You might have heard me mention before that I am a proud owner of a Surface Pro 3. For years Microsoft has been the only one with a tablet that can actually replace your laptop. Many have tried to make something close with Atom processors, but they all somehow fell short to Microsoft jamming a Core i processor into such a thin tablet. But not it’s late 2015, and we finally see some reasonable competition to the Surface – the Lenovo Miix 700 and what I’m about to review, the HP Spectre x2.
Now the Spectre x2 doesn’t have a Core i processor either, but the Core m Skylake platform inside it has very good specs, on paper. Between that and a keyboard/trackpad cover that resembles the Spectre x360, I was immediately interested in getting my hands on one of these, so once they were finally released, I got one and spent the last 10 days with a Core m7 model.
Is there finally a worthy competitor to the Surface Pro line? Read on to see what I found out.
The HP Spectre X2 gets the specs and the performance in a beautifully crafted body
The specs sheet
||HP Spectre x2 2-in-1 12”
||12.0-inch 1920×1280 WUXGA+ IPS touchscreen
||Intel Skylake Core m7-6Y75 CPU, dual-core 1.2 GHz (3.1Ghz boost)
||Integrated Intel HD 515
||8 GB DDR3L 1600Mhz
||Wireless AC Intel 7265 , Intel Bluetooth 4.0, HP lt4114 4G LTE
||2x USB 3.0 type C, mic/earphone combo, microSD card reader, SIM card slot
||300.0mm or 11.81” (w) x 209.0mm or 8.23” (d) x 13.2mm or .52” (h) with keyboard
||1.22kg or 2.68 lb
||Extra wide trackpad, 2MP RealSense camera, 8MP rear camera, 5MP front facing webcam, backlit keyboard
The HP Spectre x2 is definitely up to par when it comes to style. To me, it’s flashy enough, but not overly done so. After having it for a week, I got quite a few looks from my friends since I had a (yet another) new gadget. Many of them comment on how nice it looked. In the hand, if feels well balanced and easy to handle. I’ll say this for sure – the build quality is very nice.
I doubt anyone will have to say anything bad about it’s looks
The back of the tablet portion is made of sandblasted aluminum. The hinge is a single polished bar, which is recessed into the back and sits very flush when in the closed position. The top is adorned with a black glossy glass that houses the cameras and likely also the Wifi and LTE antennas. There’s a lot to look at on the back, but overall I think it’s the highlight of the machine.
The front of the tablet portion is edge to edge glass and, of course, it houses the 12-inch touchscreen. The top and bottom bezels are smaller than the side bezels, which is probably one of my few complaints on the looks of the machine. Other than that, there’s nothing else to note of. The webcam is centered at the top and an HP logo is centered at the bottom.
Starting on the left edge is the headphone jack, volume buttons and a single USB type C connection. Underneath the Spectre logo there’s also a hinge release switch, which is the only way to get the hinge to come out. Once actuated, it pops out approximately 10 degrees and then you’re responsible for the rest, which is up to about 150 degrees. The hinge itself is pretty stiff and supports the tablet in any position within the range of the hinge. HP certainly did a good job with this, but I think I would prefer not having a switch to eject it.
Centered on the right edge, there’s another USB type C connection. Nearer to the top is the Sim card and microSD card slots. Unfortunately, they are both only able to be ejected with a Sim removal tool or a small paperclip, like on the iPhones, for instance. I don’t care as much about the SIM slot, but I think it’s a major pain to have to need a tool in order to access the memory card. The only other thing to note of on the right edge is the Band & Olufsen text adorning the bottom edge.
The top edge is pretty much smooth with the exception of the power button on the upper right. The bottom edge has a couple of mounts and pins to support the included keyboard dock. Like the Surface Pro line, the dock is held magnetically. I can’t say it’s as good at aligning as my Surface Pro 3, but it’s good enough and will work well for most people who always leave it attached anyways.
One really nice thing about the Spectre x2 is the fact that the keyboard is included (unlike on the Surface Pro). It has a metallic palm rest and a dark grey felt for the bottom side. Using the keyboard as a permanent screen protector is very practical and, if you’re like me, you’ll tend to rest the machine on the felt bottom to avoid scratching the metallic side of the tablet.
