HP’s Spectre x360 16 Is a Powerful Work of Art

HP’s Spectre x360 16 Is a Powerful Work of Art
Image: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Ignoring the rare newcomer, few laptops are more exciting to review than HP’s Spectre models. Not what you expected? MacBooks are beloved, XPSs are ultra-sleek, and Lenovo’s are almost annoyingly consistent, but none of these products are as visually stimulating as HP’s flagship portable laptops. Now the company has launched its biggest model yet, and after using it for several weeks, I can tell you that it competes with the 14-inch model as one of the best ultra-portable notebooks on the market.

Building off the success of its siblings, this successor to the now-extinct Spectre x360 15 boasts a luxurious design, a magnificent OLED display, and an excellent keyboard and touchpad. It isn’t the fastest in its class, but the included RTX 3050 GPU gives it some graphics punch. If you want a portable notebook–especially a convertible one–with a large screen and don’t need peak power, the Spectre x360 16 is a knockout.

HP Spectre x360 16

WHAT IS IT?

A 16-inch convertible laptop with an OLED display option

PRICE

Starts at $US1,249 ($1,734), reviewed at $US2,120 ($2,943)

PROS

Magnificent 16-inch, 4K+ OLED display, Exquisite design, First-rate keyboard and touchpad, RTX 3050 GPU, The webcam is shockingly good

CONS

Big-screen rivals bring faster performance, Battery life is predictably average, Unwieldy as a tablet

Practical opulence

I should probably be wearing a suit for this review. The opulence of the Spectre x360 16’s design contrasts starkly with my overly casual pandemic-era wear. Each time I lift the lid, it feels like I’m stepping into a Lambo with sweatpants on. Really though, this laptop may as well have been crafted by a luxury designer. Immediately, I noticed how the edges had been rounded to give this a softer appearance than the previous 15-inch model. It looks nice, though I miss the gem-cut edges from the previous model. The Spectre still flaunts unique corners, cut at an angle as if they were diamonds, but now the edges are more ovular.

Also distinguishing the Spectre is gold gilding that outlines every element of the machine. Chrome glistens off the edges of the lid, wraps around the deck, frames the touchpad, and even flanks the hinges. The glitz looks marvellous against the deep umber of this “Nightfall Black” model though. If you’re listening HP, I prefer the gorgeous Nocturne Blue, a steel blue with lighter accents.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

The build quality is also good. The Spectre’s aluminium chassis exhibited minimal flex when I pressed down gently on the top cover, and the twin hinges reduced screen wobble as I tapped on the glass. There was still a bit of shaking, though. Some concessions were made to turn this large notebook into a convertible. It’s a minor thing but the two halves of the laptop flexed toward each other when I carried the laptop from its spine like a book.

As a 2-in-1, the Spectre x360 transforms into a tablet or sits in tent mode when you’re watching shows or movies. Just don’t hold it for longer than a few minutes or you risk waking up with sore arms the next morning. At 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.78 inches and 2 kg, the Spectre feels hefty. Since it lacks the portability of a traditional tablet, the 2-in-1, in “tablet” mode, is best used as a stationary monitor for watching movies or drawing with the stylus while positioned on your lap or desk.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

And before you ask, yes, a stylus is included (as is a sleeve). What you get in the box is a rechargeable MPP 2.0 pen with a tilt function. There is nothing too fancy going on here; the plastic pen feels like a #2 pencil in the hand and has two programmable buttons. A sliding mechanism in the body reveals a USB-C charging port, and a circular ring around the cap glows orange when the pen is plugged in and white when it’s fully charged. When you’re done using it, the stylus magnetically attaches to the right side of the lid. It isn’t the most secure place, but hey, anything is better than under your cushions.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

What I love about the Spectre is how style doesn’t take precedence over function. Unlike most laptops in this segment, the Spectre x360 comes with a wide assortment of ports. On the left side are an HDMI 2.0 port, a USB-A with a drop-jaw hinge, and a headphone/mic jack. Flip the laptop around and there are two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a power jack. It’s a good selection, but if I’m nitpicking, I’d like those two USB-C inputs split amongst each side.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

HP really thought about what users who live in a hybrid workplace need and brought those features to the Spectre. Things like a dedicated webcam kill switch and mute key are godsends when you find yourself in a Zoom call with only underwear on (not that I know from experience). The fingerprint sensor and IR camera make typing passwords obsolete and logged me into the system instantly. And the 5MP IR webcam is shockingly good. So good that HP’s competitors need to take notes (I’m looking at you, Apple). And finally, the quad Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers pump out loud and clear–if somewhat thin–sound.

OLED perfection

Matching the beauty of the chassis is a magnificent 16-inch, 4K+ (3840 x 2400-pixel) OLED touchscreen display — and it is one of the best around. Colours explode off the screen to the point where my fancy 4K, IPS monitor looked drab when viewed side-by-side next to the Spectre. Everything looks better on this panel, not just movies and TV shows. It even gave me a new appreciation for the Fluent design language used throughout Windows 11 — the bold pops of colour against transparent backgrounds and the fresh selection of wallpapers are given new life on this screen.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

The Rings of Power trailer might not have hyped me for Amazon’s TV spinoff of the greatest fantasy trilogy, but thanks to this panel, it was at least a visual delight. The panel was so sharp that I could see each chain link in the characters’ armour and colours were so lucid that it felt as if I were watching the clip on a movie theatre screen.

