HP Spectre Folio full review

The HP Spectre Folio is an eye-catching hybrid that surrounds its components with leather – and that’s not the only area where it stands apart from the competition. It’s got a unique moving mechanism involving two hinges, for starters, and it has a CPU that promises increased efficiency when compared to the silicon used elsewhere.

As attractive as this machine is, though, its price is a little high. Can it do enough to convince us of its worth when more powerful rivals are available for less?

Price & Availability

There’s currently only one available UK model of the HP Spectre Folio, and it’ll set you back £1,499. You can buy it directly from HP or from Currys PC World.

It’s not the same situation in the USA, where this machine starts at $1,299 if you're happy with a lower spec. Otherwise it will set you back $1,499 but it's worth looks at HP’s bundles where the Folio comes packaged with headphones, Bluetooth speakers and sleeves.

HP is set to release versions of the Folio with burgundy leather rather than the brown included here, and 4K screens will also be available later in the Spring – although HP hasn’t yet confirmed how much extra it’ll cost to get your hands on the higher-resolution model.

Check out our chart of the best laptops you can buy.

Design & Build

The Folio look and feels fantastic. Brown leather covers the back of the screen and the base and comes around to the front of the machine, with the keyboard and screen secured tightly to the material. This isn't a normal folio case.

The leather and metal portions of the Folio blend brilliantly, and the edges are finished with neat stitching. A subtle HP logo is embossed into the rear, and the metal hinge – which looks and functions like the spine of a book – remains hidden behind more leather.

HP Spectre Folio leather case

If you turn up to a meeting with this machine, people will think you’ve got a smart folder full of documents – not your laptop.

That hinge allows the Folio to open smoothly and without a huge amount of force. It’s not the only hinge either – there’s another half-way up the back of the screen.

This secondary hinge allows the panel to pitch forward to a 60° angle. It settles into a ridge between the keyboard and trackpad, and allows the Folio to be used at a more comfortable angle for watching films or using the touchscreen. It can move forward again to lie flat like a conventional tablet.

Build quality is excellent across the leather and metal portions of this machine, and the leather also anchors the unit to the desk.

HP Spectre Folio tablet

It looks just as good as any rival. It’s more eye-catching than the dark metal and material on the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 hybrid, and it’s arguably more mature than the Dell XPS 13’s mix of metal and carbon-fibre. It doesn’t look any less premium than the latest MacBook Air, either.

The Folio tips the scales at 1.49kg and is 15.2mm thick. Those dimensions aren’t bad – but all of its rivals are slimmer and lighter.

Keyboard & Trackpad

The slim design means a slim keyboard. These buttons only have 1.3mm of travel and you don’t get a numberpad, but the buttons are amply spaced, and with a clear font and a decent backlight.

The short keystrokes quickly become obvious. There’s a distinct lack of travel – the keys have loads of speed and a snappy action, but they don’t move much and they feel light. The Apple and Dell machines both have firmer and more definitive typing experiences.

HP Spectre Folio keyboard

If you do prefer a light, flat typing experience, then the Folio’s keyboard is a good example of the form – and, regardless, it’s absolutely fine for flitting around during web-browsing and typing sessions. However, it’s certainly not the best choice if you want heavier, taller buttons with more tactile feedback.

The trackpad has no major problems. The surface is responsive, and the buttons are light and snappy. The pad is a little small compared to the hardware found on proper laptops, but it’s not a hindrance.

Screen

The Folio’s 13.3in screen has a Full HD resolution and a Gorilla Glass coating along with a Full HD webcam in the bezel above the panel.

The Folio comes with a stylus, too, which has 1,024 pressure points. That’s a long way short of the 4,096 provided by the Microsoft Surface Pen, but that’s a £100 accessory – and we never had any precision issues with the Folio’s hardware.

A display density level of 166ppi is fine – easily sharp enough for day-to-day work applications, web-browsing and for watching movies. However, there are sharper screens available elsewhere – even if a move to a higher resolution won’t make much difference beyond adding a little sharpness and a tad more screen real estate.

The Dell XPS 13 is available with a 4K panel. The Microsoft Surface Pro 6 has a 3:2 screen with a resolution of 2736 x 1824, while the MacBook Air tops out at 2560 x 1600.

HP Spectre Folio screen

Importantly, quality levels are superb. The brightness measurement of 383cd/m2 ensures that there’s enough backlight punch to make the screen look great under bright office lights and outdoors, and the black level of 0.2cd/m2 delivers visuals with impressive depth and darkness.

They create a measured contrast ratio of 1,901:1 is excellent – easily high enough to render impressive vibrancy at every part of the colour gamut. The average Delta E of 1.57 is great, and the colour temperature of 6,662K is just as good – it means that colours will be extremely accurate.

HP’s machine rendered 98.2 percent of the sRGB colour gamut, which is another great result. You’ll only need a workstation with a higher colour gamut if you want to use the Adobe RGB or DCI P3 protocols.

It’s an outstanding panel that will cope with almost anything you throw at it – from photo and design work to web-browsing and watching movies. There’s nothing noticeably better on any other hybrid or ultraportable.

