HP Specter x360 Review: Precision Computing

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HP Specter x360 detailed review

The original HP Specter X360, which debuted in 2015 with 6th Gen Intel Core processors, was one of the best 2-in-1 ultrabooks, but unfortunately it never made its way to India. That’s why I was thrilled when HP launched the newer version of the Specter x360 with 7th-generation Intel core processors in India.

The new machine is thinner and lighter. In fact, the HP Specter x360 is one of the thinnest and lightest 2-in-1 laptops you can buy today. However, at a starting price of Rs 1,15,290, it does not fall into the affordable category. Moreover, if you want the top-end version, the one we reviewed, it will cost you a whopping Rs 1,57,290. That said, HP doesn’t want to sell to the average consumer with this line. The Specter range is for the enthusiast, for someone who doesn’t want to compromise on performance, looks or style. So, if you’re one of those enthusiasts, here are my thoughts on the machine.

Build and design
The problem with making a thin and light notebook is that there’s very little space to work with and while all premium laptops have about the same guts inside, it’s very difficult to put everything together without compromise. Here HP designers have done an amazing job putting this machine together. Everything about the Specter’s design looks precise, from the dual-barrel design to the minute details like the sharp-cut edges. The matte black and copper paint job is reminiscent of what we saw at the original HP Spectre, but this time it looks more mature. The two-piece frame feels unorthodox yet elegant.

At the same time, the laptop is quite robust and looks durable. This is partly because of the CNC aluminum chassis and partly because of how it all works. All of this makes the Specter x360 the best-looking ultrabook out there, and its beauty doesn’t just live in the skin.

There is little to no flex on the keyboard and screen. The screen gets Gorilla Glass protection, which feels smooth and is easy to use with the included pen. The hinge keeps the screen stable under normal day-to-day use, but it might have been better with a little more resistance.

Since this is a convertible, the display can be folded all the way back. Like any other laptop manufacturer, HP has also taken a leaf from Dell’s design book and cut away the side panels of the display, making the entire chassis even smaller. This helps to keep the weight down and thus easier to use in tablet format. Fortunately, HP has retained thicker top and bottom bezels, which is helpful when used in portrait orientation in tablet form. More importantly, the camera remains centered above the screen.

Display and I/O
In addition to the fit and finish, the design is complemented by the display. Like last year’s model, the Specter has a premium IPS LCD display, which is among the brightest we’ve seen recently. Now it’s still not as bright as the new Dell XPS 13, but according to our testing, anything above 300 lux is more than enough for everyday use. The only issue I encountered is that the screen is glossy and thus quite reflective, but as this is a touchscreen laptop, that just can’t be helped. However, once you adjust the screen to an angle where it can be seen, you will be delighted with the color fidelity.

The machine’s touchscreen capabilities feel accurate and there are no latency issues. HP does bundle a pen with the Specter, which is pretty good for writing notes or doing some casual drawing. Though the Windows marketplace still lacks a wide variety of pen apps. I only wish the pen, like the Surface, could have been held by a magnetic strip, but maybe that’s just me.

The two USB Type-C ports are inherited from the original Specter, but moved to the side. Both this time support Thunderbolt and fast charging, for your connected devices (phones). This gives the HP Specter X360 an edge over the competition and is therefore more future-proof. For all your other non-Type-C USB accessories, HP has added a Type A port, which works according to USB 3.0 standards. While I do miss an SD card slot, that’s the price you pay for a thin and light laptop.

My other complaint about the Specter x360 is that it doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner, which I think should be standard in a premium machine like this one. It does have the Windows Hello feature, which worked flawlessly during my testing period.

Keyboard and touchpad
As for the keyboard on the Specter x360, it’s a pretty standard affair. It’s the same chiclet-style keyboard we used on the original Specter. However, the keys are on the softer side and the backlighting keeps you from squinting at night. Although you still don’t get a two-stage backlighting, which I think should be standard on a high-end machine.

You get a 1.3mm key spacing, which is decent for a laptop of this size and form factor, but compared to its ilk you can get better. Since HP has curtailed the display’s bezels, the overall length of the keyboard deck has also shrunk. This means that there is very little gutter space at either end of the keyboard deck. Since the last column of keys are just keyboard shortcuts, it takes a while to get used to. That said, this is one of the best keyboards you’ll find on a 2-in-1 ultrabook.

