Ever have one of those situations where you need a tablet, but you have a touchscreen laptop? Or you need a laptop, but only have a tablet? You might have filled the void by carrying both, or might have also tried the many 2-in-1 options available out there. For me, I’ve always carried both, as I found most 2-in-1 options to fall short on key features – that is, until I met the Surface Pro 3.
What attracted me to the SP3 was a lightweight tablet that has a decent keyboard and pen input, allowing it to be a pretty useful laptop replacement as well. The kickstand made it unique as well, because I could place it practically anywhere in my garage without worrying of scratching the underside. I honestly didn’t realize how useful it would be until I used the features on a regular basis.
But this article isn’t about the Surface Pro 3, this is about the HP Spectre x360 – a 2-in-1 Broadwell convertible that, in my opinion, will make people think twice about considering a Surface Pro 3, including myself. Read on to find out why.
The specs sheet
|HP Spectre x360 13-4003dx|
|Screen||13.3 inch, 1920×1080 resolution, 10-finger multi-touch, IPS|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell Core i7-5500U CPU, dual-core 2.4 GHz(3.0Ghz boost)|
|Video||Integrated Intel HD 5500 HD|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3L 1600Mhz|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC Intel 7265 , Intel Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||3x USB 3.0, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, mic/earphone combo, SD card reader|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||324.9mm or 12.8” (w) x 218.4mm or 8.60” (d) x 16.0mm or .63” (h)|
|Weight||1.47kg or 3.26 lb|
|Extras||Extra wide trackpad, 2MP webcam, 6 in 1 card reader, backlit keyboard|
The HP Spectre is quite an eye catcher and the pictures online don’t do it justice. When I picked it up out of the box, I was immediately impressed with the build quality on this little machine. The all-metal unibody was the right choice for this design, and there’s no doubt that this laptop can take a beating and last a long time.
Weighing in at just over 3 lbs, it actually felt a little heavy to me, but I can attribute that to it being so thin and dense. Sure the Yoga 3 Pro is lighter, but they are made out of totally different materials.
Starting from the top, the lid is solid silver in color, and is a smooth, matte finish. Actually, the finish is almost identical to that which you would see on a Macbook Pro or Air. Hewlett-Packard’s discreet logo adorns the lid, in similar fashion to their other latest laptops. The text is slightly embossed from the surface, and frankly, I’m not sure what’s holding it on or if it can accidentally come off. It looks great though, and I’m happy they chose this instead of some sort of backlight glowing design. Across the top edge is a small strip, most likely plastic, for the antenna. It’s the same color at least, so it blends in pretty well.
Lifting the lid was kind of challenging, due to the small cutout they put in the unibody and lack of a lifting ledge on the lid itself. I have a tough time getting my finger into the slot sometimes. This kind of reminds me of the Acer S7 series ultrabooks, but it’s not quite as bad. Unfortunately, due to the weight distribution and the nature of the hinges, it took two hands to open. I can’t express enough how important I think one finger opening is, but I’ll give HP a pass here since the hinges are meant to last and support so many different positions.
Speaking of hinges and different positions, the main highlight of this machine is that the screen flips all the way back 360-degrees, similar to what you get with the Lenovo Yoga. As far as I can tell, the hinges are pretty solid. I only notice a small amount of wobble when tapping the screen in laptop mode. There’s a lot more to talk about, so I’ll cover the different modes in more detail in a separate section.
On the inside of the lid, the screen is a 13.3-inch IPS touch panel, which will also be covered in the display section below. The panel is almost edge to edge glass, with a thin rubber gasket separating it from the metallic edge. A small logo is centered below the screen. Overall, the bezels are about average sized, with the bottom being the widest. There is also a 2MP webcam centered on the top, along with a microphone.
On the bottom half is the keyboard and trackpad. The palm rest is made from an unibody aluminum shell and looks absolutely stunning. The keyboard is recessed into the unibody, keeping the keys at a distance from the panel when closed. The trackpad also has a nice chamfer along the edges to highlight its appearance. The outer edges of the laptop look sharp but the edges are slightly broken, just enough to not feel them on your wrists. Honestly, this laptop is so thin that it would be hard for your wrists to hit the edges. The only branding on the palm rest is the Spectre logo on the lower left. The Intel sticker is on the other side and can be peeled off.