Specs & Performance

HP has fitted the Folio with Intel Core i7-8500Y processor alongside a 256GB SSD and 8GB of dual-channel, low-power DDR3 memory. That's the model we've tested although you can get a Core i5-8200Y in the US.

The processor is noteworthy. It’s Intel’s first Amber Lake chip, and it’s incredibly efficient – it has a TDP of just 5W. Most rivals use chips like the Core i5-8265U or i5-8250U or the Core i7-8550U and i7-8565U. All of those parts have 15W TDPs.

Because of that tiny power draw, the Folio’s CPU only has two cores and a modest clock speed of 1.5GHz. Every rival part we’ve mentioned has four cores and a better base clock speed.

The Folio’s one saving grace is an impressive Turbo peak of 4.2GHz, but that’s still no better than the 15W parts you’ll find elsewhere.

The difference between 5W and 15W chips can be seen in benchmarks. In Geekbench 4’s single- and multi-core tests and with the machine’s performance dialled up to the maximum the Folio returned single- and multi-core scores of 4,974 and 8,759.

The Folio’s single-core result isn’t bad. It’s barely any different to the scores returned by rivals, and it proves that the HP’s Turbo abilities work well. In real-world terms, it means that the Folio will have the pace to handle web-browsing and Office applications without issues.

However, the HP’s multi-core score is half as quick as 15W chips. That’s no surprise given that those parts have twice as many cores. In day-to-day use, it means that you won’t be able to run loads of applications side-by-side on this machine – or handle complex content or photo work.

Other benchmarks further illustrate the performance gulf. Its Cinebench CPU result of 282cb competes with the latest MacBook Air, which has a similar Amber Lake CPU, but it’s around half as quick as the 15W chips. The PCMark 10 score of 3009 is basic. 

You get weaker performance if you tweak the Folio to run with more balance between longevity and performance, too – with a more modest power mode activated, the Folio’s Geekbench multi-core score dropped to 5,311.

There’s no room for a discrete graphics core, either. The modest Intel UHD Graphics 615 scored a meagre 698 points in the 3D Mark Fire Strike test and only 2382 in Sky Diver. You’ll only be able to handle low-end games on this rig.

There is an advantage to the Folio’s modest components, though: you’ll never have heat or noise issues. No matter what you do, the HP remained cool and quiet.

Connectivity & Audio

HP serves up two Thunderbolt 3 ports and one USB 3.1 Type-C connector on this machine, and there’s a Type-C to Type-A adapter in the box. The modest power adapter can use all three connectors to charge the unit, and the Folio also has 4G support.

That’s a reasonable port selection, but the Dell and Microsoft machines both add microSD slots and fingerprint sensors. The HP doesn’t have any display outputs, either.

The speakers are not particularly impressive. They’re loud and high-end quality is pretty clear and crisp, but there’s an unsurprising lack of bass. They’re only suitable for background music and casual media.

HP Spectre Folio ports

Battery Life

This is one area where the HP trounces the competition – and an area where the Folio’s low-power CPU and 54Wh battery come into their own.

In our standard battery test – which involves looping a 720p movie with the screen at 120cd/m2 brightness – the HP lasted for 16 hours and 53 minutes. That’s a superb result. It’s twice as long as the Surface Pro 6, six hours beyond the Dell, and better than the MacBook Air.

The only devices we've seen beat that figure are the Surface Book 2, Lenovo Miix 630 and HP's own Envy x2 - but they are either more expensive or don't offer much performance elsewhere.

If you’re handling normal work tasks or browsing the web, then you’re easily going to get a full day’s use out of this machine. You’ll probably be able to watch a film when you get home, too.

Of course, ramping up the screen brightness and pushing the processor will impact longevity, but you’ll still get a day out of this machine if you’re pushing the components – which isn’t something we can always say about the competition.

Verdict

The Spectre Folio is a stunning hybrid, but not one without compromise.

It looks the part thanks to its distinctive and attractive leather exterior. Build quality is great, and the machine’s different usage modes are all intuitive. The screen is fantastic, too, and battery life is class-leading thanks to its efficient CPU.

That CPU, though, is a double-edged sword – while it contributes to great longevity, its performance can’t match rivals. It’ll handle web-browsers, Office tools and a bit of light photo-editing, but that’s it.

The keyboard is lighter and shallower than the typing gear found elsewhere, too, and the Folio is a little chunkier than its competition.

If you need more power or desire a firmer keyboard, you’ll need to look elsewhere. For most people, though, the Folio represents a capable and versatile hybrid that’ll handle most tasks for more than a day – and it’ll look great while doing it.

Specs

HP Spectre Folio: Specs

  • Processor: 1.5GHz Intel Core i7-8500Y
  • Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615
  • Memory: 8GB LPDDR3
  • Screen: 13.3in, 1920 x 1080 IPS touchscreen
  • Storage: 256GB Samsung SSD
  • Ports: 2 x Thunderbolt 3, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C
  • Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Dimensions: 320 x 234 x 15.2mm
  • Weight: 1.49kg