Tablets with detachable keyboards are the new black. HP's Spectre X2 looks remarkably like a Microsoft Surface Pro 4, even down to the felt-backed keyboard cover, but it sets itself apart with more energy-efficient hardware inside, a digitiser pen made by Wacom, and an entirely fanless design.
What Is It?
The $1499-plus HP Spectre X2 is a 2-in-1, a laptop-tablet hybrid that almost exactly mirrors the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 in utility; it's primarily a tablet, but also has a flip-out kickstand that lets it sit upright on a table, and a magnetically attachable, backlit, aluminium-capped keyboard and trackpad that let you browse Windows and type away like you're on a regular laptop. And it's in this mode, really, that you'll be using the Spectre X2 the most and also getting the most out of it.
- Display: 12in, 1920x1280 pixels
- CPU: Intel Core M7-6Y75, 1.2-3.1GHz
- RAM: up to 8GB DDR3L
- GPU: Intel HD Graphics 515
- HDD: 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD
- Dimensions: 299x209x8mm, 850g
Where the Surface has a single full-size USB 3.0 port, the Spectre X2 has two connectors, but they're the smaller, reversible, more futuristic USB Type-C. Those two ports are joined by individual volume control buttons, a headset jack, a pair of horizontally-firing speakers on either side and a pair on the keyboard dock, a microSD card slot with up to 2TB additional storage possible, and in international markets, a 4G LTE SIM card slot — unfortunately not available in Australia just yet.
The HP Spectre X2 runs Windows 10 out of the box, of course; it's powered by either an Intel Core M5-6Y54 processor or a Core M7-6Y75, depending on the spec you purchase. That spec also scales with hard drive size, starting at a 128GB capacity, with a mid-range 256GB version and a top-of-the-line 512GB model, and the two lower specs have 4GB RAM while the flagship has 8GB. Dual cameras make it more of a tablet than a laptop — the 5-megapixel front shooter has dual microphones for quality Skype sessions, and the rear camera is 8-megapixels with Intel's RealSense 3D depth-sensing setup.
The Spectre X2 is built around its 12-inch, Full HD 1920x1280 pixel multi-touch display. That's the one spec that the X2 definitely loses out to the Surface Pro 4 on — its 12.3-inch, 3:2 ratio, 2736x1824 pixel PixelSense display is a clear winner here both in brightness and pixel density. But it's significantly cheaper, especially coming into Christmas sales — we've seen them around for starting prices as small as $1199. HP says the Spectre X2's 42-Watt-hour battery should be good for 10 hours, where the competitor Surface only gets 9 from its smaller cells and slightly less energy-efficient CPUs.
What's It Good At?
The HP Spectre X2 may take some inspiration from the Microsoft Surface tablet, but it takes that inspiration and builds upon it in a big way. The kickstand is the biggest example of this; where the Surface requires you to flip the stand out from its flat orientation, the X2 has a little push-button toggle that can be flicked to push the stand out an inch or so, where it's easier to hook with a finger and move to the correct orientation. This may seem like a small thing, but it saves you a couple of seconds and a lot of frustration — especially if you keep your fingernails short — that Surface users suffer.
Despite the fanless design and Core M processors used in the Spectre X2 family, performance is surprisingly snappy, and there's no hints of lag or slow-down that we've come to expect as par for the course for Intel's recent ultra-low-voltage CPUs. In its top spec, HP uses the dual-core Intel Core M7-6Y75, a 1.2GHz chip with turbo boost up to 3.1GHz, and it handles Web duties with absolute ease and even manages photo editing — exporting the Samsung NX1's 23-megapixel RAW images to JPEG in Lightroom — as long as you're not blasting through hundreds of images at once.
The most credit has to go to the fact that HP bundles the aluminium keyboard cover with the Spectre X2; you don't have to buy it separately, and the same is true of the active digitiser pen. This shouldn't be worthy of mention, but when you consider that
most all Microsoft Surface purchases should have an extra $150 on top for a Type Cover, that's a big dollar figure in the Spectre's favour. It's even better, then, that apart from a bit of flex in the centre of the keyboard the Spectre X2's keyboard and trackpad are very easy to use and have generally good key-feel.