On the left, starting from the back, you have a standard power connection. Right next to it is the CPU fan exhaust, followed by a single USB 3.0 port and a power button. The power button is another thing similar to the Acer S7 series, but HP one-ups it by making the button sit flush with the edge, so you won’t accidentally press it. That was actually the reason I hated the side button on the S7 and actually disabled it all together. On this model, I never accidentally hit it. If anything, I had a tough time finding it sometimes though. I could definitely learn to live with it since I rarely turn my laptop off and instead just close the lid to put it to sleep. Finally, after the power button, there is a full SD card reader. HP went right with this one, as it allows you to fully insert the card, leaving only 1mm exposed.
HP practically uses the entire right side as well, starting with an earphone/mic combo jack in the back. It’s hard to notice this with pictures, but after using the laptop for a week, I dislike where they put this jack. It’s nearly the same size as the power jack and I’m constantly trying to put my power into the earphone jack and vice versa. Someday, I’ll get used to it, but it’s not today… Next to the earphone jack there are two more USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and a mini DisplayPort connection. Then there is a dedicated volume rocker and a Windows key, which are only there for use when in a non-laptop mode. They still function but they aren’t very practical in laptop use since there are also dedicated keys on the keyboard.
The bottom is pretty plain and simple. It’s a solid piece of metal with a number of torx screws holding it in place. Four wide rubber feet are placed here as well and are probably the shortest feet I’ve ever seen. The laptop rests so low to the surface that I almost guarantee the back bottom edge is going to get scratched up over time. Perfectionists will want to be aware of this, but I think most won’t really care. The reason for the short feet is to maintain thinness when using the laptop in tablet mode – so again, sacrifices are made, but for a good reason.
Taking off the back cover was mildly difficult and required removing the visible torx screws. You’ll need to use either a T5 or T6 driver, preferably T6 since it’s the best fit. There are clips on the front edge that need to be undone and then the back clips can be manipulated to release by shifting the lid. Honestly, nobody will be doing this because there is little to replace underneath. There is a single M.2 SATA SSD on the top edge(80mm variant). I was fooled into thinking the RAM was replaceable since there was a spare P/N sticker on the case, but alas underneath the cover was some embedded ram chips.
There are basically four modes that HP advertises the Spectre x360 is capable of: Notebook, Tablet, Stand and Tent. Each has its uses, but there are some disadvantages/sacrifices to be made when switching between them.
Laptop mode is obviously what it sounds like. The keyboard and trackpad are fully functional as well as the extra use of the volume, power and windows buttons on the sides. Laptop mode stays initiated while the screen is 0 to roughly 210 degrees. This means you can continue to use it in laptop mode when the screen is lying flat with the keyboard at 180 degrees(pretty useful for some people).
Tablet mode gets triggered in a couple of ways. First, if you flip the screen greater than 210 degrees, and second, if you rotate the screen 90 degrees in any direction or hold it upside down. This automatically disables the keyboard and trackpad, preventing you from using any input except for the on-screen controls and the buttons on the edges. By flipping the screen all the way backwards, you can hold it just like if you had a 13-inch tablet (a very thick and heavy 13-inch tablet, mind you). I don’t think I could use this in tablet mode very often unless I rested it on my lap. To me, it’s a little much, and no convertible is going to beat having a straight up tablet. Still, it’s better than not having the feature and those willing to sacrifice will make it work somehow.
There are two sub modes for the Tablet mode. First is Stand mode. If you look closely at the pictures, HP has included four very small feet on all four corners of the palm rest/keyboard area. You can flip the screen around and watch movies this way or use it as a display for presentations or something. I can’t say I’m a big fan of this mode, and here’s why. Those rubber feet are just too small for me to trust them and aluminum just scratches too easily. If I’m going to lay it down on the palm rest area, that surface better be clean as a whistle. I’m not overly protective of scratches on my devices, but if there’s one area I care to always look nice, it’s the keyboard/trackpad area – I look at it every day. So for me, I’ll be opting for the final mode.
