HP’s Spectre was one of the surprise laptops from last year, and a return for HP to the quality laptop space. Can the latest generation of Spectre keep the quality up, or does it fade away like the ghost of its name?
If you were curious about HP’s 2014 Spectre but wondered what the computer would be like with a more up-to-date processor in it, listen up because it has arrived.
This is the Spectre X360, a cleaner, slicker, and more refreshed version of last year’s model, with a new chip, better WiFi, and a body that looks like it was made from one piece of aluminium, and that’s because it was.
While the first Spectre rocked a two-part body in metal, the new Spectre X360 is all aluminium and looks like it was made from one block, with silver everywhere, bringing to mind the sort of style Apple goes for in its MacBook Pro machines, but with an HP filter applied.
Under this body you’ll find fairly new processors, with a fifth-generation dual-core Intel Core i7 processor, the 5500U clocked at 2.4GHz, which is paired with 8GB RAM and a whopping 512GB solid-state drive. Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 comes with the Spectre X360 out of the box, and this takes up enough to leave you with around 430GB of space when it’s all ready for you to start playing.
Connection options are relatively normal for an Ultrabook, of which this technically would be classed as, offering up three USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI port, one Mini-DisplayPort, and the standard 3.5.mm headset jack that lets you plug in a pair of headphones or a pair of headphones with a microphone attached. An SD card reader is also included.
Wireless connections are also here, useful since there is no wired networking port found here, and HP has provided 802.11ac WiFi (backwards compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n networking), as well as Bluetooth 4.0.
Using the computer, you’ll find a 13.3 inch touchscreen display capable of showing the Quad HD resolution of 2560×1440.
A full-size backlit keyboard can be found here, as can a very wide trackpad measuring 5.9 inches (15cm). Aside for the keyboard, three physical buttons can be found on the laptop, with the power button on the left edge, and Windows button and volume rocker on the right edge.
HP includes a soft pouch for the Spectre X360 in the box, though a secondary leather case with magnetic fold-over clip is also available (below).
For the first time in a long time, HP had made something that almost tempted our hands and wallets, and could have done the same for you or anyone else interested in a high class computer. It was well built, easy on the eyes, comfortable to carry, and featured one of the nicest displays we’d ever seen on a laptop, not just on something made by HP.
This year, the update of that machine is the Spectre X360, which sees aspects of the original upgraded, refreshed, and rebuilt, starting with the body which is now totally silver and a wee bit thinner than the first Spectre.
That first gen model was all metal, and HP continues that concept this time around, and we definitely like what the company is doing, pulling off a cleaner look with aluminium in most places, though the keyboard feels more like it’s plastic designed to blend in with the bare silver look.
One thing that has changed is the hinge, and no longer is there a large strip in the middle of the top connecting the display to the main computer section, replaced with two hinges on the left and right that hold the screen with minimal wobble when you’re moving and allow the computer to work as a hybrid machine of sorts.
It’s not the same style of tablet-laptop hybrid conversion you see on machines that separate, and here the hinge can allow for what appears to be a 360 degree rotation, meaning the screen will not just lie flat, but it can be pushed past the flat point to lie flat against the back of the keyboard section.
In this mode, the Spectre X360 is essentially a 13 inch tablet, which is quite a big tablet when you pick it up, though it can also work in other modes, such as lying with the keyboard faced down for a screen faced at you, as well as in a tent-style which keeps the laptop propped up with the screen again facing you, but the keyboard standing up, almost as if the laptop stood up like an “A” on a surface.
We’ve seen this style of design before in laptops, not just from HP, but from others, and it’s familiar and workable, though most will likely use the Spectre as a laptop, because that’s where it works best.
When you do get to using it, you’ll find a decent little keyboard with a fairly shallow travel, but a still fairly comfortable arrangement with just enough margins to allow a typist familiar with a full-size keyboard to get accommodated quite quickly.
Few errors were picked up as we used this keyboard, and there’s a good firm click to each key, making this a great keyboard to type one.
Performance is also quite good for the most part, with little to no lag picked up from the Intel Core i7 from the “Broadwell” generation of processors, or fifth-generation for those playing at home.
Technically, this is a pretty high spec’d machine, and with an Intel Core i7 underneath, you’d be well suited for your regular assortment of office and productivity work, as well as something else, with some Photoshop work if need be. Interestingly, HP has provided a dual-core variant here, so it’s not going to be a total heavy performer, but if you need it to work a little harder, it should have the grunt to get things done.
There’s no discrete video card found here, so don’t expect to do much more than the odd spot of casual gaming, but at least when you do these things, there’ll be a lovely screen to help you along.
That’s something that HP has definitely nailed.
In the Spectre X360, we have what feels like the old Spectre’s Quad HD 2560×1440 display, but Windows feels a lot better on it, with super clear fonts that are easy to read, and a brightness that has the capability to sear your eyelids.
It’s not quite as melodramatic, sure, but it’s a super bright display that looks good and offers some of that touch to make the OS it comes with — Windows 8.1 — far more useful than without.
