Not quite a Surface, but still something close, HP’s Spectre x2 is one interesting machine, and worth checking out if you’re keen to see a tablet with all the fix-ins.
Not keen to let Microsoft get all the attention for tablet computing, HP is ready with a slate of its own, and one that when you set your eyes upon it, you’ll probably see more than passing resemblance to the big M’s take on the category.
HP’s is a little different, but does manage to bring some similar specs to the table.
First there’s a 12 inch display here running the resolution of 1920×1280, making it a Full HD screen in a slightly wider aspect ratio than the usual 16:9 with its 1920×1080.
Under this screen, a cacophony of computer parts works together for the experience, with an Intel Core m processor (either m3, m5, or m7) delivering the power, paired with 4 or 8GB RAM, and a solid-state drive up to 512GB. Microsoft’s Windows 10 is loaded on this drive out of the box as you’d expect on a modern computer.
Connections are a little different for a laptop, and HP starts the year off with a push to the next generation of USB ports here, with two USB Type C reversible ports here, both of which are capable of delivering high-speed USB 3.0 speeds while also taking charge through both of the ports, though only one at a time and through HP’s charge block.
You’ll also find a 3.5mm headphone port for headsets with both microphone and headphones on them, as well as a microSD slot on the top right side able to be ejected using a pin ejector tool.
Wireless is more or less par for the course, however, including 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, as well as Bluetooth 4.0.
Two cameras are included on the tablet, with a 5 megapixel camera sitting above the 12 inch screen and an 8 megapixel camera on the back with technology from Intel for RealSense built into the body nearby.
Several extra parts are included in the box, though, with a kickstand built into the Spectre x2’s body, coming out from the laptop when a switch on the left side of the tablet is triggered, while a keyboard and pen mouse are included in the box, too.
The keyboard is one of the surprise features, and is something you’d normally have to pay for, comprising of a magnetically-connected fabric-backed aluminium keyboard with backlighting and trackpad, while the pen is also made from aluminium and relies on technology from Wacom.
A few physical buttons can be found on the Spectre x2, with a power button on the top edge in the right corner, while the volume rocker sits on the left side well above the kickstand switch.
Editor’s note: the model being reviewed was configured with an Intel Core m5 processor, 8GB RAM, and 256GB solid-state storage, with a value of $1899 RRP.
Tablet computers don’t really need to arrive with a lot of complexity since most of the equipment tends to be thrown into one section — the screen — but you still need to make it look nice.
Fortunately, HP appears to have done that with the Spectre x2, a machine that oozes simplicity and minimalism thanks to the fact that like the Microsoft Surface, this computer is essentially a 12 inch frame with a screen, processing parts, and a magnetic port at the bottom to connect a lightweight fabric keyboard.
Design-wise, you’re looking at an 8mm tablet made from a single block of aluminium, which kind of makes the Spectre x2 feel like a premium tablet, the sort Apple might construct.
There is something inside that Apple wouldn’t really throw into its design, and that’s a stand built into the body, able to be set up when a switch is flicked and the kickstand comes out to play.
It’s not as easy to flick down as it probably should be, but when it does, the stand is very sturdy, providing something to lean your tablet against without thinking.
Once the tablet is sitting in the position you want it in, it’s time to get playing, and the Spectre x2 is a pretty easy machine to get accommodated with.
You can use your fingers to play with the tablet because you don’t need a mouse to get started, but if you bring out the included fabric-backed keyboard, you’ll find a magnetic connector at the bottom that connects up the keyboard quickly, giving you both a keyboard and a mouse.
Like the Surface Pro 3 and 4, as well, magnets in the keyboard cover and tablet allow the keyboard to raise up, bringing a slant to your typing experience that feels better than merely flat on the desk.
From here, you just need to turn the tablet on, accomplished with the power button on the top right.
It shouldn’t take long for the 12 inch screen to light up and take you into Windows 10, and if this is your first time, you’ll have to get through the Windows 10 setup.