Once the tablet stand is engaged, you can either rest the keyboard flat on the table or you can use the magnetic flap to incline the keyboard. This is exactly the same configuration as on the Surface Pro 3 and 4, which is a great feature. I almost always keep it inclined, because it’s easier to type and it limits the contact the cloth makes with the surface you’re using it on (to keep it clean).
The keyboard itself is actually pretty great. I had high hopes it would be just as good as the Spectre’s x360 keyboard, but it falls a tiny bit short. That’s ok with me because it’s a very thin space to deal with, so it’s understandable to not have a Macbook experience. It’s certainly better than the Surface Pro 3 keyboard and falls in line with the performance of the Surface Pro 4 keyboard. There is a little keyboard flex in the center, but again, it’s understandable since it’s so thin and it’s really not anything that will hinder your typing.
The key layout is very practical and offers your typical 13” laptop range of keys. The key travel is about what you would expect from a typical ultrabook and is pretty adequate if you ask me. I do wish the key feedback and travel were a little better, but this is about as good as you can currently get for this type of 2-in-1. I was quickly able to adapt and type normally with little or no errors. Actually, this entire review was typed with the keyboard and I found that it was pretty natural to use.
Another nice touch with the keyboard is that it’s backlit. The lighting can be turned either on or off, using the hotkey where F5 is located. The keys are pretty well lit, but like the Spectre x360, the lighting is white and leaves little contrast with the silver keys. I actually have been leaving it off, since the silver keys are lit by the screen pretty well on its own.
The trackpad is another great feature of this keyboard dock. It’s pretty much identical to the trackpad on the Spectre x360, but there is a minor drop in quality. I say minor mildly, because it’s still very accurate and easy to use. The trackpad feels like it’s made of plastic though, while the one on the x360 felt more like glass. Regardless, the trackpad surface is very smooth and is very good quality.
Being as extra wide as it is, the trackpad is super convenient to use – far better than the tiny trackpad Microsoft offered with the Surface Pro 3. Multi-touch gestures were very easy to initiate and scrolling and zooming was very smooth. On many occasions though, the trackpad failed to track and my mouse pointer would be nowhere to be seen. This could have inadvertently been registered as palm recognition, which would turn the trackpad off, but I have no way to tell if that’s the case. It’s kind of annoying and should be something to look out for. In all cases my pointer would return after a couple seconds.
Overall, I’m extremely pleased with the keyboard dock. As far as detachable keyboards go, this one is impressive, especially being as thin as it is. If there’s any future improvements I can suggest to HP, it would be changing the keys to black to add some contrast and removing the awful speakers (which I’ll get to in a minute). Maybe a slight improvement with the key feedback as well, but considering how thin it is, that might be asking too much. The trackpad issue hopefully is just a driver or settings issue I overlooked.
The Spectre x2 has a pretty nice 12-inch IPS touchscreen on it. The resolution is a little unusual, weighing in at 1920×1280 px. It’s certainly not 4k, but it still looks great on a 12-inch screen. Horizontal and vertical viewing angles are stellar, allowing for text to be easily legible from any angle. Even at diagonal angles, there is still no distortion or haziness, which is really impressive.
The 3:2 aspect ratio is a little strange and takes some getting used to. It’s the same ratio as on the Surface Pro and is totally necessary if you ask me. 16:9 is too long to use as a notepad and 4:3 is too 80’s when it comes to watching movies. 3:2 is the sweet spot in the middle, but it unfortunately results in odd resolutions when it comes to viewing content. Like I said though, you get used to it.
The Spectre X2 gets a lovely screen with digitizer and pen support
Like the x360, the screen also comes with an active digitizer. This means you can use a Wacom pen to write on the screen. Unfortunately, for this particular model, HP didn’t include one. There was a spot in the box for one, so I can only assume that they do on some models. I was pretty pleased with the active digitizer on the Spectre x360, so hopefully they stuck with the same technology for a similar experience.
