HP has already had a few machines out in 2014 for us to look at, and here we are with a new Ultrabook, promising good looks, good speed, and a screen that goes above and beyond the typical trend for current thin and lights.
A new Ultrabook for a new generation, the HP Spectre 13 takes the Intel Ultrabook standard and puts some spins on it, making it a computer HP is proud to call its own, while still providing enough features to make it a solid Ultrabook competitor to everything else already out there today.
First is the screen, and for that HP is providing a 13.3 inch QHD screen, providing the higher-than-Full HD resolution of 2560×1440 and showing off 220 pixels per inch, ever so slightly under the PPI of an Apple MacBook Pro 13 with a Retina-grade screen.
Next is the keyboard and trackpad, which appear more spacious than some of its competitors, and with a power button up top next to the screen hinge, making it harder to press than those relying on a power button in the regular keyboard design.
Under the keyboard and trackpad, you’ll find a fourth-generation Intel Core processor clocked at 1.8GHz and sitting in the Core i7 set of Intel chips, (i7-4500U). This is paired with 8GB RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive, with all of this encased in a metal body.
Wireless connectivity is handled through 802.11 a/b/g/n, though sadly there’s no 802.11ac on this laptop, with WiFi accompanied only by Bluetooth 4.0. No NFC here either, nor is there a wired Gigabit port, making the lack of 802.11ac a touch more disheartening.
Ports are an interesting bunch, with two USB 3.0 ports, a single HDMI, a single mini-DisplayPort, a full-height SD card slot, and then the obligatory headset jack and AC power port.
A webcam sits up top, and a microphone and stereo speakers are also included with support for Beats Audio provided.
The battery is built into the laptop and not removable.
HP seems to take pride in its designs, and that’s a point that is clear on the Spectre 13, with a brushed silver aluminium body and a brown brushed metal lid, both of which look excellent today.
This isn’t just another clone here, with the silver metal looking very premium and flagship, while the brown of the top coming together in a way that looks both professional and different, and certainly won’t make you be just another person with the same old metal Mac.
In the hands, that excellence in build quality is noticeable with a durable and solid design that feels sturdy.
At around 1.6 kilograms, it’s not the lightest 13 inch you’re likely to come across, but it still doesn’t make too much of an impact on the back or shoulder, keeping the power inside of a unit that is thin enough for most people, and solid enough for everyone else.
Open up the Spectre and the first thing you’ll be greeted to isn’t the lovely shiny metal keyboard, or the brilliantly bright screen — seriously, we’ll get to that in a moment — but rather the ridonkulously big trackpad, and holy crap it is massive.
We’re used to the wide and spacious trackpad Apple uses on its laptops, with glass underneath, but HP’s Spectre 13 touchpad is in a totally different ballpark, measuring 15cm diagonal, or close to 6 inches in the terminology we’re all using for our smartphones.
It’s massive, with two obvious control zones on the right designed to help you get used to the side-swiping gestures used in Windows 8, a move that virtually no other manufacturer relying on Windows has tried, and should help to give people an idea of where the charms are on the modern touch-centric edition of Windows.
Multi-touch gestures are also support here, with two-finger zooming, rotating, and right clicking, as well as the three finger drag down to close an app. HP even provides a gesture chart in the box to help you get accustomed to the new way Windows works.
Add to the massive trackpad the excellent keyboard, which has a real firm and solid click to the keys, and reminds us of the sort of keyboard Apple and Lenovo use on their respective laptops. There’s enough travel for the keys, and every time you press one down, the spring isn’t enough to make you stop typing mid-way through your next word, which is tremendous for people who aren’t slow typists.
We wouldn’t dismiss using this keyboard to type a book on or two, or even a review, and we should know: we’ve written one or two of the first, and quite a few more of the latter.
The screen is another area that wins points for us, with HP moving past the tried and tired old logic of using HD screen (1366×768), mid-Full HD (1600×900), and even pushing beyond the Full HD (1920×1080) screens some laptops offer.