Tent mode is basically the same as Stand mode, except you’re resting it on the edges of the palm rest and the lid. I honestly thought this was a ridiculous way to use a convertible until I got a Surface Pro 3 and used a kickstand. What I like about it is you can basically stick it anywhere without risking heavy scratches to the surfaces. For me, the garage has many surfaces that have debris on them. I use my Surface Pro 3 almost everywhere and I still don’t have a scratch on it. The same would go for the Spectre x360 in Tent mode. I’ve used it to watch how-to Youtube videos on my workbench which was covered in 3D printer debris, small screws and other tools that were lying about. Sure, maybe I should clean my workbench, but who wants to do that every time they need to use a PC.
Keyboard and trackpad
It’s not very often that I say an ultrabook keyboard is great, but this one really nails it. Typing on the Spectre x360 is a pleasure and it took no time at all for me to adapt and type at my full speed. The keys are very appropriately spaced and have excellent travel and feedback for a laptop of this size. It’s certainly good enough to type this entire review.
The keyboard is backlit, which is a must for a high-end ultrabook. I can’t say I use it all that much though, mainly because the keys are silver with black text and the ambient light from the screen is, in most cases, enough to illuminate the keys in a dark room. On top of that, the backlight is white, so I found the contrast to be better with the backlight off instead of on. Don’t get me wrong though, the backlighting does help in dark rooms and isn’t as drastic of a contrast problem as say the Acer S7, which made reading the keys nearly impossible for me.
In light rooms though, the keys are more difficult to read so I tend to leave it off. This brings me to an annoying feature on this laptop, which is the backlight button(the F5 key). When the keyboard isn’t backlit, the F5 key shines VERY bright. In light rooms it’s no biggie, but in dark rooms when you’re watching a movie, it’s annoying. Asus has been doing this with their power buttons, but at least they are off to the corner – this one is nearly centered and is very bright. Thankfully, HP updated the BIOS with a way to turn this feature off, which I promptly did upon discovery.
Other notable things with the keyboard are the media controls, integrated with the F keys on the top row. The default is for the media keys and Fn+key will actuate the associated F key. I think this is becoming the norm with ultrabooks, but those who utilize the F keys a lot will want to be aware of this and know that there is no Fn lock (at least none that I could find). You can, however, reverse them in BIOS. Kudos to HP for giving us BIOS options for these minor issues.
Enough with the keyboard – let’s talk about this trackpad. HP nailed it again because this is probably the first trackpad I’ve used that actually rivals Apple. First of all it’s huge, spanning 141mm which is nearly 50% of the width of the unit. It’s a bit shorter than the Macbook Pro’s trackpad, but still takes up as most space as possible at 65mm tall. The surface is just as smooth as a Macbook trackpad as well.
At first I questioned whether or not it would get in the way, but after using it for the last week, I’m convinced this is what all trackpads should be like. The extra wide space leaves lots of room for leeway and the advanced palm detection by Synaptics causes little issues with inadvertent taps while typing. Synaptics also has a lot of settings you’re able to modify and optimize, but I found the default settings to be pretty good right out of the box.
Tracking and tapping were generally smooth and very accurate. On long glides across the screen, I didn’t notice any jumpiness with the pointer or any indication with sensitivity problems. Multi-touch gestures were very well recognized and easily repeatable. Scrolling was about as smooth as it gets when it comes to Windows. Zooming in and out isn’t as smooth as using the touch screen itself but its far better than the competition.
If I had one complaint about the trackpad, it would be right clicking. Because it’s so wide, the integrated right click is much farther to the right than what I’m used to. Frankly, I’m still not used to it and constantly accidentally left click because I’m too far over. To fix it, I opted to make a double finger tap be right click instead. This is a good solution to such a mild complaint and I doubt many of you would be bothered by it.
Update: I take back my only complaint as it can be remedied by changing a simple setting in the Synaptics control panel. In the “clicking” tab, there is a sub-tab for changing the size of the right button zone. Very convenient feature to have for such a large trackpad.
This Spectre x360 is equipped with a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution 13.3-inch IPS touchscreen and is another welcome highlight to the machine. The panel has excellent viewing angles and good color accuracy, right out of the box. The max and minimum brightness are also above average. Overall, I’m very pleased with the screen they chose for the FHD model and I have nothing that I could possibly complain about, when it comes to the looks.