Update: I got to test the pen later on and you can find my impressions on this other article.
The panel itself is a LG screen, model LGD04A5. The typical measured contrast ratio is 460:1 which is pretty decent. Unfortunately, maximum brightness tops out at 280 nits, which is pretty low by today’s standards. It’ll be enough for most conditions, but I really noticed the glare in my office, which is very well lit. Another area where the panel falls short is in the color gamut. I measured a mere 80% sRGB, 61% NTSC and 62% aRGB. It still looks great, but it’s a little disconcerting knowing that it covers 20% less of the colors gamuts than today’s high quality screen options.
Below is a chart showing the brightness distribution of the screen.
Hardware and performance
The model I received has the new Intel Skylake Core mm7-6Y75 CPU along with 8GB of DDR3 ram. There’s also a Core m3 option out there, but be prepared to not have the same performance as what I’m describing here. What’s nice about the CPU is that it’s passively cooled, so there is no fan at all on this device! Less moving parts should mean less chances for failure in the future – but only time will be able to validate those claims.
I was very skeptical of this CPU when I first got it, but to my surprise, it actually performs pretty well. I’ve been using it exclusively in place of my Surface Pro 3 for a few days now, and it’s an almost seamless swap between the two. The boot time is about 10-15 seconds to get to the desktop, which is pretty decent. The instant on feature when opening the keyboard is actually better in my opinion.
I didn’t notice a whole lot of lag like I was originally expecting. Opening productivity programs like Chrome, Microsoft Word and Photoshop were all pretty snappy. Multitasking was also pretty good. The only place I found lacking was when booting. If you try to open apps or type while it’s still booting, it tends to choke a bit. For example, right when I boot, I hit the windows key and type “chrome” – then c-h-r-o-m-e gets entered about a character per second before it’s fully booted. Or I could wait a few seconds and everything is fine. Minor issue if you ask me, but it’s worth noting.
You probably won’t boot your tablet often anyways because of the extended standby feature on the Spectre x2. What it does is puts the tablet into a deep sleep state where battery drain is limited, but the instant on feature is readily available. So when you open your keyboard cover, the tablet turns instantly on. It’s different from hibernate, which actuates automatically after 4 hours and saves even more battery life. It’s better than the standard sleep setting though, which is included with your standard laptops.
The only drawback to extended standby is the lack of power options. If you go into the options, there is only one – balanced. And on top of that, the advanced options are VERY limited. By very I mean you can’t change your WiFi or CPU performance at different power states. From what I’ve seen, when you’re plugged in everything is maxed out for performance, but when you’re on battery, everything is turned down a notch (including the WiFi). There is a way to reenable these options in the registry, but doing so breaks extended standby and you’ll drain your battery more heavily as a consequence (in sleep mode only).
Below are some of the benchmarks I ran. I was pretty impressed with the results considering there’s no cooling fan. These are about on par with the Haswell Core i5 ULV processors.
- 3Dmark 11: P1162; with 90C max temp;
- 3Dmark 13: Ice Storm – 41279, Cloud Gate – 4529, Sky Diver – 2613, Fire Strike – 655;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2376, Accelerated – 2787 with 89C max temp;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 22.01 fps, CPU 2.04 pts, CPU Single Core 1.21 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 29.19 fps, CPU 197 pts, CPU Single Core 105 pts.
In addition to the tests above, I also tested the SSD speed using Crystal DiskMark. The results can be seen in the pictures. HP certainly didn’t choose the fastest SSD, that’s for sure, but it’s no slouch either. I’m not sure if it’s intentional because of the processor they chose, but I think it would be beneficial to have some faster speeds. Either way, the performance is much faster than a spinning hard disk.
