HP Spectre x2

Although recent reports would have you believe its time is coming to a close, there’s no denying the influence of Microsoft’s Surface Pro. You could even argue that it’s because of the Surface that we’ve seen an influx of Windows tablets in the past couple of years. 

So, it makes sense that any one of the Washington-based company’s Windows 10 partners would want to copy such a winning tablet design. Of course, exactly that has happened. Lenovo did it with the Miix 510, Acer’s done it with the Switch 3 – hell, even long-time Android supporter Samsung has recognized game with its Galaxy Book

Now HP is at it. Well, at it again, since this is only latest iteration of the Spectre x2. Previously posited as an affordable alternative to the Surface Pro, it’s now anything but. Starting at an aggressive $1,149 (£1,349, AU$2,299) price point, the HP Spectre x2 intimidates with more than its gorgeous gold-and-black aluminum finish.

Pricing and availability

To be fair, the price of the HP Spectre x2 isn’t too loathsome when you consider the logistics of what you’re paying for. For $1,299, the configuration we reviewed comes stacked with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-7560U processor, 8GB of RAM and a capacious 360GB of solid-state (SSD) storage space. 

Pair those facets with a gorgeous, 3,000 x 2,000 ‘3K2K’ bezel-less display, and you have a more-than-competent slate. 

Comparatively, the Surface Pro is $1,599 (£1,549, AU$2,204) for a slightly better 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-7660U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a difficult-to-memorize 2,736 x 1,824 PixelSense display. However, the available HP Spectre x2 models differ ever so subtly in the UK and Australia.

In old Blighty, there is only one version of the HP Spectre x2 available, so you better like it. It packs the same i7-7560U chip and 8GB of RAM, but with a distinct 512GB of flash storage and a £1,349 asking price. As of this writing, that also covers a three-year Care Pack for repairs should anything go awry.

In Australia, the HP tablet starts at $2,299, albeit sporting merely a 2.2GHz (up to 3.4GHz) i5 CPU and 256GB of SSD space. Otherwise, you can spend a whopping $3,299 for the i7-7560U, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage you would find for significantly cheaper in other regions.

While the entry-level Surface Pro might appear more enticing at $799 (£799, AU$1,079), that tempting amount nets you the caveat of a mobile-class Intel Core m3-7Y30 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space. Hardly a match for the specs featured in any one of HP’s spectacularly souped-up Spectre x2 models.

Design

One of the best parts of owning an HP Spectre x2 is flaunting it at a coffee shop or library. Those familiar with HP’s other offerings will recognize its illuminant appearance from the HP Spectre and Spectre x360 15 before it. The Spectre x2 is no less posh. 

Trimmed with a gold stand and a chic logo to match, the HP Spectre x2 is a design feat. It certainly doesn’t make the same mistake as the Lenovo Miix 510, a more evident derivation of the Surface Pro, by effectively allowing it to thrive independent from its main tastemaker. It’s a nearly bezel-less beauty that manages to destroy the notion that gold is gaudy. 

In fact, none of the issues we experienced with the HP Spectre x2 have to do with its design form at all, but rather its function is to blame for the – albeit scarce – technical shortcomings that came our way. The most heartbreaking of these is in the trackpad. Oh, the trackpad. It’s wide and overall functional, but this cursor controller ultimately overstays its welcome. 

Don’t think about seating this tablet even slightly off the edge of your table or desk. On our review unit at least, the HP Spectre x2 could be audibly and haptically clicked from either side out the trackpad, absent the need to touch it.

That’s right, by pressing down beside the trackpad, to its left or its right, the system will still register a click. You can imagine how much of a nuisance this can be when your palms are rested beneath the keyboard.

Aside from that, the HP Spectre x2 is a joy to use. The stunning display is noticeably more vivid than that of Microsoft’s laptop replacement, not to mention the aforementioned magnetic keyboard and Active Stylus Pen are bundled in the package. Plus, we have a microSD card slot a headphone jack and two USB-C ports to work with – adapter included.

Better yet, there are two cameras on-board here, one to be used as a regular webcam and, the other, an infrared sensor for Windows Hello facial recognition-based logins. The latter worked well in our experience, despite having to reconfigure it periodically whenever the reviewer would remove or replace his glasses.

HP Spectre X2 review

An Active Pen for casual artists

It’s a miracle that the Spectre x2 comes with a stylus at all, yet we have to complain where it’s due. This isn’t the Surface Pen. This is the HP Active Pen, a dual-button writing and drawing tool that supports only 2,048 pressure points of sensitivity, as opposed to the 4,096 of the Surface Pro.