The screen is also touch enabled and comes with an active digitizer. There are many Dell and HP brand pens that are compatible with this laptop. From reading the forums, it was recommended that I try the Dell Active Stylus 750-AAGN. I picked one up online and gave it a try.
I only got to play with the pen for a day, as I just got it yesterday. Overall I’m pretty happy with the experience so far though. My handwriting really looked just as bad as it is in real life. I even tried drawing a sketches for work, which turned out pretty well. As an engineer, I’ll be using this feature a lot for rough sketches with customers. I’ll need something reliable and easy to use, which I have to say is what I have right here. The size of the screen is great since I’ve always wished I had just a little more room on my Surface. Palm rejection was also perfect and never interfered with my drawing.
My only complaint with the pen is actually with Onenote, but it’s still worth noting – the eraser button doesn’t function in the desktop Onenote app. With the Surface Pen this is not an issue and I’m going to either have to work around it or use the less functional metro app. I’m not sure if this is only with the Dell pen, but I’ve looked it up and there have been complaints for over 2 years on multiple pens.
You don’t need a stylus in order to take advantage of the touch functionality, but there’s one thing I want to point out about the display that’s different than the competition. The glass is a little sticky. By little, I really do mean little. I’ve had phones with and without oleophobic glass and there is a VAST difference between them. This is not quite that bad, but it could certainly be better. My swipe gestures all worked just fine, they just didn’t glide as well as I would have expected. Maybe it has something to do with the digitizer, I don’t know. The trackpad is so much smoother than the glass, though, that I opt for the trackpad almost always. With the Surface Pro 3, it’s the opposite for me.
The panel itself is made by Chi Mei and carries the model number CMN1357. Unfortunately, HWinfo didn’t give a part number, so I can’t give you any more of the manufacturer specs other than that it’s 1080p at 60Hz. The viewing angles are probably rated at 85 degrees in each direction, as I have no problem at all reading the text on my screen, no matter how extreme the angle is. The brightness does start to taper off at around 45 degrees, but the colors stay consistent and it’s not out of the norm. By the way, my panel had zero backlight bleed.
I used a Spyder4Pro to calibrate the colors and measure some more specifications. Out of the box, the colors already looked great and the colorimeter didn’t change a whole lot. I got measured gamut values of 96% coverage for sRGB, 71% NTSC and 74% aRGB – all great results. At full brightness, the contrast ratio is 650:1, which is also good for a laptop screen. The brightness range of this panel is 25-378 nits. So not only will this screen work pretty well outdoors, it can also be looked at the second you open your eyes in the morning, without squinting.
Hardware and performance
Powered by a Core i7-5500U Broadwell CPU, and 8GB of RAM, this convertible can certainly handle most of your daily tasks. It’s no quad-core, but it’s as close as you’re going to get without sacrificing battery life. For most people, the specs will be overkill, but some may find this machine perfectly capable of professional photo editing and graphics design work. It’s also capable of running CAD programs, although the lack of a graphics card does have its limitations.
As you would expect in a high end laptop, the Spectre x360 is equipped with a SSD. My unit came with an Adata 256GB M.2 SATA SSD. You can see the Crystal Disk benchmarks in the pictures. I’ve certainly seen better SSD write speeds, but this one is still pretty decent. I’m not really sure if there would be any benefit to upgrading the SSD, but you certainly have access to if you wanted. Since it’s M.2, the highest you can currently go is 512GB, with options from Crucial, Samsung and Transcend – all good drives.
- 3Dmark 11: P1099;
- 3Dmark 13: Ice Storm – 41303, Cloud Gate – 4337, Sky Diver – 2080, Fire Strike – 565;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2490, Accelerated – 3045 with 84C max temp
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 29.73 fps, CPU 3.03 pts, CPU Single Core 1.39 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 30.98 fps, CPU 274 pts, CPU Single Core 119 pts.
- x264 Benchmark 4.0: Pass 1 – 85.57 fps, Pass 2 – 16.37 fps.
