One of my favorite laptops of 2015 was the HP Spectre x360, which I reviewed in this article. It’s a powerful, portable laptop that can also function as a tablet and it even had a couple other uses that I did not foresee. Back then, I was contemplating replacing my Surface Pro with it but I ultimately chose not to since it was a little on the heavy side and it was still a little thick to consider using as a tablet.
Well, it’s only been a year and it seems HP has already redesigned the laptop. To me, this is pretty surprising since usually manufacturers will try to get two or three CPU generations out of their designs(like Dell with the XPS, for example). But not this time – HP has overhauled their Spectre x360 model to fix some of the setbacks of the previous model, such as the weight and overall dimensions.
Is it enough though to consider using as a tablet though? And did they maintain the level of quality with everything else? I only got about 10 days with it, but it was more than enough to form a good opinion about this machine. Here’s what I found out.
Specs as reviewed
|HP Spectre x360 13-w0XX|
|Screen||13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, 10-finger multi-touch, IPS|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7500U CPU, dual-core 2.7 GHz(3.5Ghz boost)|
|Video||Integrated Intel HD Graphics 620|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3L 1866Mhz|
|Storage||256GB NVMe PCI-e SSD|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC Intel 8265 , Intel Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||1x USB 3.1 Type-A, 2x USB 3.1 Type-C(Thunderbolt 3), mic/earphone combo|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||305.6mm or 12.03” (w) x 217.9mm or 8.58” (d) x 13.7mm or .54” (h)|
|Weight||1.29 kg or 2.85 lb|
|Extras||Extra wide trackpad, HP Wide Vision FHD webcam, backlit keyboard|
I thought last year’s model looked fantastic, and this one is no different. It’s a very nice looking laptop to carry around, and your friends will probably be a little envious once they see it. I’ve been using it at both home and in the office and I definitely got a few compliments about it.
There is a high level of quality that is very apparent when handling this machine. In all my use, I found it to be very comfortable to pick up and handle. It’s well balanced and also sticks true to its specs. I weighed the laptop to be 2.8 lbs and my calipers measured it to be .54” thick.
The entire laptop is made of silver aluminum, with a matte finish. The lid itself is adorned with the new HP logo in a mirror finish. I like it because it doesn’t really stick out a whole lot and also doesn’t look as cheesy as the last logo. Across the top is a small band, which is where the Wifi antenna is. Besides the keyboard keys, this is the only exposed plastic on the machine. Everything feels smooth and blends nicely though, so there’s nothing to complain about as long as the Wifi performs as it should.
Like the old model, lifting the lid was kind of challenging. The cutout for the lid is really small, so it’s kind of difficult to get your fingers in there. And yes I say fingers, because it unfortunately takes two hands to open. This was also the case before but now with the reduced weight, it’s even easier to lift the entire laptop when using just one finger. This is usually a pet peeve of mine, but given the nature of the 360 degree hinge and how thin and light this model is, I’m going to give HP a pass.
While we’re talking about the hinges, they’re pretty much the main highlight of the machine. The lid not only extents out to 180 degrees, but also flips the lid to the backside so you can use the laptop as a tablet. It can also be used in a tent and display modes, similar to the Lenovo Yoga. For a lot of people, it won’t be used all that often, but if you’re looking for a laptop as versatile as a Surface Pro but is still actually a laptop, this design feature makes perfect sense.
Last year I thought the x360 was just a little too thick and heavy to be practical for use as a tablet. I still kind of think that way, even though they shaved off .1” and .5 lbs with this model, but it’s still actually far better than before. Holding it with one hand is much easier, for example, as taking that picture holding it one handed was so much less difficult than before. 2.8 lbs may be pretty hefty for a tablet, but as a laptop it’s about as good as it gets for such a well constructed metallic 13-incher.
Back to the design aspects, HP improved the screen bezels somewhat. The screen, which I’ll cover more later is 13.3” and the side bezels are about as small as they can get. But unlike the XPS 13, which also has a small top bezel, the Spectre x360 still has some pretty chunky bezels on the top and bottom.
I’m ok with this though because centered at the top is a FHD webcam which also functions as a Windows Hello camera. This means there are some infrared sensors up there as well that can map out your face when unlocking your PC. Others might disagree, but I’d personally rather have a slightly thicker bezel with this webcam over no bezel and a cramped webcam.
