Gizmodo Double Take

HP Spectre x360: Australian Review

2 in 1 laptops can take many different forms. They can twist, they can detach, they can rotate. This one flips. The HP Spectre x360 is a regular laptop for the most part, and it does an absolutely sterling job of being a regular laptop whenever you need it to be. And, when you want it to be something else for those few special moments, its 360-degree hinge lets it become a tablet.

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What Is It?

  • Display: 13.3in, 2560×1440 pixel
  • CPU: up to Intel Core i7-5500U, up to 2.4GHz
  • RAM: 4GB DDR3, up to 8GB
  • GPU: Intel HD Graphics 5500
  • HDD: 128GB SSD, up to 512GB

The $1499-plus HP Spectre x360 is a thin, high-end, luxurious Windows 8.1 laptop running a high-powered Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor. It’s made from a milled billet of aluminium, with the latest fifth-generation Intel processors and with the smallest possible internal circuitry to maximise space for a battery. Because of that, it’s not incredibly light — at 1.48kg — but it boasts twelve and a half hours of battery life according to HP’s claims.

It’s also blessed with a superbly high-res touchscreen display, usefully so because it’s able to utilise that 360-degree hinge and flip backwards from laptop mode through stand mode and tent mode until you reach one hundred per cent tablet; I predict that owners of the HP Spectre x360 won’t use this very much, because it does the normal laptop thing so well, but it’s having the potential in the first place that is the important bit.

You can buy the Spectre x360 in any of a range of specifications, if you so desire; chances are there’s a model that’ll suit what you’re looking for. The cheapest Spectre will set you back $1499, with a Core i5 and 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD; you can shell out slightly more for slightly higher specs until you get all the way to a fire-breathing Core i7, 8GB RAM, 512GB mSATA SSD beast — this is the x360 that we’ve tested here today.

Our US counterparts have said that the HP Spectre x360 is the lovechild of a MacBook Air and a Lenovo Yoga, and in a lot of ways that’s right on the money. It’s more sensible than either, though — it has more power than the Core M-spec Yoga 3 Pro, and more versatility than even the most powerful MacBook Air you can buy.

What’s It Good At?

This is a genuinely good-looking laptop. HP has clearly put a lot of thought and a lot of effort into the construction of the Spectre x360, and it genuinely shows; everything from the subtly-raised Hewlett-Packard logo on the lid to the machined-look bright aluminium sides. This laptop actually reminds me of the Dell Adamo, a notebook focused on design to the detriment of other aspects, but thankfully for HP, technology has caught up in the seven or eight years since the Adamo’s debut.

Ports. Oh man, ports. Let me reel off a list to you — SDXC-compatible SD card, USB 3.0, power, headset-capable headphone jack, USB 3.0, USB 3.0, HDMI, mini-Displayport. That’s what you’ll find from the Spectre x360’s left to right; about the only thing that’s missing compared to a full-sized laptop is an Ethernet networking jack — not that important when you remember the x360 has 802.11ac Wi-Fi. I keep forgetting how slim this laptop is, because it has just about every port you’d expect from a much larger model.

Interspersed between those ports are the power and volume buttons, but you’ll also find a pretty hefty fan air intake — smartly placed on the opposite side to the Bluetooth mouse hand of 90 per cent of the population (sorry, southpaws). This grille, and its exhaust equivalent on the base of the Spectre, are oversized for the low-Wattage hardware inside and ensure that the laptop doesn’t get anything more than a little warm even during full-tilt usage.

Battery life is pretty damn good, just about as good as you should possibly expect from any Ultrabook-grade laptop in 2015. I clocked a solid nine hours of always-on performance from the Spectre x360’s battery on two occasions, better even than the result from the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi and its energy-sipping Core M processor. That result comes because of HP’s decision to stuff as large a battery as possible in the x360’s still-thin chassis, and run some pretty aggressive power management software within Windows by default. And, as usual, if you’re especially miserly you’ll get an even better result.

What’s It Not Good At?

The Spectre x360’s keyboard is pretty darn good, but it’s not perfect. It’s probably the least excellent part of an otherwise excellent laptop, and that’s primarily because of its construction; it’s just not as highly specced as the rest of the notebook. The keys are plastic, with a slightly grainy finish, and some metallic paint that is meant to make them feel metal — but fail somewhat in this regard. Key-feel is alright while you’re typing, but I do prefer Asus’s T300 Chi for longer opuses.

I’m going to write something negative about the HP Spectre x360’s battery life, but take it with a massive grain of context. This x360’s battery life is great — I clocked around nine hours of screen on time in our standardised run-down tests — but HP promises even more. You’re being promised 12.5 hours of usability from the Spectre x360, but you’ll only get nine. That’s great, but not as great as the number on the box tells you to expect. I’ll remind you once again, the Spectre x360’s battery life is excellent, but it’s just not up to HP’s even-more-lofty 12.5-hour claims.

Alongside the keyboard there’s one of the widest, largest trackpads you’re likely to find on any laptop out there at the moment. HP has endowed the x360 with a full 15 diagonal centimetres of quadruple-finger multitouch touchpad from Synaptics, and a surprisingly versatile piece of software to customise most any aspect of it. You’ll need to do that customising, though — out of the box the touchpad comes with the accursed bug of reversed natural scrolling; it’s also not completely responsive when you’re clicking some of the time. That’s the kind of thing that can be fixed with a bit of software tweaking.

The price tag on the Spectre x360 starts to get a little painful once you step up to a Core i7 processor, start to add some more RAM and upsize your internal storage. My test unit was a full $2399, which is a $900 premium from the base-model i5 with 4GB of RAM. I think the cheaper Core i7 x360 is probably the sweet point; it has all the grunt and you’re really only compromising on storage, which you can make up temporarily or permanently with an external hard drive or internally-stored SDXC card of your choice if you end up needing it.

Should You Buy It?

HP Spectre x360

Price: from $1499

  • Excellent, solid constuction.
  • Powerful Core i7 inside.
  • All the trimmings — SD card, upgradeable memory.
Don’t Like
  • Keyboard isn’t perfect.
  • Battery life great, but not up to HP’s claims.
  • Design may turn off some.

The $1499-to-$2399 HP Spectre x360 doesn’t try to radically transform the idea of what a laptop is and what it should be — it doesn’t have a completely detachable screen as a tablet and it doesn’t try to force you into a completely new connectivity standard or to use a specialised mobile-optimised processor. It’s a traditional laptop, and does the job of a traditional laptop very well.

What it does have over its traditional laptop competitors, though, is a lot more versatility thanks to that very well weighted 360-degree flipping-and-transforming hinge. The Spectre x360 is one of the first devices of this design that I’ve actually used in the tent and stand modes for more than a few seconds, for one — partially because the hinge is smart enough to disable the keyboard as it comes around past 180 degrees a la Surface.

But what is great about the Spectre x360, as I mentioned before, is the fact that HP has left it with all the trimmings. You don’t have to give up your SD cards (in fact, you can store one inside the x360’s body permanently if you want the extra storage), you don’t have to give up your full-size HDMI, you don’t have to give up your full-size USB. This is a laptop that you could buy for your mum, because she won’t be calling asking how to hook it up.

It’ll stand the test of time, too, I’m supremely confident of that. That milled aluminium construction doesn’t mean it makes sacrifices in its internal components, and the internal fan doesn’t have any serious challenge in its dissipation of the x360’s heat during full-blast computing. HP’s Spectre x360 is just about the best built laptop I’ve used apart from anything Apple, and it’s only let down by a slightly less than perfect keyboard. If that’s the worst I can say, then HP has done a very good job.

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