The entire tablet, actually, feels very well constructed. The spring-loaded, flip-out stand built into the Spectre X2's rear panel — which sits flush with the back of the tablet when locked away, but pops out to cover a solid 160 degrees of motion — feels excellent to unload and reload. There's no unreasonable flex in the chassis or bending in the screen, any more than you'd expect from an 8mm-thick device. The bundled pen feels every bit as good as Microsoft's (similarly excellent) design. And, being a USB Type-C compatible tablet, you can use either port to charge, then use the same charger for your Google Nexus or Microsoft Lumia smartphone, or your Apple MacBook (presuming you're dual-wielding fanless laptops).
What's It Not Good At?
While it's a solid and well thought out device overall, the Spectre X2 has some missteps in its design. The rear camera, not the front one, is the Intel RealSense camera that could have had application as a Windows Hello biometric tool for infrared, 3D-capable face sign in. HP says you'll be able to use the X2 to make 3D scans of the room you're in or an object, but there are no applications for this; there's not really much of a justification for the camera's existence — yet. It's a nice camera, to be fair, and records high quality video.
Where the Spectre X2's 1920x1280pixel display is a 3:2 ratio like the Surface Pro 4's, some seriously sizeable bezels — easily an inch on all four sides of the tablet — make the X2 even larger than the more powerful but more pared-back Microsoft tablet that it takes a lot of cues from. That's not a terrible thing, especially if you're going to be using it as a tablet a lot, but it is chunkier and slightly heavier than its competitors. While the tablet itself is only 8mm thick, the bundled keyboard does add a significant amount more.
A novel speaker arrangement, with two speakers in the clip-on keyboard and two in the outward-facing edges of the tablet itself, unfortunately doesn't translate into excellent sound quality for the Spectre X2. It's not terrible, but it's more akin to the audio you'd get from an iPad than from a laptop, with thin or nonexistent bass and a large emphasis on treble; you can use it happily for listening to music or movies, but it just doesn't have the oomph that you'd get from a larger laptop or from using an external Bluetooth speaker with its own power supply and larger drivers.
If there was one thing I'd change about the Spectre X2 to make it friendlier and easier to use, it would be to boost the strength of the spring that flicks out the X2's kickstand when you pull down on the switch hidden away at the lower right side of the tablet. In its current state, the kickstand is only propelled out with enough force to push it out a distance where the user can hook a finger underneath and pull it further — not far enough to pull the switch and place the tablet down upright on a table. The spring does its job, but it could do a lot more.
Should You Buy It?
HP's $1499 Spectre X2 takes the best parts of the Microsoft Surface family of low-energy, decent-performance tablet-laptop hybrids, and adds HP's distinctive take. The flip-out kickstand now has a spring-loaded toggle, but you'll still have to angle it yourself; the keyboard is aluminium, but it still bends a bit as you type; there are a range of processors, but they're all low power Core M variants; the tablet has two USB ports, but they're both the small Type C connector and only run at USB 2.0 speed.
Price: from $1499
- Excellent flip-out kickstand.
- Two USB Type-C ports.
- Great Core M processor.
- RealSense camera position.
- Moderate screen brightness.
- Large bezels.
In this way, the Spectre X2 is a Surface clone, but also distinctly different. Where the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 4 are vanilla — home-brand corner-store vanilla and triple-bean artisanal gourmet vanilla respectively — the Spectre X2 is chocolate, or maybe choc mint, or maybe Neapolitan. It won't be to everyone's tastes, but considered objectively it's an excellent tablet and laptop hybrid; it cedes some spec battles to the Surface but wins out in other ways, like the simplicity with which its kickstand pops out when the latch is pressed.
As a computing device, I have zero complaints about the Spectre X2 at its $1499 entry level price tag; its Core M processor is gutsy enough in its new Skylake clothes to handle any Web browsing or HD video playback thrown at it, although any kind of serious gaming a la Fallout 4 or Star Wars: Battlefront is out of the question. As a media consumption tool with the power to do a little media production — editing your holiday photos in Lightroom, say — it's perfect in both size and format.
A few missteps — the rear camera can be used for Windows Hello but the front can't, Australia doesn't get the 4G LTE version, the screen could be a bit brighter — only slightly take the shine away from an otherwise excellent tablet-laptop hybrid in the Spectre X2. Having the high quality keyboard bundled makes the price comparable or even better than a Surface, and as long as you don't mind the large bezels around its 12-inch screen, you'll find yourself very happy with the Spectre X2 as an everyday PC for uni, work or home life.