Review: HP Spectre 13 notebook computer
4.4Overall Score

Price (RRP): $2399
Manufacturer: Hewlett Packard

Got a bad case of Apple envy, but your circumstances force you to use Windows? Well, has HP got something for you: the HP Spectre 13. Just remember to keep quiet about one or two aspects of it when boasting to your Applish friends.

Features

Now it’s kind of appropriate that HP should be taking on Apple in this way. Back in the day – the mid 70s to the early 80s, when HP was short for Hewlett Packard – HP was the kind of Apple of its day. The big two programmable, scientific calculator companies were HP and Texas Instruments. It was HP that was making the stylish, quirky and astonishingly well built products. There was a feel to the keypad on an HP calculator that has never been replicated by anyone else, and many people still use their HP forty years later. Quirky? I’m not even going to try to explain Reverse Polish Notation.

HP calculators cost quite a bit more than TI calculators of equivalent power, and its products were supported by a coterie of enthusiasts for whom the answer to any calculating question was always: Hewlett Packard. Remind you of anyone?

That was then. This is now. In what ways does the Spectre 13 compete with a Mac?

HP Spectre 13

First and foremost: style. Most impressively, HP hasn’t tried to me-to Apple. It looks nothing like anything that ever came out of Cupertino. The dark grey (HP calls it “Dark Ash Silver”) and gold finish is rich looking, yet tasteful. Anyone who notices computers is going to notice this one, and be impressed.

Part of style is the matter of dimensions. Width and depth are similar to any 13.3 inch subnotebook computer. But thickness: how does 10.4mm sound? At the time of launch, that was thinnest on the market. Apple’s ultrathin, the 12 inch display MacBook, is 13.1mm thick. The MacBook Air is 17mm thick. The MacBook Pro is 18mm thick. And all of those are very thin computers.

Weight? 1.16 kilograms. The MacBooks are, respectively, 0.92 kg, 1.35 kg and 1.58 kg, so the MacBook wins if you don’t mind the smaller display.

Like the Mac, this is a notebook and nothing but a notebook. The screen doesn’t detach, or fold back, and it is not touch sensitive. It offers a full HD resolution in a 16:9 aspect, with the display pushed up towards the top of the lid, leaving room only for the webcam. HP describes the display as UWVA, for ultra wide viewing angle. It is LED lit. The extreme thinness of the screen, and touch of light breakthrough around the edges when a mostly black screen is being displayed suggests that it’s edge lit. The webcam is HP’s TrueVision HD Camera (apparently 720p) with dual array microphone.

The review unit was the base level model. That was fitted with a 2.3GHz (up to 2.8GHz in turbo mode) Core i5-6200U (“Skylake”) processor with 8GB of RAM and it used the CPU’s HD Graphics 520 system to power its display. That supports up to three displays in total, with resolutions up to 4096 by 2304 pixels at 60 hertz. Storage is a 256GB SSD.

The speakers are hidden under a rectangle of perforations on each side of the keyboard. The audio is Bang & Olufsen branded, which means that it sounds pretty much like tiny speakers in a notebook computer usually do, although the character of the sound was less rattly than the norm, merely tinny.

HP Spectre 13 USB

Apart from the usual 3.5mm combo headphone and microphone socket, all connections – including power – are via USB Type-C sockets. Unlike some ultra slim computers, there are three of them so there are reasonable expansion possibilities. I nonetheless used an $80 USB Type-C expansion box, with Ethernet and three USB 3.0 sockets to provide support for my legacy gear, and take advantage of gigabit Ethernet for file transfers.

There’s more to two of these USB Type-C connectors than usual: Thunderbolt 3 compatibility. The two standards are being merged, with USB Type-C becoming the connection standard. All three support USB 3.1 and all three support powering or charging external devices while the computer is off. The computer can be charged using any of the three ports.

A short USB Type-C to USB Type-B cable is included to provide some out of the box compatibility with peripherals, but until Type-C takes over the world (as it’s certain to do within the next couple of years), you will probably still need a breakout box. I used it extensively with a digital to analogue converter to achieve high quality sound.