Granted, in a few months, that will change to the less touch reliant (thankfully) Windows 10, but even there, you’ll have a more than capable touchscreen to do your bidding.
If you opt to not use the touchscreen — and you wouldn’t be alone in that area — you’ll find one of the widest trackpads you’ll ever see.
In fact, the Spectre’s ultra-wide 21:9-inspired touchscreen is so wide, it’s almost ridiculous.
It’s also one of the weaker parts of the system, and interestingly, it’s not the size that makes it this way, but rather just how touchy the pad really gets.
You see, like most modern touchpads, this one supports gestures and even has a button underneath, but the clicking action can tend to click too hard and lock in place, causing the mouse to do rather erratic things, such as maximise and minimise a program when clicked in the Windows Start bar, or get stuck in universal scrolling when all you meant to do was click into a section of a document.
Part of this behaviour might stem from the width of the trackpad and how the button is separated. Normally on a trackpad, the button is divided in half, with the left button for main clicks on the left most side and the right button for context and settings on the right mode side. Many of us have grown up with a divided trackpad and so we’re used to this, so that’s not a huge problem.
Where HP gets this simple and common design wrong stems from that aforementioned ridiculous width, which means the left click — the one most of us use 80 percent of the time — is so far to the left, that most of the time, if you reliant on using your right hand for your mouse, you will probably end up accidentally right clicking just by moving your thumb down to press the trackpad.
Confusingly, we actually found the touchscreen to be easier to use in some areas, though we suspect we could get used to this trackpad with time. We just won’t press the button as much.
One thing of note is noise, because when this computer starts to get itself working, fans do spin into action.
It’s not a high amount of noise, mind you, and you don’t need to look for a lawnmower on your desk. Rather, it’s more of an airy hum as the fans whirr into action, cooling down that hot little Intel Core i7 found inside.
Mind you, it doesn’t seem to take much to get it going: we synchronised our mail for the first time on battery power, and it kicked into gear. That’s probably a good thing, though, as the bottom was getting a wee bit toasty at the time, which is one of the downsides of using metal as a base material, with this material tending to keep the warmth for a touch longer than your legs might like.
Battery life is the other thing we need to talk about, because it can be a little hit and miss with this Core i7 version of the Spectre.
We’ve heard good things from other reviewers, with this laptop technically able to reach a good six hours, but our test of using the computer to type on, check our emails, and take it for a spin as a general productivity machine found closer to beginning of the four hour mark as a maximum.
That’s not a fantastic result for what amounts to such a high end system, though it’s very possible we could get a little more life out of this computer if we just turned the screen down a little and used the computer a little less, especially when HP reports as much as 12.5 hours can be possible from this machine.
We’re not sure how, and we didn’t do much more than web browsing, emails, and writing documents to get our results, but we’re sure it’s possible, and one of the quirks of HP’s setup might have even got in the way.
The noise of the fans was mentioned earlier, and when that spins into gear, it generally won’t spin down and go back to being a silent little Ultrabook until you restart the computer. That means the Spectre X360 is sometimes working a little too hard for its own good, which might be making a negative dent on that battery life.
We see HP still hasn’t fixed one quirk we picked up last year in the original Spectre, and that’s keyboard backlighting. It’s good to have it, really it is, but there are only two settings here: on and off. If you want it brighter or dimmer, tough luck because you just have on and off.
Another quirk rears its head when you decide to flatten the Spectre and turn it into a tablet, which is possible thanks to that 360 degree double-hinge concept HP has been using in its laptops since the Pavilion X360 turned up last year.
The hinges on this computer are far more elegant, as is HP’s flat metal design, but the concept is still the same, with a screen that will fold all the way back to push up next to the back of the keyboard, making this 13 inch Spectre X360 into a 13 inch Windows tablet of sorts.
But the moment you do that, you might find the touchpad still working, at least until you touch the display with your fingers and get to using the computer as a big tablet.
It’s one of those bizarre little bugs, because while the keyboard is deactivated when used in this way, something you can likely attribute to an accelerometer or internal compass, the mouse stays active for a little longer, allowing you to move it simply based on how you hold the oversized tablet.
We’re sure that bug will get fixed sooner rather than later, and we hope one of the touchscreen quirks does too, which saw us trying to punch in a passcode on the touchscreen only to have the computer pick up that there was a keyboard attach and to keep closing up our on-screen touch-based number pad.
The 2015 follow-up to HP’s Spectre is a worthy addition, upgrading the specs, improving the design, and generally making the laptop come together to still be one of HP’s better machines in years.
It’s still not perfect, and we’d like to see better battery life next time and a trackpad that feels more usable than the touchscreen, because that’s a rare occurrence that a laptop mouse is less usable than the touch panel.
But if you can forgive these things, the quirks and whatnot, you’ll find the Spectre X360 is worth checking out. We wouldn’t use it as a tablet, but as a laptop, it is quite a lovely little machine.