HP Spectre x360: The Convertible Windows Laptop to Beat – Re/code

It’s not that often that my colleagues stop in their tracks to ask about a product I’m reviewing, but it happened to me several times this week. And no, it wasn’t the Apple Watch that caught their attention. It was actually Hewlett-Packard’s latest convertible PC, the Spectre x360.

The interest wasn’t because the laptop has a screen that could bend backward and be used as a tablet. I rarely used it that way during my week of testing, and these type of hybrid devices aren’t new, anyway.

It’s just an eye-catching laptop.

Looks aren’t everything, of course. But the Spectre x360 has the brawn to back up its beauty.

HP worked closely with Microsoft and other key partners like Intel (the supplier of the laptop’s processor) throughout the development process to optimize different aspects of the Spectre x360 for better performance and longer battery life. That collaboration looks to have paid off.

The Spectre x360 is well-built and fast, and it has good battery life. And with a starting price of $900, it’s cheaper than the comparable Lenovo Yoga 13 Pro ($1,250 and up). It’s one of the best hybrid PCs I’ve tested, and it’s suitable for everyday tasks at work and home.

But if you’re simply looking for a regular laptop — the non-convertible kind — there are alternatives. The Dell XPS 13, for example, is lighter and offers longer battery life than the Spectre x360; it starts at $800.

I’m also still on the fence about whether these convertible devices are all that useful. I like the general concept, but there’s definitely a usability issue in tablet mode with machines of this size.

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The Spectre x360 looks like a combination of the MacBook Air and Lenovo Yoga 13 Pro. Like the MacBook Air, it’s made from milled aluminum, and offers a premium look and feel. Everything from the HP logo on the front to the laptop’s hinge is polished and classy. It’s no wonder people were stopping to ask about it.

Similar to Lenovo’s Yoga series, the Spectre has a 360-degree hinge that lets you use the laptop in multiple modes: Clamshell, tent mode or tablet. HP says its hinge system allows the Spectre x360 to be the same thickness whether it’s being used as a tablet or when it’s closed shut for a more uniform feel. I found it to be sturdy, and it was easy to angle the screen in different positions.

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But the premium build adds some weight. The Spectre x360 measures 12.79 inches wide by 8.6 inches long by .63-inch thick, and weighs 3.26 pounds. In comparison, my 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 2.96 pounds, while the Dell XPS 13 weighs 2.8 pounds and the Yoga 13 Pro weighs just 2.6 pounds.

I didn’t find the extra weight to be a huge issue when carrying it in my work bag, but it is quite heavy to hold if you’re using it in tablet mode, unless you have it resting on your lap. I often watch TV shows on my iPad or Nexus 7 before going to bed, sometimes resting the tablet on my chest, and the Spectre x360 was too clunky for that. I’m just glad it didn’t fall on my face.

The Spectre x360 does have a beautiful 13-inch, 1,920 by 1,080-pixel touchscreen for watching videos. Going back to my MacBook’s 1,440 by 900 display was disappointing after using the Spectre x360. The touch display also worked well for navigating through Windows 8.1’s menus.

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The laptop’s backlit keyboard is roomy, and the buttons provided snappy feedback — not too squishy.

There is an extra-wide touchpad just below the keyboard. Early in my testing, my left clicks were often registered as right clicks, but HP recently released an update that has largely fixed the problem. Because the touchpad is so wide, there’s still a little trial and error involved to figure out where to position your thumb to complete those actions. I also found it a bit stiff to press. I preferred the XPS 13’s trackpad over HP’s.

Unlike the new MacBook with its single USB-C port, the Spectre x360 has a plethora of ports. There are three USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI connector, a mini display port, an SD card reader and a headphone jack.

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Let’s talk about software. The Spectre x360 ships running Microsoft Windows 8.1 (with very little bloatware), but it will be upgradable to Windows 10 when Microsoft releases its new operating system later this year.

As I noted in my review of the XPS 13, Windows 8.1 hasn’t been well-received by consumers and businesses. In my experience, there is a steep learning curve, largely because of the shift from a keyboard-and-mouse interface to a touch interface.

Microsoft is hoping to fix some of the issues with Windows 10, including bringing back the Start menu and providing a more consistent experience across Windows devices of all shapes and sizes. But we’ll have to wait and see. It’s something to think about if you’re not tied to a particular operating system.

The Spectre x360 uses Intel’s latest processors, and can be configured with up to a Core i7 processor, a 512 gigabyte solid-state drive and 8GB of memory. My midrange review model came with a Core i5 processor, 256GB solid-state hard drive and 8GB of memory, which was enough to handle all my needs.

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I used it as my primary laptop for work, and also to watch Netflix and play games like Sonic Dash and Fast & Furious 6: The Game. I didn’t experience any sluggishness or crashes during that time. The Spectre x360 also booted quickly from sleep mode.

For my harsh battery test, I set the screen brightness to high, turned off all power-saving features and left Wi-Fi on to fetch email, all while continuously playing a video. The Spectre x360 lasted 7.5 hours. That’s an hour short of the XPS 13, though I should mention that the Dell model I tested didn’t have a touchscreen, which consumes more power. The MacBook Air lasted 10 hours and 14 minutes in our tests, and the new MacBook petered out after about five hours.

In real-world usage — checking email and social networks, working on documents, browsing the Web and viewing some video — I found that the Spectre x360 could get through a full work day on a single charge, with power-saving features on.

If you like the versatility offered by a convertible laptop, the HP Spectre x360 is a top choice with its premium design and solid performance.