I also got a chance to try some games. I was really surprised with the results because they were so similar to the Broadwell i5 results I got. For not having a CPU fan, the performance was pretty good. Here’s what I got:
|Tomb Raider – normal
|Tomb Raider – low
|Borderlands 2 – medium
|Borderlands 2 – low
|Portal 2 – high
|Portal 2 – medium
|Starcraft 2 – medium
|Starcraft 2 – low
|Fallout 4 – lowest
I tested Fallout 4 just for laughs. It actually ran but crashed every time I tried to leave town. Regardless, I’m very impressed with how this CPU handled games. It’s definitely not meant for gaming, but it’ll play old titles pretty well. Note that my CPU temps topped out at 95C.
One other thing to consider with games is the abnormal aspect ratio. Almost no older titles will support a 3:2 aspect ratio and newer ones won’t play well anyways. I had this same issue with the Surface Pro 3. If you’re intent on playing games, be prepared to play with a 16:9 ratio either stretched, windowed or with black bars.
Noise, Heat and Connectivity
For noise, it’s simple – it’s perfectly silent! No fans at all and no moving parts, so you’ll get a full tablet experience with the horsepower to run full Windows quite well. I’ve seen some of the fanless options in the past, and this is the first one I’ve ever been satisfied with in terms of performance. Before, it was a sacrifice to go fanless, but now I think we’re finally there and it can only get better.
The small sacrifice you make for no fans is added heat though. Luckily this isn’t a laptop and you’ll rarely even feel the difference since there’s no CPU in the keyboard area. All the heat is packed into the tablet portion and you’ll probably never even notice it. Here are some of the readings I took.
Normal load – Ambient 24.1
Tablet – looking from the back
Gaming load, Starcraft 2 for approximately 30 minutes on medium FHD settings – Ambient 24.1C
Tablet – looking from back
As far as input/output connectivity goes, there are really only a couple of options. You have two USB type C connectors, one on each side. They double as chargers, so if you plan on using your tablet while connected to a charger a lot, plan on only having a single spare USB port. HP includes a type C to standard USB dongle as well, so you can connect your mouse receiver or thumb drive with it.
I have mixed feelings about the type C connections. On one hand, I really like having the ability to charge on both sides of the tablet. One thing I really found annoying on the Surface Pro is using the short power cord on the right hand side when the plug is to my left. But the convenience for the x2 wears off when I need to use my mouse or thumb drive. Now I have to keep a dongle handy or else risk not being able to use my peripherals. On top of that, they look ridiculous sticking out when using the dongle, more so than they do on the Surface because they are just hanging at an arch. In short, I wish they would have added an extra Type A slot in addition to the type C.
Ethernet and display outputs are both carried out through the USB type C connectors as well. There are a variety of dongles that can be purchased for both and those on the forums have claimed positive results. I didn’t have any on hand to test this feature. For things like that, it would have been nice for HP to include them, considering you’re out of luck without them.
A huge advantage of this laptop is the LTE capability. Mine came with a SIM card for Verizon wireless and was ready to activate right out of the box. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to test this feature since I don’t have Verizon. I did a little research though and did see that a couple of the bands on the LTE card were capable for AT&T as well in the US. The adapter is model lt4114 if you want to see if your ISP is compatible. It’s possible that the LTE card is SIM locked to Verizon, but I doubt it and there’s probably a way around it.
I’ve added more details on the LTE module and how you can actually replace it with one that works on AT&T in this other post.
As I said before, I’m not a huge fan of the microSD card slot. It requires a sim removal tool to open, which is very annoying. I use a lot of SD cards for different things – to the point where I have a little holder for them all. If you’re the type to put a card in and leave it forever, this will be fine for you. But if you’re like me who switches them around a bit, you’ll start carrying a paperclip in your bag in order to switch them out. A workaround would be to use a microSD to USB Type C adapter, which is probably easier.
WiFi performance is pretty good actually. I maxed out my connection on the speed tests I ran at 25 feet from my router. My connection is 90Mbps. I got drops to about 50-60 Mbps 50 feet away. Unplugged I was only getting 40-50 Mbps, probably because of the power profile.
It’s been mostly good news up to this point, and you may be thinking it’s too good to be true. Unfortunately, in the speaker department, it is. There always seems to be something that gets overlooked and the speakers, in this case, are it. There’s little or nothing good I can say about them and here’s why.