When Windows has loaded, however, you can get stuck into everything you’d normally use a computer for, with the Intel Core m5 processor generally lending itself to standard work, some web surfing, and anything else you might want to do.
Our time wasn’t spent poking holes in the processing environment, but the specs don’t line up for the Spectre to be used for Photoshopping, though the inclusion of decent speakers means you can watch a few movies up loud, with four speakers on the tablet — one on each side of the screen, and two more in the keyboard — helping to push out some decent volume.
Display is the next thing we feel is worth talking about on the Spectre x2, because while HP has provided a great little 12 inch screen for you to use that is definitely easy on the eyes, it’s not the best resolution you’ll find.
There’s no doubt that the slightly bigger than Full HD resolution of 1920×1280 that is offered is decent and doable, but now that competitors are offering higher sizes, we know that Spectre’s x2 isn’t really the bees knees.
It’s good, but not the best.
At least it offers excellent viewing angles, though if we’re being picky, we’d like a little more brightness if we could, as the 100% brightness setting in Windows 10 doesn’t feel quite as bright as it should.
One of the most important features when considering a laptop, any laptop, is the battery life, and that’s something HP’s Spectre x2 is a little mixed on.
During our test, we found battery life tended to hover around five to six (5-6) hours, though this is, of course, dependent on what you use the Spectre x2 for.
Given that there’s a low-power Intel chip under the hood, this means you won’t really want to try to get more than your share of productivity work, multimedia viewing, or web surfing done on the tablet, but if you do try to push it, know that the Spectre will respond in kind with a reduction of battery life.
Unfortunately, getting a clue as to the sort of life you’ll end up getting through the course of a regular day isn’t just as easy as looking at the battery icon at the bottom of the screen.
Normally, Windows 10 just has you click or touch this icon to see both a percentage of your battery remaining and an estimated time that you have left before your computer runs out of power and shuts off.
We say “normally” because on every Windows 10 computer we’ve tested thus far, that has been what has happened.
Not on the HP Spectre x2, however, because for some reason, HP’s installation of Windows just perpetually sits with “Calculating…” on its battery life overview page, while the task bar pop-up doesn’t even try and offer up an estimated time.
Worse is that this isn’t just an issue with the Spectre, but an issue with HP’s computers altogether, given that the company has removed support for the battery estimation in the setup of the computer.
Bad news if you’re concerned how much life your battery has left if you get the Spectre x2. You’ll just have to tough it out and hope for the best.
One area that the HP Spectre x2 has going for it is in the pricing area, and based on the recommended retail price and what HP has thrown in, it’s clear the company understands the threat from the Spectre’s direct competition.
Specifically, HP’s Spectre x2 is focused on fighting Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, since it brings a similar 12 inch size with a fold-up fabric-backed keyboard and a stylus to write with.
But Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 isn’t exactly value driven, arriving with a larger price tag and no keyboard in the pack, which is something HP has thrown in.
That alone incurs a cost of around $200 from Microsoft, so at least that has been taken care of for you on the Spectre x2, which will no doubt be useful to many.
Comparing the models on a specification level, the prices are fairly close, with the Core m5 edition of the Spectre x2 fetching $1899 while the Core i5 version of the Surface netting $1999, though the Surface version of the Core processor is much faster, with the “i” variant of the Intel chip more about performance compared to the “m” variant about mobile efficiency.
That said, the inclusion of a keyboard similar in design to the Microsoft Surface Type Cover makes brings the value up.
The little things
Some of the little things help make the Spectre x2 stand out, and it’s not just the value, which is pretty impressive given that you get the keyboard thrown in, something Microsoft still doesn’t go out of its way to include with the Surface tablets.
For instance, now that HP has well and truly embraced USB Type C with this computer — evident from the two Type C ports, one on each side of the machine — you’ll find you can charge the computer by plugging the Type C cable in on either side.
Sitting on the bed at the hotel on the right side? Charge it on the right side and make it easier, getting that cable away from your hands.