Interestingly, on white backgrounds, a vertical pixel layer made it appear as if the panel was textured — I wish the screen had a more uniform, paper-like quality, but I was able to quite literally see past it after a short while. Reduced battery life (see below) is often the most serious consequence of opting for the OLED display, though another oft-cited downside is that the screen tech lacks brightness. Fortunately, this isn’t the case with this panel, which reached 386 nits in my own testing and was clearly visible even under the Texas sun. Just keep in mind that this is a glossy panel so you’ll be battling reflections, and the 60Hz refresh rate is an unfortunate limitation for gamers who need the smoothest motion.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Now, a quick word on burn-in. First, burn-in on an OLED panel is a genuine problem: the hideous “LG” logo permanently ingrained in my TV is proof. HP told me the company isn’t doing anything special to prevent its OLED panel from suffering from burn-in besides relying on the quality of components it gets from vendors plus the on/off cycles of a PC. With that in mind, I’d avoid keeping static content on the screen for too long and make sure your sleep settings are enabled.

Class-topping keyboard and touchpad

The screen casts glorious colours onto a great keyboard. These backlit keys are large, clicky, and properly spaced. I’m also a fan of the large narrow font and how the caps colour-match the deck. I beat my typical averages by typing at a brisk 120 words per minute with a 4% error rate on a standardised online typing test.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Now 39% larger than before, the silky smooth and ultra-responsive touchpad is HP’s finest — and among the God-tier for PCs. The surface tracked my erratic swipes with precision, pushing my cursor around the panel as I had intended, and Windows 11 gestures were executed on the first attempt.

Stunted CPU, Capable GPU

The Spectre is speedy with an asterisk. The system I’m using has an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11390H CPU with 16GB of RAM. That CPU, which was quietly released in mid-2021 as a refresh to the Tiger Lake H35 series, is a generation behind now that Intel has released 12th Gen processors.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Note that, as part of the H35 series, the i7-11390H has a 35W TDP, meaning it fits somewhere between U-series and H-series chips. In practical terms, this 4-core CPU won’t deliver as much power as those in beefier, high-performance 15-inch laptops like the Dell XPS 15 or Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme.

Still, the Spectre is powerful enough for most users. The system had no problems running dozens of Chrome tabs, exporting several large video files in Affinity Photos, and streaming live video with various processes running in the background. And with an RTX 3050 GPU, the Spectre x360 can even play some games at 1080p. Mind you, this is the lowest-end RTX mobile graphics from Nvidia but it’s still a significant improvement over the Iris Xe graphics found in my ultra-portable systems. It gave the machine enough oomph to play Halo: Infinite on medium settings for several hours without throttling or overheating.

The Spectre x360 16’s performance ceiling was measured in our benchmarks, where it failed to match competing systems. On the Geekbench 5.4 overall performance test, the system hit 4,441 for multi-core and 1,405 for single-core. This comes nowhere close to the Surface Laptop Studio (5,817, 1,473) or the MacBook Pro 14 (12,663, 1,777), and it even fell short of the Thinkpad X1 Titanium Yoga (4,767, 1,329).

The notebook’s CPU took 11 minutes and 25 seconds to render a 3D image in Blender, a task the Laptop Studio completed in 7:07, the MacBook Pro finished in only 3:21, and even the Surface Pro 8 did in under eight minutes. The X1 Titanium Yoga, however, needed 11 minutes and 38 seconds.

When I converted a 4K video to 1080p using the HandBrake app, the Spectre needed 5 minutes and 48 seconds. Finally, a good result. That speedy time trumps the Surface Laptop Studio (8:30) and the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 (12:29). And while it fell short of the MacBook Pro 14 (4:56), the margins were slim.

You can play Total War: Warhammer II at 1080p on Ultra settings at around 43 frames per second, which is–at least for me–just enough buffer space between the standard 30-fps threshold.

Predicable battery life

I’m…content with the Spectre’s battery life. The laptop powered down after 8 hours and 48 minutes of video playback with the screen set to 200 nits. That’s decent for a laptop with a 4K OLED screen but below average when compared to other systems with 1080p or similar panels. To its credit, the Spectre proves that opting for a 4K screen no longer means being eternally tethered to an outlet.

This is typically where I’d recommend opting for a 1080p panel if you prioritise battery life over picture quality. I’m not sure about this one. That’s because the lower-res option is a 3K (3072 x 1920-pixel) IPS panel. Since I don’t have one to test, I can only assume it will last slightly longer on a charge than the 4K OLED. I doubt, however, that it’ll give you several extra hours like a 1080p (or equivalent) panel would. For that reason, I’d probably go with the OLED option so long as the $US180 ($250) doesn’t push it past your budget.

Should you buy the Spectre x360 16?

The Spectre x360 16 is one of the better laptops in an increasingly crowded segment thanks, in part, to its competitive price. OK, so, the one I reviewed costs $US2,100 ($2,915), but you get a pretty decently specced version for $US1,329 ($1,845) with a 3K+ display, Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. That config would be more for everyday users who want a large display in a slim chassis. Folks who need to run more intensive apps will pay around $US1,800 ($2,499) for the RTX 3050 upgrade, which is still a decent price when compared to the XPS 15 configured with a 4K display.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

What makes me hesitate to recommend the Spectre over its direct rivals is the laptop’s relatively meager performance. With a four-core processor, the Spectre is outgunned by its large-screen rivals, like the MacBook Pro, XPS, or ThinkPad X1 Extreme. Adding that discrete GPU gives it a nice boost, but there are better options if your workflow is more CPU-intensive. That said, if you’re an artist, student, or designer who wants the flexibility of a convertible and cares more about display quality and size than raw compute power, the Spectre x360 16 is a fantastic machine with few drawbacks.