I also got a chance to try some games. Compared to the Broadwell i5 models I’ve tested, this i7 actually performed pretty decently. Here’s what I got:
|Title/Graphics settings||fps 720p||fps 1080p|
|Tomb Raider – normal||20-28||14-17|
|Tomb Raider – low||36-50||25-32|
|Borderlands 2 – medium||20-32||15-20|
|Borderlands 2 – low||25-35||15-20|
|Portal 2 – high||45-60||40-60|
|Portal 2 – medium||60||55-60|
|Starcraft 2 – medium||28-35||24-30|
|Starcraft 2 – low||60-70||55-60|
Like I’ve said before, integrated graphics isn’t for games. But this i7 is better than what I’ve seen in the past, and I think if you travel a lot and don’t mind playing older games on low graphics details, you won’t be too disappointed.
This article actually coincided with Windows 10 day, so I decided to take the early plunge and install it. I downloaded it to USB and installed it as an upgrade. The process was flawless – all the drivers and programs transferred over perfectly. My WiFi acted up(which I’ll discuss below), but I was able to help it a little by changing the driver setting to prefer 2.4Ghz. I’m crossing my fingers because so far I haven’t had any issues after that.
I’ve really enjoyed Windows 10 for the most part and I think it’s really going to make these convertibles so much more functional. As far as I can tell, it’s like using Windows 7 again with all the Windows 8 features running in the background. There are a couple complaints, one of which is the trackpad settings override Synaptics. So three finger swipes no longer navigate forward and back in web pages, but instead switch between apps. They really need to let us choose and I already went ahead and left a comment in the feedback section about it. In the meantime, I’m actually swiping the screen to navigate back and forth.
I won’t make this a Windows 10 review, but one last thing I wanted to mention was “tablet mode” in Windows 10.
You have the feature of enabling Tablet mode, which brings back the metro start menu and makes everything “touchable”. In other words, icons are bigger and more spread apart, the taskbar turns into a Nav bar and the desktop pretty much disappears. One cool feature the Spectre has with Windows 10 is when you flip the screen around, Windows 10 tablet mode automatically engages. I haven’t spent more than an hour with it so far, but it’s pretty cool, and you can of course turn that feature off if you don’t like it.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
There is a single fan on the left hand side that has an intake on the bottom and exhausts on the left edge. Because of how thin the laptop is and the fact it’s an i7, it gets pretty hot quick – so don’t expect silent running. That said, the fan is relatively quiet and I hardly noticed it during normal use. When doing more heavy tasks, you certainly hear the fan ramp up to full speed though.
I took some readings using my sound detector. Ambient sound in my room was 20dB. With the fan on its lowest setting, I measured only 22dB at ear level. While playing a game, I ramped the fan all the way up but still only got a reading of 25dB. It’s really not a harsh sound at all but you will notice it in a quiet room. At work and at the coffee shop, where the ambient noise is louder, I never noticed it at all.
As for heat, the maximum CPU temperature I measured was 87C when pushing it with a game. The fan managed to keep temperatures equalized without having any noticeable throttling. Surface temperatures on the laptop were also measured, both during normal tasks and while under load playing a game. Here were my results.
WiFi performance is pretty good with the onboard wireless AC card. The brand is Intel AC 7265. At approximately 30 feet from my router, I was getting download speeds of 90.0 Mbps (maxed out my ISP). I pushed it further by taking it out on my pool deck, about 50 feet and two walls away. I got download speeds of around 65 Mbps.
Overall, I was very happy with the WiFi performance, but there is a small catch. For some reason I had issues connecting at work. When I turn on the computer or wake it from sleep, I get an error that it can’t connect to the network. After a couple minutes, though, it will eventually connect and stay that way provided I don’t put it back to sleep. I really can’t explain it and it doesn’t happen to me at home at all. There are also numerous other reports of this issue with no solid solution. Needless to say, if you’re buying one of these, you’ll want to quickly test your WiFi in all your favorite spots.
UPDATE: I’ve installed the latest bios and driver firmware and it seems to have solved the issues I was having. I’ve tried to recreate the issue I was having and couldn’t so far. Your mileage may vary though.
As for the speakers, there are only two onboard and they are both downward facing. I guess in this case that is a good thing, since in tablet mode they would be facing the wrong direction.