On the bottom half, you have a pretty nice keyboard and a very large trackpad. I’ll cover both of those more in detail later, but the overall size of both is pretty good for such a small laptop. Above the keyboard is a grill that has stereo speakers behind it. This is another reason I can accept the large top and bottom bezels, because if they made them smaller, they would have to either cramp the keyboard and trackpad more or relocate those speakers.
Also note that on this palm rest area are some really tiny rubber feet to keep the metal from touching the surface when laying the laptop down in presentation mode. They are sufficient, but if you care about scratches on your device like I do, you’ll want to brush off the surface before laying your laptop down – those feet are only .5mm tall!
On the edges, HP scaled back on the connection options this year. It’s perfectly acceptable considering the design is so much smaller, as there literally isn’t space for a memory card slot anymore. On the right, there are two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C connections, side by side. They both double as charging circuits as well and are properly spaced apart so both can be used at once. Adjacent to them is a volume rocker, which is functional no matter what mode you are in. Believe it or not, the volume controls on that rocker actually intuitively flip directions when you flip the lid past 180 degrees. Unfortunately, it doesn’t flip directions based om how you hold it as a tablet, but I guess you can’t get everything you want.
On the left hand side, there’s a single USB 3.1 type A slot. More kudos for designing it to be somewhat practical instead of shoving USB-C down everyone’s throat too early. Next to that is a headphone/mic combo. There’s also an exhaust vent for the GPU and on the other side is a recessed power button. I’m normally not a fan of side power buttons, but this one is pretty tough to accidentally press and is certainly necessary to use the tablet, tent and presentation modes more efficiently.
That’s about it for connectivity as the front and back edges are bare. What’s missing from last year is the SD card reader, mini display port, HDMI and the Windows button. Other than the Windows button, those might be some pretty significant losses to some of you, but all can be solved by buying an appropriate USB-C dongle to convert the connection. It’s still a step above the Macbook and even the new Macbook Pro.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the new design this year. HP has slimmed down the chassis and it still feels rock solid. The weight is perfect for laptop use and fairly reasonable for tablet use as well. I’m forgiving for the lack of connectivity because if you look at how close the internals are, there isn’t much space for anything without compromising something else. So I really wouldn’t want anything changed for future models, with maybe the exception of a microSD slot or something.
Keyboard and trackpad
Two things that didn’t need to improve over last year’s model were the keyboard and trackpad. HP pretty much left the keyboard the same, which is a good thing. I was able to adapt and type on it pretty quickly and there’s little or nothing I can complain about. The key layout is very logical and very well sized. The only keys that are small are the up and down arrows – typical for 13-inchers.
The actual keystroke is a little shallow, measuring 1.25mm with my calipers. I also measured the weight required to actuate a keystroke and got 62 grams. Sure the keystroke is shallow, but it’s actually really good for such a thin design. It didn’t affect me much anyways, because when I took a typing test, I scored 54wpm right off the bat(my average is roughly 50).
The only thing they changed was a column of keys on the right hand side. This added dedicated home, pgup, pgdn and end keys. By consequence, it allowed the bottom row to spread out a little, making the Alt keys a little wider. I’m splitting hairs here, but I think I would have rather had it the way it was before, mainly because I find myself off center when typing sometimes. My left palm is so close to the edge of the palmrest that it just doesn’t seem right. In fact, the first couple times I typed on this machine, I was actually off to the right by a key for many of my keystrokes. It was a simple adjustment to fix though, so again, splitting hairs.
The keyboard is also backlit and comes with only a single level of brightness – on and off. Like last year, you won’t want the backlighting on during the day because it further reduces the already bad contrast on the keycaps. One good thing is when you turn off the backlighting, every key light turns off, including that F5 key. On the last model, that key was always on and it was super annoying to look at while watching a movie.
For the most part, having only the one level of backlighting is pretty acceptable. I do with there was a level between off and on though. One thing that I can easily notice is some of the keys are significantly brighter than others. It’s not ugly and certainly not a deal breaker but those keys in particular(P, [, W) seem too bright to me.
Probably my only valid complaint about the keyboard is the contrast of the keys. It’s starting to become a pet peeve of mine and I wish manufacturers would start paying more attention to this. Silver keycaps on a silver chassis, with grey lettering and white backlight is NOT a good thing. It’s not so bad in evenly lit rooms, but if you’re outside or next to a window, the sunlight really makes it difficult to see the keys. Backlighting only makes it worse too. The only solution is having keycaps with some contrast, such as black.
