HP Spectre x360 13 (2016)

You're currently reading our review of the 2016 version of this laptop. If you want to know about the latest model, read our 2017 HP Spectre x360 review now.

We’re not going to lie, when the first HP Spectre x360 debuted, we were awestruck. At the time, it seemed preposterous that a hybrid notebook would look this good, and yet it was a roaring triumph. 

Two years later, the HP Spectre x360 hasn’t ceased to impress. That includes the 2017 model, wherein we see a 13% thinner and 11% lighter design complemented by a battery that lasts 25% longer on a single charge. It’s rare to see, but the introduction of Kaby Lake to the HP Spectre x360 feels more like a fine print detail given the other improvements.

Between the amped up display and the endless number of overtime hours you can spend working on it without it dying on you, the HP Spectre x360 is a worthy contender to some of the best laptops on the market, even if it didn’t quite make the rankings itself.

However, it’s not a faultless overhaul. The HP Spectre x360 may look like an all-around upgrade you can’t resist, but there have been a few cut corners to keep the price within reason. Unfortunately, not even those compromises could prevent the higher starting price enacted.

Pricing and availability

Starting at $1,049 (£1,199, AU$2,299), the new Spectre x360 comes at a higher premium than previous generations, even if this US-only SKU does includes an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. That said, it’s pretty inexpensive to upgrade this machine. Our own Core i7-7500U, 512GB and 16GB of RAM configuration costs $1,299 (£1,499, AU$2,899).

 To get the same configuration on the Kaby Lake refreshed or expect to page significantly more with the two priced at $1,899 (£1,549, AU$2,999) and $1,349 (£1,749, AU$2,799), respectively. Of course, the 4K display panels on these two Ultrabooks also plays a part in the higher price tags.

HP also offers the Spectre x360 with a 4K screen and bundled pen for $1,499. In the UK and Australia, the Ultra HD-flavored hybrid is only available with 1TB of storage at a higher £1,899 premium, meanwhile this model is not yet available in Australia.

Design

We always felt like using the original Spectre x360 was more like handling a pizza paddle than a tablet, due to it being overly wide and heavy. Thankfully, HP has dramatically trimmed the new model’s chassis.

Measuring 13.8mm thin, it’s significantly thinner than the outgoing 0.63-inch thick model. The new design also trims the convertible’s annoyingly wide 12.79-inch body to a more sensible 12.03 inches. 

Both of these changes stem from the new micro edge display HP has implemented – more on that shortly.

That’s more than a half-inch reduction, and stacking it with the new hybrid’s 1.3kg weight makes the device much more comfortable to use in tablet mode. Another effect of the narrower body is that it gives the laptop a boxier shape, similar to the 3:2-aspect ratio and – however, this device still features a 16:9 screen.

Aside from the apparent shape change, HP has also re-engineered almost every aspect of the laptop. The geared hinges have been reshaped into a shorter – and wider – mechanism to coincide with the thinner design. Likewise, HP has reduced the keyboard travel from 1.5mm to 1.3mm, but we actually prefer this change thanks to a stiffer force curve on the keys.

Unfortunately, there have also been a few less favorable sacrifices made in the name of thinness. The SD card reader has kicked the can, as has the HDMI video-out, in exchange for two USB-C ports.

The good news is that those ports support Thunderbolt 3 for charging, dual 4K monitor support and 40Gbps data transfers. Plus, you still get one full-sized USB 3.1 port for legacy mice, thumb drives and other peripherals.

The glass-coated precision trackpad remains relatively unchanged, and that’s no bad thing. It’s still as responsive ever, but again we wished HP had gone with a narrower option that wasn’t so easy to trigger while typing.

Oh, and HP has applied its new sleek logo as well – if you really care about that sort of thing.

Last but not least, HP brought back its copper trim paint job to the 4K Spectre x360. Aside from giving the 13-inch hybrid a darker look, the dark brown on copper color scheme differentiates it from every other black or silver notebook in the world.

Popping off

Aside from the aesthetic changes, the updated Spectre x360 makes a huge splash with new micro edge display that reduces the bezels on the sides of the screen to a much squatter 0.54mm. Compared to the thick bars on the older model, HP has made a huge improvement, even if the Dell XPS 13 still comes out on top with 5.2mm bezels.

Unfortunately, the top and bottom bezels haven’t seen the same dramatic reduction, but at least HP is using the space above the screen to good use with a new TrueVision FHD webcam. Not only does the IR camera enable you to log in with your face through Windows Hello, it also provides you with a 12% wider field of view.

In addition to stretching from edge-to-edge (on the sides at least), the micro edge display is also features an optically bonded design, so the pixels look like they’re sitting right on top of the touch panel.

This also makes the screen a bit brighter, so you won’t have to constantly bump up the screen brightness to max – which we did often with the predecessor – and can save a bit of battery life to boot.

HP originally rolled out the Spectre x360 with a display resolution limited to only 1,920 x 1,080, or Full HD. However, in February HP added a few 4K variants that definitely add an extra splash of sharpness for watching locally stored and streamed Ultra HD movies and TV.