Regardless, as small as they are, they’re actually pretty good. At max volume I didn’t notice any distortion, as the sound quality was quite clear. The bass was audible as well and I didn’t feel any abnormal vibrations coming from the machine. I played a song and measured 82dB at ear level, which is plenty loud enough for anything you’ll be doing.
My battery test consists of using the stock “Power Saver” power profile, 30% brightness(70 nits), WiFi off, Bluetooth off, and running a 720p movie in a continuous loop at full screen with the volume muted. I start the clock when it’s unplugged and stop it when the unit performs a self- shutdown. The Spectre x360 lasted a stellar 10 hours and 45 minutes before shutting down. I’ll admit, I was shocked when I woke up in the morning and it was still going. Very impressive battery life!
Unfortunately, I’m unable to provide any Batterymon results because it wasn’t working properly for some reason. I kept getting the same 3600mW and 7200mW discharge rates not matter what I was doing. I’ll continue to troubleshoot and try to get some more concrete results.
In the meantime, I can tell you that I have been using this laptop as my daily driver for nearly a week and I haven’t had to plug it in, in the middle of the day, once. I think most will easily be able to get all day battery life out of this machine(unless of course you need to literally keep it on all day). I typically use Microsoft office apps, heavy internet use on Chrome, Youtube and Netflix, all at full brightness.
Other notable things
The bios has some pretty cool and useful options that make your machine a little more useable. On top of the norm, you’re able to disable virtualization, toggle the fan to always be on, swap the F and action keys, disable USB 3.0, disable USB charging while sleeping and disable that pesky F5 LED.
The power adapter is pretty light and portable, which is expected for ultrabooks these days. The cord is plenty long too. I honestly only used it at night to recharge, so I didn’t travel with it at all. The difference in weight it will add to your bag is negligible though.
Price and availability
The model in this review can be purchased at many retailers and all their prices are all over the place, depending on what configuration you get and whether or not you choose refurbished. Most retailers are selling the i7 version, but you can also pick up the i5 version from Best Buy or directly from HP. The prices are so close though, that I would recommend getting the i7.
At the time of this review, Amazon currently has prices ranging from $980-$1280 for the i7 version. Follow this link for updated prices and configurations at the time you’re reading the post.
That aside, Best Buy might be the better choice for some, since they have all the different model options, including ones with a QHD screen. There’s even an $899 configuration, but only includes 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD, so I’d probably look into some of the beefier specs.
I’m not easily impressed with HP, but they certainly won me over with this one. The Spectre x360 is a highly versatile machine with excellent build quality. It’s obvious HP and Microsoft teamed up to make the most efficient and productive machine per pound and square inch. This is a worthy competitor to those also considering buying a Lenovo Yoga Pro 3, a Macbook Air and a Surface Pro 3.
The highlights of this machine are the incredible battery life, perfect screen and excellent user interface with the keyboard and trackpad. Let’s also not forget the build quality. Those features alone easily warrant the price they are asking. Sure there are a couple sacrifices to be made, such as the extra small feet which increase the risk of scratches, but that’s a small price to pay in comparison to what you get in the package.
The only thing I can ding HP on is the Wifi issue I’m having. I’m contacting their support on the issue and hope to get it resolved as soon as possible. I’ll be sure to post what I find out. Until then, I ask that you be wary of the issue and make sure to test your unit fully before your return policy is up. UPDATE: So far, so good on my Wifi issues. After a firmware update to the bios, a driver update and Windows 10, my issues seem to be better. I have no idea which one was the fix, since they were all so close together.
My decision isn’t final, but I’m seriously considering keeping this and selling my Surface Pro 3. It’s going to be a mix on whether my Wifi issue gets cleared up and whether or not I’m able to use this machine in the same manner as my SP3. The size is a little bigger, but the power and battery life are so much better, so it’s too tough to call for now. I’ll be sure to let you know what I decide.
Well, that about wraps up my review. Sorry if it was too long, but I wanted to put as much into this as possible, since there’s so much to talk about. If there’s something I missed or if you have any questions, please leave me a comment below. If any of you are also experiencing the same issue as me, I’d also like to hear about it.