The trackpad is also something that stayed the same, which is also a good thing. Actually I take it back, it changed a little. HP shaved off a little on the trackpad width, making it 120mm wide now. The height is the same at 60mm. Yes it’s a little smaller than before but it’s still wider than almost every other trackpad out there. To me, this is an improvement because I’m even less likely to accidentally hit the trackpad now, while typing.
The surface of the trackpad is glass, so it’s very smooth to touch and use. Gestures registered perfectly for me and I had no problems with tracking the mouse pointer. I typically do single and double taps, not clicking, but both worked perfectly fine for me. The right click is actually a little far over, if you’re used to traditional trackpads, so you’ll probably want to convert to double tap on this one.
It’s a Synaptics brand touchpad so the three finger swipe gestures are programmed for app switching only. The two finger scrolling is very smooth on both Chrome and Edge. Pinch to zoom works pretty well but the trackpad is a little short so it’s not always the easiest to do. Overall, I’m very impressed with the trackpad.
This Spectre x360 is equipped with a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution 13.3-inch IPS touchscreen.
Like last year, it has excellent viewing angles and a maximum screen brightness that lets you use it pretty much anywhere except maybe in direct sunlight. My panel has zero backlight bleed on the edges, making using it at night far less annoying than some competitor IPS screens out there.
I almost immediately thought this was the same screen as last year, but it isn’t. The panel model is CMN1367, but in almost every way it’s the same as last year, as the specs I measured are very similar. Still, there’s one key feature missing this year – the active digitizer.
Honestly, I was shocked when I realized this was removed. I even planned ahead and borrowed a Dell stylus to try out with this machine. It wouldn’t connect though, and that’s when I verified that there was actually no digitizer on board. It’s a shame too, because it’s actually a feature that I think people would use more, especially now that they reduced the overall size and weight of the machine.
Update: While this specific Spectre x360 13-w0XX variant does not get pen support, there are newer Spectre x360 13-ACxxx models with an N-trig digitizer. Only some pens are supported on this newer generation, the Dell active pen mentioned above is not one of them, but the Microsoft Surface pens should work just fine and HP also offers a compatible option.
The touch panel works well by itself though. It’s actually better than last year because they chose a more oleophiobic surface than before. My fingers would easily glide on the panel, leaving very little fingerprints. The hinge is pretty sturdy too, so the screen doesn’t wobble all that much when using touch.
Unfortunately, HWinfo doesn’t have an exact part number so it’s hard to give the concrete specs. The only thing I have is it’s made by Chi Mei with model CMN1367. The panel is 60Hz, 1080p. The viewing angles are near perfect, with the ability to view text at pretty much any extreme angle with no color distortion.
Out of the box, the colors looked pretty good and I didn’t see much of a need to calibrate the display. I did so anyways though and also measured some of the screen specs. I got measured gamut values of 94% coverage for sRGB, 69% NTSC and 73% aRGB. This is pretty typical for a normal gamut IPS screen. At full brightness, the contrast ratio was measured to be 700:1. Max brightness was measured to be 327 nits, while the minimum went as low as 15 nits.
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN1367;
- Coverage: 94% sRGB, 69% NTSC, 73% AdobeRGB;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 311 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 700:1;
- White point: 6700 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.45 cd/m2;
Below is a chart showing the brightness distribution of the screen.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
The new Spectre x360 is powered by a Core i7-7500U Kaby Lake CPU, and 8GB of RAM. This is a noticeable upgrade to Skylake i7-6500U, with a .4Ghz increase in boost clock speed and faster RAM. Multitasking was about as smooth as it gets and there is very little to complain about when it comes to the combination of power and versatility.
The SSD that comes with the machine is your typical Samsung PM951. It’s not the fastest NVMe drive available, but it’s still pretty good and has pretty much become the most popular SSD for laptop manufacturers to put into their machines. The model I received comes with 256GB and you can view the CrystalDisk benchmarks in the screenshot I took.
Upgrading the SSD is pretty simple, but getting the cover open in order to do it isn’t. At a glance it looks like only 6 T6 Torx screws hold the cover on, but there an additional two phillips screws underneath the rubber feet on the top. They peel off, but you have to be really careful about it. Also, you risk the tape losing adhesion the more you peel them off, so be careful. The only thing there is to upgrade is the SSD though, so opening the laptop more than once is pretty unlikely.