It started from the first sound I heard when booting it up – the Windows 10 notification chime. First of all, the first split second of it was cut off. It was also not very audible, sounded very filtered and had a slight echo. I immediately went for the volume control but it was already 70%, so changing it to 100% didn’t help a whole lot.
I spent a lot of time trying to make it better, but I was only able to help a little bit. First of all, the drivers needed to be updated immediately. I had to manually install them from HP’s website and it fixed a couple issues I was having, the most important of which was audio breaking through the mute setting on the dock speakers for the first fraction of a second. Thank goodness that was fixed, because that is unacceptable. It also increased the max volume a little bit, which was good, but far from great.
I then turned to using a software equalizer to try and get more out of the speakers. Equalizer APO worked pretty well, but it’s still buggy on Windows 10 and isn’t a good enough permanent solution because it tends to crash over time. But I was able to increase the gain to make the speakers more audible. The bad thing is I could only boost the highs and high mids. Any adjustments I made to the lows and low mids did nothing to the sound quality. So there’s a filter somewhere and these speakers will always lack bass.
Both the speakers on the slate and the ones on the dock are disappointing
Believe it or not, I think the dock speakers hurt more than they help. Putting my ear up to the speakers, the sound is more tinny and I can hear a little more distortion than on the tablet speakers. They are pointing in totally different directions too which can make a slight echo depending on where your device and your ears are positioned. I wish there was a way to turn them off, but I couldn’t find anything.
As far as sound levels go, I took some measurements at ear level with the volume turned all the way up. Ambient noise was measured to be 15dB and I played my usual song from Youtube for comparison sake. I only got 65dB with the dock attacked and 50db with the tablet by itself. Again, my opinion is the music actually sounded better without the dock, albeit quieter.
What I don’t understand is why HP reserved quite a large section on their product page about the audio on this device. “Audio by Bang & Olufsen” and “four stereo speakers” really stuck out to me. I’ll admit, I took the bait and got my expectations really high. After this experience, I don’t think I’ll ever take audio marketing seriously ever again. I seriously doubt Bang & Olufsen heard these speakers, else they would have HP remove their name.
Lesson learned? More speakers aren’t always better and just because they stamp a brand name on it, it doesn’t mean it’s any good. I normally wouldn’t be so critical of the sound. If this was a cheap laptop or a gaming rig, I would say it’s probably good enough. But since this is a $1000+ tablet and many people are probably using it to consume media, I think the speakers are important enough to make high quality. Especially when you’re competing against the Surface Pro and the iPAd Pro which both have excellent sound.
Ironically, the headphone jack is above average. Sound to my earphones is very clear and extremely loud – to the point where it actually warns you that the volume might hurt your ears. If you mainly use headphones, you’ll be plenty satisfied with the quality on this device.
My battery test consists of using the stock “Balanced” power profile, 30% brightness(40 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 x2 lasted a stellar 8 hours and 44 minutes before shutting down. Pretty good for such a small battery and it outlasted my Surface Pro 3 by over an hour.
I was able to take some battery drain specs using Batterymon. The power profile was set on balanced, since it can’t be changed. I did take a few measurements with the power saver option enabled. Here are my results:
- Full brightness, idle – 7.7W – 5.3 hours
- Battery saver mode, full brightness, idle – 5.7W – 7.1 hours
- 30% brightness, surfing the web on chrome – 8.8W – 4.6 hours
- 30% brightness, surfing the web on Edge – 7.5W – 5.4 hours
- 30% brightness watching a 720p movie in WMP – 7W – 5.8 hours
- 30% brightness watching 720p on Youtube in Edge – 7.8W – 5.2 hours
- 30% brightness watching Netflix on 1080p in Chrome – 12.5W – 3.2 hours
- Battery Saver 30% watching Netflix on 1080p in Chrome – 11W – 3.7 hours
After some testing, it appears that the CPU’s 4.5W TDP is only achieved when doing really light tasks like typing text documents. 3.5W is achieved only while at idle speeds. Otherwise the TDP is 7W which is still pretty good, but not exactly the battery savings I was expecting. Other tasks like streaming videos online and surfing the web demanded more CPU power. The reason for this is the CPU is almost constantly running in its Turbo clock speed to get things done at a reasonable speed.