No, rather than stick with what the competition offers in their Ultrabooks, HP has included an excellent 2560×1440 screen, also known as QHD or Quad HD. In fact, it’s the same sized screen Toshiba used in its Kirabook, offering that lovely 1440p resolution across a 13.3 inch screen size.
That’s the sort of thing we’ve wanted Apple to acknowledge was needed in its MacBook Air computers for ages, and here in the ultra-thin Spectre 13, HP has at least given it the nod, with insanely clear fonts and a copy of Windows 8.1 that just looks brilliant.
Most of the viewing angles appear perfect on the Spectre 13, though you might notice some slight wash out from time to time depending on how you view the screen. Outside of this, however, the display is lovely, bright, and very very clear. We wish more Ultrabooks had screens like this.
Moving over to performance and innards, and for the most part, we’re impressed. It’s not the sort of performance you’ll get out of a powerhouse system — there may well be an Intel Core i7 under the hood, but this has been based on an Ultrabook, so don’t expect it to be ideal for extreme image and video editing.
Despite that, it can hold its own, and with the i7 4500 working alongside 8GB RAM, this isn’t a bad machine at all. In fact, one might call it a good machine, and suitable for most of what the everyday Ultrabook user might want to throw its way.
We did throw a game or two at it, as well as some image editing, and while it can slow down, it’s nothing too far off what we’ve seen with other Ultrabooks in its class, and so were suitable impressed.
HP’s inclusion of a 256GB drive is a welcome one, and while 12GB has been reserved for the recovery of Windows, you’ll still find just under 190GB for you to actually use, which isn’t half bad.
And hey, just for a nice change, there is less bloatware than normally found on HP computers… so yay there.
Ports are reasonably generous too, though two USB 3.0 ports do feel like the bare minimum a 13 inch computer should have, and that’s all you’ll get here for expansion. There is a mini-DisplayPort and HDMI port for sending your video somewhere else, and even a full-height SD card slot, making it ideal for editing photos or bumping up the storage without leaving the card protruding from the casing.
Battery life is about average for this machine, though, and won’t win extra points for us. It’s not like the Asus T100 — hell, there’s a Core i7 underneath here, and not the low-power Atom on that model — so don’t expect life into the double digits.
In fact, expect a battery life a little under what the MacBook Air manages, with around 4-6 hours, with four on the side of using the processor for a bit of graphics and six to seven for web surfing, emails, writing, and more.
It’s not an especially amazing battery life, that said, though with the screen on this bad boy sitting at over the Full HD mark, honestly, we’re not at all surprised.
Beyond the battery, there are few sour points when it comes to dealing with the Spectre 13, but we feel we should list what we’ve come across, regardless.
One of these is the processor fan, which can get noisy when you need to actually, you know, do something with the impressive technology Intel has built into the chip itself. That might mean games or editing photos, and the Spectre does come with a copy of Adobe Lightroom preinstalled, so that last one is at least possible.
When you decide to get going and make the processor work, the fan will spin into action, and make noise. It’s the only time it happens on this computer, and like the ghost that occupies its name, the Spectre is, for the most part, totally silent.
Except when you use the computer’s high-end specs. Then it’s a ghost doing the vacuuming while you’re not away from the next room. Friendly ghosts, and all.
The backlighting also seems to only have one level: on and off.
That’s better than no backlighting, but it’s not a particularly bright set of backlighting, so if you’re in a darkened aircraft cabin and the backlighting on offer isn’t bright enough, you may as well use that bright screen to help illuminate your way, at least until you land.
HP’s 2014 Spectre is an impressive return to the fore, with an Ultrabook that isn’t just another clone.
While most thin and light machines generally follow the same pattern and design, the Spectre is different, taking the Intel specification and not just improving it, but also throwing its own touches on top, and making it something not just great, but overall quite excellent.
HP is back. Recommended.