The Wifi performance was also very good on this machine, coming with an Intel AC 8265 chip. At approximately 30 feet from my router, I was maxing out my download speeds of 90.0Mbps. I went out on my pool deck, which is over 50 feet away and separated by two walls and got the same maxed out signal. No complaints with connection stability with this one – I was able to stay connected everywhere I went.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the connectivity options because there really isn’t much on this machine. It’s not as bad as a Macbook, but it’s close to the new Macbook Pro since they removed all video outputs and replaced it with Thunderbolt 3. They also removed a dedicated charging port, since one of the Tunderbolt ports can be used for that as well. Also missing is the memory card reader.
One good thing though is they included a legacy USB Type A port. This is a must have, in my opinion, and it’s baffling how often it is omitted on newer laptops such as the Macbook and even the HP Spectre 13. The only thing I wish they did though was swap it with one of the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports so that one would be on each side. Being forced to charge on the right side is not optimal for everyone, so it would have been nice to have a choice.
Below are some of the benchmarks I ran. As I expected, there’s a significant improvement over the i7-6500U machines and a huge improvement over the Broadwell x360 I reviewed last year.
- 3Dmark 13: Sky Diver – 3974, Fire Strike – 923, Time Spy – 379
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2964, Accelerated – 3730
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 44.75 fps, CPU 334 pts, CPU Single Core 145 pts.
I also got a chance to try my typical gaming benchmarks for Ultrabooks. A couple of them are maxed out so I think it’s time to pick some more demanding games. Anyways, here’s what I got:
|Title/Graphics settings||fps 720p||fps 1080p|
|Tomb Raider – normal||50-60||25-30|
|Tomb Raider – low||60||35-48|
|Borderlands 2 – medium||25-35||15-25|
|Borderlands 2 – low||33-41||20-35|
|Portal 2 – high||60||55-60|
|Portal 2 – medium||60||60|
|Starcraft 2 – medium||40-50||30-40|
|Starcraft 2 – low||90-110||68-85|
These results aren’t all that bad for not having a dedicated GPU. As long as you don’t mind playing older titles and turning the graphics settings down, this laptop would be pretty sufficient to play some games on.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, Speakers and others
The cooling system is a little different than last year’s model. There is a single fan on the left hand side that has an intake on the bottom and exhausts on the left edge. But now they also take advantage of the grill on the top and allow it to exhaust there as well, as there is a second smaller exhaust fan.
This laptop is even thinner than last year though, so it gets hot even quicker than before. Fortunately, the idle fan speed is pretty quiet and takes care of most of the heat for light tasks. From what I can tell, the fans pretty much stay off until the laptop hits 50C. Once that happens the side fan does pretty much everything. The second fan turns on at around 60C, so heavy tasks will utilize both fans together.
I took some readings using my sound detector. Ambient sound in my room was 20dB. During normal tasks, you can definitely distinguish the fan noise, however the noise level never broke 24dB. While playing a game, I ramped the fan all the way up but still only got a reading of 30dB, at the fan itself. These aren’t the loudest fans, that’s for sure, but they’re definitely audible in a totally silent room.
As for heat, the maximum CPU temperature I measured was 90C when pushing it with a game, but I did get spikes as high as 94C when benchmarking it. Once the fan kicks in though, temperatures pretty much equalize and stay pretty consistent. The heat does build up though and spreads throughout the chassis. I took some temperature readings while gaming and during normal use to see where the hot spots were. Here are my results:
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Tomb Raider for 30 minutes on medium FHD settings
One pretty nice upgrade HP made with this model was adding a second set of speakers. On the front edge, you have your typical bottom facing speakers that most laptops tend to have. But at the top, above the keyboard, is a speaker grille with a second set. I was a little skeptical of HP’s quad speakers after reviewing the x2 tablet, but these speakers actually sound really good.
Pretty good speakers, with an extra set placed on top of the keyboard
I played my typical tune to gather my sound readings and judge the bass levels. I measured a maximum level of 75 dB at my ear level, while listening to music with the laptop on my lap. The bass levels are detectable at levels as low as 80 Hz. Overall the sound was very clear and there was very little distortion at maximum volume levels. There’s also some pretty good EQ software to tune things the way you like.