The thing is, very few people will get any advantage out of this Core m processor over a Core i, considering the latter can do more tasks and still achieve a TDP as low as 7.5W. I’ve been able to do a lot with the Broadwell i7-5500U and keep the TDP that low. So the battery savings on these Core m processors is theoretically only going to be there if you leave your computer at idle a lot or only do really light tasks.
Another big highlight of the machine is the RealSense camera. Unfortunately, it’s not front facing in order to take advantage of the Windows Hello feature for face unlocking. Instead HP opted to make the camera rear facing in tandem with an 8MP shooter. The thought was to allow for “3D scanning” of objects and people.
The idea of this is sound, but unfortunately the software isn’t really there yet. I checked Intel’s site and the only software available for the camera they had was itSeez3D. All you can do with this software is take 3D shots of someone’s head of full body. It’s a pretty time consuming process and very easy to mess up, but if you do it right, you end up with some pretty cool 3D images. The only limitation is you need a lot of light in order to get quality images.
Besides the 3D camera aspect, the 8MP camera by itself takes pretty decent photos. They aren’t the greatest in low light though, so don’t expect too much. The tablet also comes with a front facing 5MP camera, which works very well in my opinion. The images I took were pretty crisp even in dark rooms.
One bug I noticed with my unit was with the rear facing camera. There were many artifacts that would appear randomly when aiming to take a shot. It never affected the final pictures or any video, so I’m convinced it’s probably a driver issue and not hardware related.
Update: I added some more ideas on the RealSense in this other article, if interested.
Price and availability
The model in this review can be purchased Amazon, Best Buy and even directly from HP. As of August, 2016, you can still get the m7 version with prices ranging from $1000-1150. The real bargain lies with the m3 version, though, with prices as low as $499.
The Core m3 option available is going to be slower than the m7, so unless you’re only a light internet user, you might want to think twice. Not only is the CPU significantly slower, it has less RAM and disk space in most models. It’s much more affordable though, so it could be a good pick for the more casual user.
I wish it was everything I hoped for, but the Spectre x2 falls just a little short of my expectations in order to replace my Surface Pro 3. If anything, they are about equal, with minor pros and cons between the two. If it wasn’t for the poor sound and the dim screen, I would seriously consider keeping this and ditching the Surface. The build quality and fanless experience is just so nice to have!
Some big advantages to me are the hinge design, the LTE capability and the dual USB type C connectors on both sides. It’s a nice thing to have the ability to charge on either side of the tablet. I do wish they put a USB type A slot though, because carrying a dongle around at all times is going to be painful for some. I also like the RealSense camera, but I’m not convinced I would use it all that much, especially with the limited software available.
If not for the crappy speakers and the dim screen, the HP Specter X2 would have been an awesome computer. Even so, it’s an option to consider
Even with the drawbacks I discovered, I’m still pretty impressed with what HP has to offer in the Spectre x2. It’s a lightweight tablet with the power of a laptop, just like the Surface Pro. The keyboard and trackpad are pretty decent too. In the future I’ll do a direct comparison of the two, but for now you can take my word for it that the Spectre x2 is about equivalent to the Surface Pro 3 i5 model. If you’re looking for a low cost alternative to the Surface Pro, this might be the device for you.
One final thought – if you’re looking for this as a business device and don’t care so much about the camera and extra wide trackpad, you might want to hold off and wait for the HP Elite x2. It’s coming in January and it looks like the core specs are going to be about the same, except they could potentially fix some of the issues the x2 has. For example, the keys are black, the speakers on the dock are removed and there are different speakers on the tablet portion. There’s also no hinge switch (it’s more like the Surface Pro) and there’s also an integrated fingerprint reader. The price is definitely going to be higher though.
That wraps up my review for this one – I hope you enjoyed it. If I missed any details you were interested in, please let me know in the comment section below. I’ll do my best to answer what I can.
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