The glass touchpad is also decent and supports multi-touch gestures up to four fingers. It does a good job tracking your finger and never missed the double tap gesture either. The touchpad relies on Synaptics drivers to run the show, which also allows for decent palm rejection. Now having palm rejection is a plus, as the wider touchpad gets in the way of typing. The laptop has no obvious left and right click buttons, but even the integrated mouse keys are well implemented. The left and right clicks are somewhat superficial and clicks with an audible sound. However, you can only press the left and right keys at the bottom of the touchpad, which seems a bit old-fashioned compared to the Apple MacBook’s Force Touch.

Performance
Just like the build quality, HP has made sure that the Specter always delivers optimal performance. While the machine is also available in an Intel Core i5 variant, our review unit here is the best variant. On this you get an Intel Core i7-7500U, a dual-core processor with a base clock of 2.7 GHz and a turbo up to 3.5 GHz. You also get 16GB of DDR3 RAM and a super-fast 512GB NVMe drive from Samsung. For graphics you have the Intel HD 620 graphics, which has enough firepower for everyday tasks and some light gaming. I don’t mind using slower DDR3 RAMs instead of DDR4, and other than cost savings, I can’t think of a good reason for HP to choose them.

Using the machine extensively as a daily driver, I found that it boots up quickly (less than 10 seconds), has plenty of processing power, and tons of RAM for all those Chrome tabs you might want to open. Therefore, it is good for all kinds of office work, including light video editing. However, there is a heating issue that comes into play once you start pushing the machine. HP has a dual-fan design in the Specter for all cooling purposes, but they don’t seem to be very effective. Sometimes I’d see the CPU touch 60 degrees Celsius even on simple tasks like running a high-resolution 1080p video or just browsing Chrome. The heat becomes an even bigger problem once you start booting and running programs like Handbrake, or trying to do some light gaming. The maximum temperature I recorded was about 72 degrees on the chip and about 43 degrees Celsius on the left side of the keyboard. This still isn’t in the uncomfortably hot zone, but an ultrabook of this caliber shouldn’t struggle with heating issues in the first place.

In addition, I have also observed minor performance drops of around 100-150MHz during stress testing, but this does not affect the overall performance of the machine, which remains snappy throughout. As I mentioned, you can also do some light gaming (if you don’t mind the heat). I tested the Specter x360 with Dota 2 and Asphalt 8, and both games ran quite well at playable frame rates.

As for the audio, you get a four-speaker system on the x360, powered by Bang and Olufsen. There are two speakers above the keyboard and two at the bottom on either corner. For example, the laptop manages to produce decent sound and it is quite intuitive if you want to use the laptops in different positions, such as in the tent position. While the bass response is still weak and there is some distortion at the highest volume, this is still one of the best ultrabooks on the market in terms of sound quality.

I should also mention that the 2MP 1080p camera is one of the best I’ve seen on an ultraportable camera in recent times.

battery life
Another area where the HP Specter excels is battery life, and for good reason. HP packed a massive 3-cell 57.8 Wh battery into this small but powerful machine. This allows the machine to run from dusk to dawn on a single charge, easily delivering 9-10 hours of run time in typical daily office workloads at 50% brightness. What’s more impressive is that the laptop doesn’t give significant throttle while running on battery and you can consistently use the machine’s full potential. It takes just over 2 hours to fully charge and since it charges through a standard Thunderbolt port, you can charge it with virtually any power brick that comes with Thunderbolt certification.

bottom line
Overall, I think HP has tried to strike the right balance between performance and design, and has largely achieved that goal. There are no major issues with this laptop apart from the underlying heating issue, which doesn’t matter unless you push the machine. That said, it could still be a deal breaker for some.

That said, I think this is the best looking 2-in-1 ultrabook on the market right now. It has excellent build quality, is well designed and offers the flexibility of a 2-in-1. I don’t have any major complaints about the keyboard or touchpad, and the battery life is also a big plus. All of this makes it the best 2-in-1 ultrabook we tested this year.

How it compares?
The top of the line HP Specter X360 costs Rs 1,57,990 which is not really affordable. That said, this particular variant of the HP Specter X360 costs about $1349.99 in the US. This equates to Rs 88,500 (approximately), which is actually not bad for a thin and light laptop with such high-end specs. Unfortunately in India it all comes down to price, and the higher price tag hurts the Specter, like last time.

At the same time, if you are not looking for a 2-in-1 and just need a laptop for your daily use and some more, the new MacBook Pro 2017 with touch bar and better Intel Iris Graphics is a better option. It’s equally powerful, even with its Core i5, and has comparable battery life. It also has a better screen, keyboard and touchpad.

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