Considering the size of the laptop and the lack of space on the inside, I’m pleasantly surprised as to how this sounds. Of course there’s room for improvement, but I think it’s above average for sure. Considering how many ways you can hold and position this device, four speakers is a must have – it’s a good thing they made that improvement.
The FHD camera is something that is pretty decent on this machine. In a well lit room, the camera does a very good job displaying a clear picture, with both pictures and video. Unfortunately, the low light exposure isn’t all that hot, but it’s still pretty decent and is much better than some of the junky webcams available. I took a picture of myself in a room with a 60W lightbulb about 12 feet away to show the extent of the graininess.
The biggest part of the camera to like though is the Windows Hello feature. On both sides of the camera are some infrared sensors, which light up and detect your face when you turn on the laptop. You have to set it up initially to get it to work and you’ll probably have to “improve the settings” a couple times before it can be reliable enough. I’ve improved it a total of three times now and it has detected my face probably 20 times in a row now. The really impressive part is since it’s using infrared, it’s able to do this at night in very dark rooms. I opened it in a pitch black room once and it unlocked perfectly.
Finally, another nice thing HP offers is a premium leather sleeve. It’s a good snug fit and works well – there’s nothing else to say except thanks.
My battery test consists of using the stock “Power Saver” power profile, 40% brightness (60 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 HP Spectre x360 lasted a whopping 14 hours and 29 minutes before shutting down. If that’s not the longest I have ever measured, it’s pretty darn close.
Unfortunately, like all the other HP machines I’ve reviewed, neither Batterymon or HWinfo give me any readings on the battery discharge rate. So it’s pretty much impossible to give you any estimates on total wattage and battery life during typical scenarios. I can say that throughout my use, I found the battery life to be pretty impressive though.
One specific example I can give is typing this review. I have had Chrome and Word open the whole time, actively using both, and my screen is set at 100% brightness because I’m fighting the sun on the window behind me. After 2 hours, my battery level has dropped by only 25%. Considering the screen brightness is set so high, I find that to be pretty darn good.
The key, I think, is keeping the power profile set on balanced. This allows the CPU to drop down to a lower state, which has a TDP down of only 7.5W. If you’re in high performance mode, your TDP shoots up to 15W and can go as high as 25W, which will destroy your hopes of having decent battery life.
As expected, the power adapter is pretty light and portable, weighing only 10.8oz. But it comes with a pretty cool feature that I’ve never seen before – the ability to either have brick that lies on the floor or one that plugs directly on the wall. Inside the box, they give you both and you can swap them out as needed. I never thought I would want this choice, but it’s actually pretty cool.
Price and availability
At the time of this review, Amazon currently has prices ranging from $1200-1300 for the i7 version, while the Core i5 configuration sells for around $1050, with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. You can find more about the available configurations and their prices at the time you’re reading this post via this link.
There are quite a few other retailers selling them as well – just be sure the version you are getting isn’t the one from last year. The key is looking for the Core i7-7500U / i5-7200U processor in the specs lists and for the small bezels in the pictures.
Overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with this laptop. It certainly is a fantastic mix of portability, versatility and power. I don’t get to say this often, but they also did a good job improving the minor issues with the Spectre x360 of last year. HP took a great machine and made it even better. Thinking back to all the 13-inchers I’ve seen in the past, there really isn’t one I could currently recommend over this one – especially considering the price.
I think the only thing I can legitimately ding them on is removing the pen support. I have a feeling there will be a number of people upgrading their current model and blindly expecting to have this feature. I hope HP will consider bringing it back in future models. I guess I can also ding them on the keycaps. They really need to be black! Hopefully HP is listening.
The main highlight of the machine for me is the small footprint and overall size. This is an area that puts this machine in direct competition with the XPS 13. In some ways they are both about equal, but when you consider the extra speakers, the ability to flip the screen around, a FHD Windows Hello webcam and the extra wide trackpad, I think I can give Spectre x360 a significant edge. I’ve had both and if I had $1300 to spend, I’d go with HP no questions asked.
There are however a few convertibles you could also consider, like the Lenovo Yoga 910, Asus Zenbook Flip S and Samsung Notebook Pro 9.
So that wraps up this review. This was a loaner unit, so I won’t have it available to do anymore testing. But I can certainly answer any questions based on my short time with the machine. Feel free to leave a comment in the section below, if you have any.
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