Still, 2,048 pressure levels is nothing to scoff at. It’s the same number you could expect from a Wacom Cintiq tablet. Once heralded as the pen tablet to end all pen tablets, however, the Cintiq has fallen behind the times in recent years. So, to say that the HP Spectre x2 shares its sensitivity spec would garner a ‘so what?’ from Microsoft.

If there are two key takeaways from our review of the HP Spectre x2, it’s that the tablet is handsome and it’s powerful. Its i7 processor doesn’t boast quite as much horsepower as that of the newest rendition of the Surface Pro; though, a morsel of information that truly reflected in the benchmarks we conducted.

In 3DMark Sky Diver, a test made for pushing the limits of DirectX 11 on your PC, the HP Spectre x2 netted 4,238 points, as opposed to the 6,431 achieved by the Surface Pro. In the more CPU-centric Cinebench test, the Spectre x2 attained 351 points next to the Surface Pro’s 414 points. 

That’s not to say the Spectre x2 is lacking by any means of the word, only that HP opted for a more conservative i7 chip in its tablet than Microsoft did in the Surface Pro. This was likely in an effort to keep the cost down while still being able to brandish its slate for having an i7. 

The HP Spectre x2 still performed markedly better than the i5-equipped Lenovo Miix 510, wherein we saw 3,269 and 323 points in Sky Diver and Cinebench, respectively.

In real-world applications, it’s sufficive to say that these numerical differences between the HP Spectre x2 and the Surface Pro don’t matter all that much. They’re both highly capable flagship machines that can double as your tablet and your PC, effectively replacing each if you’re so inclined.

Battery life blues

The more important question is, how long can you expect to use the HP Spectre x2 without its clunky power adapter before the lights go out? Unfortunately, the answer is not long. 

Just 2 hours and 40 minutes. That’s how long it lasted in the PCMark 8 Conventional battery life test. That’s a simulation of normal productivity tasks you might engage in throughout the day, including word processing and photo editing. That’s long enough to get a short college essay written – double-spaced – but it’s far from an all-day battery.

Now, 4 hours and 45 minutes is how long the HP Spectre x2 lasted in our own TechRadar movie test. That’s the one where we loop Guardians of the Galaxy in VLC player at 50% brightness until the system dies. That’s a considerable amount longer than what we found in the PCMark 8 test, but it’s only useful for determining the battery life in severely passive use cases. 

So, from 10:20 AM to 2:45 PM, we were able to watch a movie, and nothing else, on the HP Spectre x2. More demanding tasks, like video editing and gaming, will assuredly kill the battery much faster, making this a tablet you’ll have to keep plugged in for the bulk of your time spent with it. 

Indeed, the HP Spectre x2 can’t keep up with the Surface Pro in terms of battery life. That’s saying something, too, considering we were somewhat underwhelmed by the 4 hours and 3 minutes/6 hours and 58 minutes we squeezed out of Microsoft’s tablet. Of course, after toying around in its power settings, you could probably make it last longer by switching to a performance limiter.

We liked

The HP Spectre x2 looks a lot more stately than it costs. For $1,299 (£1,349, $3,299) you’re purchasing a tablet that should presumably last you years on end, thanks to its implementation of an Intel Core i7-7560U processor and complete neglect for the Intel’s mobile-class and inferior m3 CPU. 

More stylish than its closest competitor and, let’s be honest, most Windows tablets to boot, the HP Spectre x2 is a design triumph. The company migrated the existing design for the HP Spectre and Spectre x360 15 to a tablet nigh-seamlessly. Likewise, it’s worth adding that HP had the courage to make the move to USB-C unlike the Surface Pro, which requires a dongle.

We disliked

However, this tablet does pack some bloatware, such as the non-optional McAfee LiveSafe security software – this can all be uninstalled, mostly negating its annoyance. In contrast, there isn’t much that can be done about the trackpad issues we experienced with the HP Spectre x2, save for keeping the whole keyboard on a flat surface at all times.

Much of your time with the HP Spectre x2 will be spent with it plugged into a wall outlet. Due to its middling battery life, you will often find yourself scrambling to find a cable if you use this tablet as your daily driver. That’s not ideal, but then again, most Windows tablets suffer from battery life incompetencies, so at least it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Final verdict

The HP Spectre x2 is nouveau riche, clad with darling looks distinguished from the competition. It may be slightly weaker than the closest Surface Pro configuration it rivals, but it’s also less expensive in the US and UK. Au contraire, the scrupulous trackpad and pedestrian battery life see to it that the Spectre x2 is a chore to use on the go. 

Whereas the Surface Pro brings better penmanship and battery life to the table, the HP Spectre x2 is a testament to fashion and value on the high-end for Windows 10 tablets.

Gabe Carey
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