HP Spectre x360 13 (2018) full review
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The HP Spectre x360 13 is a hybrid laptop with no-compromise build and many of the latest components.
It looks good, feels great and runs well too. Some alternatives last longer, and HP’s less slim and light Envy laptops give you the option of discrete graphics: much better for gaming.
However, if you’re after something a little like a MacBook not made by Apple, this is a great choice.
Price and availability
We’re using a high-end version of the HP Spectre x360. It costs £1,499, has an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, 512GB SSD and a 4K screen. Before you start thinking that’s expensive, the nearest MacBook Pro spec currently costs £1,919.
The standard version of the HP Spectre x360 13 costs £1,299 and has a 256GB and Core i5 CPU. However, both have a 4K resolution screen, which tended to be an expensive upgrade, if it is offered at all.
Those after the top-end version can pay £1,799 for a 1TB SSD and 16GB RAM.
The HP Spectre x360 13 comes with a one-year “collect and return” warranty.
Design and build
When the first Spectre laptop arrived a couple of years ago, it seemed a very distinctive design. A two tone finish and, stretching the imagination a bit, hints of Ancient Egypt inspiration, it was one of the more recognisable laptops of 2016.
The new HP Spectre x360 is a little more conventional, but keeps a few of the design touches of the original. It is now cast in one colour in some variants, and ours is a mild rose gold shade. The original dark and bright-gold two-tone look is available for those after something more eye-catching, though.
Just 13.6mm thick and 1.26kg, the HP Spectre x360 13 is very light. As it has a narrow screen surround, the footprint is also significantly smaller than that of some older 13in laptops.
As you’d hope for the price, there’s minimal flex to all of the panels — although there is a bit more give to the lid than a MacBook’s. Aside from the glass of the screen, the shell is all-aluminium. It looks great and feels expensive.
HP-specific parts to note about the design when weighing this up against the Dell XPS 13 and Lenovo Yoga 920 include the funky pattern above the keyboard, which is part of the heat dispersal system, the fairly sharp keyboard keys and the angles to the back of the laptop’s sides.
At this price, looks do matter at least a little.
Equally important: why should you buy this instead of the cheaper HP Envy 13? At the time of writing, you can only get the 15in version of the Envy as a hybrid, the 13in version still uses 7th-gen processors and its looks are plainer.
The hybrid hinge is also a key part of the Spectre x360 13. It lets you keep the screen at any angle. You can flip the display all the way over to use the laptop as a digital notebook, or the keyboard can function as a kickstand. If you don’t care about this hybrid style, also consider the Spectre 13 (non x360) as it’s even thinner and lighter, although costs £100 more too. Ouch.
When we first opened up the HP Spectre x360 13 we let out a sigh of relief. Unlike the original Spectre and Apple’s latest MacBooks, you don’t have to make do with USB-C ports alone.
There are two excellent Thunderbolt 3.0 USB-C ports on the right side, but you also get a full-size USB 3.1 port to the left. You don’t have to find an adapter or new cable just to plug in your USB 3.0 external hard drive or a USB stick.
There’s also a microSD slot.
Keyboard and touchpad
The HP Spectre x360 13 has a typical ultrabook keyboard style. Key action is light and breezy, and typing is comfortable as long as you are not wedded to a meaty key feel.
There are a few keyboard alterations that may take a little time to adjust to, like how the normal keys are actually shunted left a little to fit in a column of function keys that couldn’t be crammed-in above. It does take a little bedding-in, but we’re not going to mark the HP Spectre x360 13 down for what is little more than a muscle memory blip.
The keyboard also has a backlight, although it only has a single level of intensity. We’d like to see at least a couple at this price.
Below sits a very long, fairly large trackpad. It has a textured glass surface and integrated buttons. While a solid, high-quality pad, we do prefer those of the Yoga 920 and Apple’s MacBook Pro. A fairy high-resistance action makes quick double clicks slightly more laboured than the best. That said, at this point of trackpad competence we’re in highly subjective territory so see if you can have a play in person if you’re picky about your pads.
Topping off the HP Spectre x360 13’s high quality, if note quite perfect, inputs, there’s a fingerprint scanner on the side. It’s one of the best we’ve used on a Windows laptop, logging in quickly and usually working every time. It just takes a little while to get used to its position as it’s on the edge, not by the trackpad. You use it “blind”.
The HP Spectre x360 13 also has face unlock, using an IR camera rather than just a webcam. It too works well, getting you logged-in within a second or so even if you’re using the laptop with low-level indoors lighting. You just have to make sure the screen is at the right angle.
The HP Spectre x360 13 has a 13.3in IPS LCD screen. Unlike last year’s laptops at this price, its resolution is 4k, providing superb sharpness. You may have to fiddle with scaling or, in some extreme cases, alter the system resolution, to make older apps look right. But we’re not going to complain too much about such a pixel-packed display.
Every aspect of the display is great. Maximum brightness of 368cd/m is towards the upper end of laptop display power, and colour saturation is excellent. The Spectre x360 13 covers 98% of sRGB according to our colorimeter, and actually does deeper in certain tones, for total (by volume) sRGB coverage of 109%.
It covers 77.3% of the cinema standard DCI P3 and 73.9% of the ultra-wide Adobe RGB gamut. Movies and games look rich on this laptop.
Contrast is also about as good as you’ll see in an LCD laptop. At 1302:1, black levels look deep even in a dimly lit room.
