closed on your desk. A bit pointless really.

So to sum up this is a machine that proves what the new Hewlett Packard can do. Over the last year, and since the separation from HP Enterprise, the device company has produced one hit laptop after another, to the point where it has one of the most varied and capable range of premium machines available.

For me the Spectre x360 manages to outdo all of the competition, either matching the best, for example in  build quality, or outdoing them, for example the keyboard and trackpad.

If a flexible machine is what you’re in the market for I can highly recommend the Spectre x360 even against the Surface Book and MacBook Pro. That’s very high praise indeed.