Is the plug port near the left side? Plug the charger into the left-most USB Type C port, and again, that cable will be out of the way.
It’s simple, but it’s something we’ve not yet seen on a laptop, with the choice of where to plug the computer in given to you, dear reader and purchaser of new technology.
The keyboard is also quite impressive, with the aluminium-built fabric-backed keyboard producing a solid click sound with just enough travel for most of your typing, as well as a wide and spacious trackpad. Unfortunately, the trackpad is quite shallow, so good luck getting a solid click out of it.
As far as light keyboards go, however, HP’s Spectre x2 arrives with a nice one, and we certainly enjoyed our time typing on it with one of the smallest error rates we’ve seen on a review laptop.
That alone makes the Spectre x2 one of HP’s best keyboards to date, which is a tad surprising given that the keyboard isn’t even one of the main features.
The keyboard even packs in some speakers, with two of Spectre’s four speakers found under a triangular pattern on the keyboard. That’s something Microsoft’s Type Cover doesn’t offer.
And unlike the other major slate on the market, HP has also featured an Intel RealSense component, essentially providing a 3D camera and scanner on the back of the tablet.
What needs fixing
HP’s take on the Surface has some strong points, and design and value are both definitely one of them.
Unfortunately, some of the other little things also stop this computer from being spectacular, and they’re the sort of things that leave us scratching our head.
Take the bezel around the screen, because we wish HP had taken that bezel and thrown it onto the cutting room floor. It’s not that we demand super slim touchscreen frames, and we don’t need them, but the wide bezel on the Surface x2 touchscreen is just that: wide.
It’s wide and thick and impossible not to notice, and is the sort of frame that feels like it belonged on a computer a couple of years ago, not in 2016 when we’re getting frames down to the bare minimum.
Above this frame is a camera, which you’d expect on a modern computer, because of all that web conferencing you were probably thinking of doing.
Unfortunately, the only camera equipped with Intel’s RealSense technology — and therefore facial recognition technology compatible with Windows 10’s “Windows Hello” automatic login feature — is the one on the back.
Strange as it seems, the 5 megapixel camera on the front of the HP Spectre x2 is good enough for snapping a casual selfie, but not for logging in automatically using a Windows 10 feature.
That’s a rather curious omission, especially when the Spectre’s direct competition supports it with Microsoft’s own technology.
The pen also gives us some pause, because while it’s nice to see a pen included with the tablet, the size and real-world use of the HP stylus feels far less developed than it should.
Using it, we found the screen would often take a little longer to switch on to the stylus mode, and tracking wasn’t quite as dynamic as it would be with the Surface. In many ways, it feels like a bonus and a value add, rather than designed for this specific tablet, with not quite the same support as you see on Microsoft’s opposition.
The inclusion of USB Type C is also both a blessing and a curse, because while we love that there are two USB Type C ports here — that’s one more than Apple’s MacBook — the lack of standard USB ports is going to make plugging in a standard thumb drive a little complicated.
To its credit, HP does provide a USB Type C converter to standard USB, but it means you’ll need to keep this with you or buy an accessory if you lose it.
Not helping the expandability is the microSD slot, which is here for upgrades — yay! — but requires a pin ejector tool to take the card in and out. On the one hand, that’ll make the slot more secure, but also a pain in the proverbial when you want to move files to and from the tablet quickly.
Oh, and that lack of battery estimation we mentioned before? That could be easily fixed, HP. We’d fix that.
As far as value driven tablets go, HP’s Spectre x2 is definitely worth a look, with a real return to balanced computing for HP in this option.
Essentially, there’s enough of a computer here for most people, especially those trying to work out which type of computer they want next: laptop or tablet.
HP’s Spectre x2 is a solid middle ground, and we don’t just mean “solid” because it has been built well, but also because there’s a decent computing experience paired with a fairly impressive value and some great design.
If you are unsure which style of computer you want next, take a look at HP’s Spectre x2, because the future-friendliness of its design makes it definitely worth a look in.