This screen is better than that of the original HP Spectre, which covered 89% of sRGB, was slightly dimmer and (in our review sample at least) was “only” 1080p resolution.
As a hybrid, the Spectre x360 13’s screen is touch sensitive. All versions of the laptop also come with an active stylus, which is worth £60 on its own. It offers 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, making its fidelity comparable with some (slightly older) pro-grade graphics tablets.
We imagine most graphics pros will want to stick to their Wacom Cintiq Pro tablets, but the Spectre x360 13 will do the job for rough sketches and weekend work. And, of course, just mucking about.
The Spectre x360 13 has one of Intel’s 8th Generation CPUs. Different specs have either Core i5 or Core i7, and ours has the higher-end Core i7.
This processor is paired with 8GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. Thanks to the huge improvements Intel has made in this generation, performance is quite excellent, almost doubling the results in Geekbench 4 compared with a Core i7 from the last generation.
These latest processors have four cores rather than two, with eight threads. Until this generation you could only get a dual-core CPU in a laptop this thin and light.
In Geekbench 4 the Spectre x360 13 scores 13608 points, and 3422 in PC Mark 10. While these are good results, we did get consistently higher numbers from the Lenovo Yoga 920, even though it uses the same CPU. The Lenovo laptop scores 14423 in Geekbench 4 and 3976 in PC Mark 10.
This is a significant difference. So why is it here?
Switching the laptop’s resolution to 1080p didn’t help at all, leaving RAM speed as possible culprit. The HP Spectre x360 13 has DDR3 RAM at 2133MHz, the Yoga 920 DDR4 clocked at 2400MHz.
However, we’re still a little surprised by the extent of the difference, particularly in the PC Mark 10 score, which is a little less abstract in its nature and scoring. We’re left wondering whether the Spectre x360 13 either keeps a tighter rein on clock speed and the Core i7 CPU’s Turbo mode, or if this dip in performance is down to security updates following the “Meltdown” CPU vulnerability.
The Yoga 920 may “win” this fight if it’s not the latter, but the HP Spectre x360 13 is still an admirable performer. It can run any app you like, and will handle challenging apps significantly better than any Core i7 laptop with a 7th Generation CPU.
Gaming is a weak area, though. Like most ultra-slim and light laptops, the Spectre x360 13 only has integrated graphics hardware, the Intel HD 620 GPU.
There’s much less of a performance boost with shift to an 8th Generation CPU here. And once again, we got better results from the Yoga 920. Alien: Isolation runs at 28.5fps at 720p resolution, low graphics settings. This is far from perfect, but playable. The Yoga 920 manages 36fps: again too much to be explained solely by slightly faster RAM.
Alien: Isolation average frame rates drop to 14fps at 1080p, maxed settings. And at native 4K the game is painfully slow.
The Spectre x360 13 can handle Alien: Isolation, but only just.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is too much for the laptop. It runs at an average 14.5fps at 720p (Low graphics) and a dismal 3.4fps at 1080p (Ultra).
If you care a lot about games but want still want a slim and light laptop, you might want to wait for the Envy 13 to get an Intel 8th generation update. Current 7th Gen modes come with GeForce MX 150 graphics. While still low-end gaming hardware, it’ll play Alien: Isolation at 1080p and Deus Ex at 720p comfortably.
The HP Spectre x360 13 uses a fan system rather than passive cooling, effectively mandated by the use of the punchy Core i7 CPU. It’s not loud, never too distracting, but we have found it can take a while for the fan to cycle down after some gaming or tackling a CPU-intensive app.
There’s also some light noise during general operation, despite the use of pure solid state storage. It’s most likely caused by coil whine, which is fairly common but can be annoying if you’re expecting a totally silent laptop.
The HP Spectre x360 13 has a 60Wh battery and, as with any laptop like this, it’s locked into the frame: not easily replaceable. Battery performance actually outdoes HP’s own claim according to our testing.
HP says it’ll last for 10 hours, or 8 hours 45 minutes of Full HD video. In our looping video test, playing a looped movie at 120cd/m brightness, it lasts 10 hours 32 minutes. HP delivers on its promises, and this is about an hour and a half longer than the original Spectre. To explain the difference between our results and HP’s, the manufacturer tests at a brighter 150cd/m.
However, it is still soundly beaten by the Lenovo Yoga 920, which lasts six hours longer. It’s a huge difference, and one not just provided by careful power management as the Lenovo has a larger 70Wh unit. The 4K screen clearly takes its toll on the battery, though.
Finishing off with the Spectre x360 13’s speakers, there are drivers to each side of the laptop’s bottom panel. Volume and clarity are good, and a degree of mid-range presence stops them sounding too thin or harsh. There’s no real bass, though, leaving kick drums sounding weak. Still, it’s not a bad performance for a laptop this thin.
HP Spectre x360 13 (2018): Specs
- 13.3-inch (3840 x 2160) 4K 331ppi IPS LCD glossy
- 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U (4GHz boost) 4 cores, 8 threads
- Windows 10 Home 64-bit
- Intel UHD 620 GPU
- 8GB 2133MHz DDR3 RAM
- 512GB SSD
- 802.11b/g/n/ac single-band 2x2 MIMO
- Bluetooth 4.2
- 1x USB-C Thunderbolt 3
- 1x USB 3.1
- microSD card slot
- stereo speakers
- HD webcam
- single mic
- 3.5mm headset jack
- UK tiled keyboard with numberpad
- two-button trackpad
- 60Wh lithium-ion battery, non-removable
- 306 x 218 x 13.6 mm
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