Personally, though, we would skip the 4K upgrade, especially since we were already impressed with the overall image quality of the original Spectre x360. 

Colors pop off the screen, and they’re accurate thanks to it being able to reproduce 70% of the color gamut. Viewing angles are also generous, even at extreme angles, allowing us to read parts of the screen even when just trying to admire the extreme thinness of the new display panel.

HP has also redesigned the audio on its flagship hybrid with quad-speaker system. Just above the keyboard you’ll find a new speaker grille, under which are two top-firing tweeters that go with another pair of bottom-facing speakers located on the laptop’s underside.

The idea behind the quad-speaker setup is that you’ll have always sound projected towards you, whether you’re using the device as a tablet or laptop. Secondly, it’s the first of HP’s quad-speaker equipped machines to have all four firing off at the same time.

Thanks to a new audio boost feature, the speakers work together to produce a louder and fuller sound profile. Highs come out clearly and bass is more present, but even with all these improvements a good pair of headphones still deliver a superior listening experience.

Performance  

Don’t mistake the Spectre x360's ultra-slim form factor for lightweight performance. This is a speedy machine for everything from starting programs, to loading up a dozen websites simultaneously to headier tasks like video editing.

What’s even more impressive is what a cool customer this laptop is under load. Even with pressure from a ton of demanding applications, the fan inside hardly spins at an audible level. And then there’s the long battery life you’ll be able to pull out of this machine.

From top to bottom, Kaby Lake is proving to be a worthy successor to Skylake. Compared to some of the most recent 6th generation systems like the Acer Aspire S 13, there’s a noticeable improvement in every benchmark. Some of the biggest boosts are seen in multi-core processing and low to mid-level graphics.

This should translate into faster performance for intensive everyday tasks, watching high-resolution video or editing your own large media files.  

4K Performance

Pushing quadruple the amount of resolution definitely has a negative impact on the Spectre x360’s performance. Although it might seem like the Ultra HD version of HP’s 2-in-1 might look like it has the same graphical prowess as its Full HD brethren, 3DMark runs most of its tests at 1080p, so both machines are on a level playing field with the same processors.

Processing power is more or less the same between the two, as the Geekbench and Cinebench numbers are close. Given this information, PCMark reveals a more revealing tale of how the 4K screen is more taxing on the graphics end of Intel’s system-on-a-chip (SoC).

In for the long haul

Battery life is the biggest standout performance of this laptop and it’s largely thanks to a massive 57.8-watt hour (WHr) battery. It even looks physically impressive as HP gave us a look at the Spectre x360’s interior and the battery takes up more than half the internal cavity.

According to HP's claims, the updated hybrid should last for up to 15 hours – 25% longer than older models with only a 52WHr battery.

In our own testing, we haven’t quite seen these numbers, but the results are impressive nonetheless. With our standardized movie-based battery benchmark test, the Spectre x360 was able to play Guardians of the Galaxy over and over again for 8 hours and 45 minutes straight. Meanwhile, PCMark8 proved to be a greater challenge that fell the 13-inch hybrid after 4 hours and 48 minutes. 

Overall, it performs remarkably better than most Skylake laptops. Seven to 10 hours of battery life will easily see you through even the toughest days at work. The best thing of all is you can recharge the laptop from zero to 90% in just 90 minutes thanks to USB-C quick charging.

With the 4K version of the Spectre x360, you’ll see a noticeable (and inevitable) drop in battery life. What was once nearly 9 hours of local movie playback on the Full HD version, drops to just shy of six hours once a Ultra HD screen is thrown into the mix. Likewise, the high-res version of this hybrid barely ran for 3 hours and 30 minutes through the grueling PCMark 8 battery test.

If you’re looking for a machine with longevity, definitely go for the standard display resolution option on the Spectre x360. 

Final verdict

Unlike most new Kaby Lake laptops, the updated HP Spectre x360 is far more than simple processor refresh. HP has gone back to the drawing board to redesign and reengineer every piece of its flagship 2-in-1 laptop to make it slimmer, lighter and much longer lasting.

The new design and even the dimensions of the device clearly take after the HP’s premium Spectre Ultrabook. It has inherited many of the qualities we loved about the ultra-thin notebook including a more premium feel and the tactile keyboard. That said, we’re not fans of USB-C becoming the primary port on this laptop and the loss of the SD card reader doesn't go unnoticed.

Overall, we’re big fans of the new styling. Whereas the old model always was a little too wide and heavy, the new HP Spectre x360 looks much more modern while being easier to use as tablet, too. It’s also one of the longest-lasting laptops that HP or any manufacturer has released with plenty of pick-up-and-go thanks to the Kaby Lake Intel Core i7 processor – so long as you skip out on the 4K screen upgrade.

However, as a result of all these changes, the HP Spectre x360 comes at a higher starting price. If you’re looking for an affordable way of getting into Ultrabooks and hybrid laptops, this isn’t it. However, if you’re in the market for something with higher-end specs like more storage and a faster processor, then this option comes at a great value.    

Kevin Lee
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