HP Spectre x360 13 (Project Athena) full review

Intel’s Project Athena is a bold initiative from the chipset manufacturer that, if successful, will provide laptops that offer not only impressive power in a slim form factor, but AI enhancements and long battery life too. One of the first Athena-certified laptops is the upcoming HP Spectre x360 13, and while the existing Spectre x360 is a great all-round laptop, the upcoming model looks to offer something special.

We went hands-on with the upcoming HP Spectre x360 13 at an Intel Open House event in London, and here’s what we think.

Pricing and availability

The Project Athena-certified HP Spectre x360 is set to be released at the end of October 2019 and with a starting price of $1,099. UK pricing is yet to be confirmed, but we imagine it’ll be a fairly straightforward conversion of £1,099, but we’ll update this section once HP officially reveals UK pricing and pre-orders go live.

For more laptop inspiration, take a look at our selection of the best laptops of 2019 and the best laptop deals too.

Lightweight design

On the surface, the latest iteration of HP’s Spectre x360 laptop looks very similar to the previous generation with the same thin angular design, gem-cut aluminium chassis and ability to fold almost 360-degrees, but there are key improvements that really enhance the design of the high-end ‘pro-sumer’ laptop.

The first – and probably most noticeable – upgrade is the display. The thick black bezels present on the previous-gen x360 are gone, replaced with a near edge-to-edge display with an impressive 90% screen-to-body ratio that, in addition to providing a more premium experience, shrinks the overall size of the body to make it even more portable without compromising on power.

A smaller body usually means sacrifices in the keyboard department, but that’s certainly not the case here. You’ve got a full keyboard with full-size keys that provide great travel and a comfortable typing experience without the learning curve that you often get with laptop keyboards.

Some of the key components of the laptop – including the charging port, power button and headphone jack – have been relocated for ease of use. That won’t make a difference to you if this is your first x360, but it’s something that current users may appreciate.

But while the design is generally improved, there’s one area that has seen a downgrade: audio. The previous-gen x360 featured forward-facing speakers above the keyboard that delivered decent-quality audio playback, but that has been removed in the latest-gen device and replaced with an odd system.

As explained by a HP rep, the new x360 features speakers that fire into the chassis itself, causing the illusion of audio coming from the keyboard itself. While it was admittedly a fairly loud hands-on environment, we struggled to hear any sound output from the new laptop while we could hear audio from the older x360 on show. We imagine that audio clarity will also suffer as a result, but that’s not something we were able to pick up on during our hands-on.

But while the front-facing speakers have been removed, a host of other fan-favourite features return with the latest Spectre x360. This includes the privacy-focused Webcam Kill Switch that all but avoids the issue of potential webcam hacking, Windows Hello support and the privacy screen that hides your display from prying eyes is back too, although the latter won’t be available as an optional feature until January 2020.

The Spectre x360 is also available in a brand new colour option – Natural Silver – alongside Nightfall Black and Poseidon Blue, although these may be exclusive to various regions and/or retailers.

Built for Project Athena

The HP Spectre x360 is one of few Project Athena-certified laptops on the market at the moment. For those unaware, Project Athena is an Intel initiative, and to have Athena certification the laptop has to offer not only impressive performance but AI support, long battery life and a slim form factor too, and that’s certainly the case with the new x360.

It sports a quad-core tenth-gen Intel Ice Lake CPU alongside either 8 or 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage, and while that’s impressive enough, it’s the Iris Pro graphics that really gives it a kick in the performance department. The integrated GPU offers 2x the performance of the previous-gen which, according to Intel, can provide 60fps+ when running popular shooter CS:GO at Full HD resolution with medium graphics.

That’s obviously not as good as you’ll get from a gaming-focused laptop, but to provide that level of performance in a form factor as thin as what’s on offer from the x360, it’s certainly impressive.

The x360 also boasts built-in AI support which should make running power-hungry tasks a little easier, although at this early stage it’s hard to say exactly what it’ll be used for. It needs developers to update apps and programs to utilise the tech, but Intel is confident about the additional power it’ll provide.

The claimed battery life is also impressive at up to 22 hours but, of course, that’ll depend on usage and that’s not something we could test at the hands-on event. Aside from the key features mentioned, the x360 supports the latest-gen Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and optional 4x5 Gigabit LTE connectivity if you opt for the cellular variant.

For more information on the Project Athena initiative, take a look at our explainer: What is Project Athena?

Early verdict

We’ll withhold our verdict and star rating until we’ve got a sample back to Tech Advisor towers for testing and benchmarking, but if HP’s power and battery life claims are accurate, the Spectre x360 could be amongst the best laptops available in 2019.