Review: The HP Spectre x360 is a beautiful and all around amazing Windows 8.1 laptop

Review: the HP Spectre x360 is an beautiful and all around amazing Windows laptop

At Build this past April, Microsoft gave attendees an HP Spectre x360, so let’s see how good the giveaway really is. If you’re interested in a quick and dirty assessment of the device and not interested in the gritty details here you go; the HP Spectre x360 is a great laptop and highly recommended. The form factor of flip-back laptops is a tried and true method for giving users the choice of how to use their device with few compromises. Lots of ports and a great keyboard should keep most professionals happy when it comes to how the device preforms in a business setting. The trackpad is huge and responsive and the touch screen is brilliant.

Now for the details such as ports and the specs of this particular device. The model Build attendees received was a 13.3″ diagonal FHD Radiance LED-backlit touch screen (1920 x 1080) with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. The CPU is a dual-core Intel Core i5-5200U running at 2.2GHz and the GPU is Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 5500. As soon as I received the device, I installed Windows 10 Build 10074. For $1000, HP sells a model almost the exact same — the main difference being a larger SSD (256GB instead of 128GB). The Wi-Fi chip demands mentioning because it is extremely reliable and supports the latest 802.11ac standard.

In an attempt to avoid abstract judgment of the device, I plan to go through different usage cases and mention how the device preforms under stress. The device is not perfect however it does seem to check a fairly long list of features and abilities. The different scenarios I plan to go through are the following: desktop publishing, development, graphics, gaming, and multimedia.

Desktop Publishing

Desktop Publishing

The keyboard is full of the best special function keys such as print screen, display, media, airplane mode controls, brightness, volume and mute, keyboard backlighting, and the always helpful menu key. When pressing key combinations such as Alt+F4 or Shift+F3, the Spectre doesn’t require you to hold the Fn key but understands your intent. This can be very nice when compared to other devices which add an element to the muscle memory in shortcuts. Typing tends to be easy and fast even with such a large trackpad. This is achieved because the touchpad is temporarily disabled while typing which prevents accidental clicks. While this is nice when typing, it can cause issues while gaming which I’ll cover later. The laptop preforms extremely well when typing articles including this review. If you type for a living, this laptop cannot replace a desktop’s ergonomic keyboard or a mechanical keyboard, but it does a great job for a laptop.

Development

Development

Disclaimer, I am not a developer but this device was given out to developers at MS Build so it should be mentioned how well the device performs. I’ve installed Visual Studio 2015 RC and used it to compile some example apps from Microsoft. The Spectre worked at an acceptable level for this task but the fan did kick in when building the solution.  As I mentioned before, the keyboard works well for typing so coding shouldn’t be too difficult. However like any laptop this cannot replace powerful development workstations when it comes to large complex projects. Part of the limitation revolves around the screen and the ability to not see as much with only a 13″ screen.

Graphics

Graphics

Editing photos on the Spectre in Adobe Photoshop or with the Photos app is a pleasant experience. The Spectre has an SD card slot making transferring easy and fast. Editing the photos is fast and well performing. The photos look good on the high resolution screen, but the Photoshop CS6 UI doesn’t scale and can be a slight pain to use. Editing video isn’t practical with this Laptop when dealing with high resolution footage. Editing smartphone video or short content would work fine, but with integrated graphics the video editing experience should come with realistic expectations.

The HP Active Stylus can be bought for $60 and works with this device. Compared to the Surface or Wacom devices, the pen support is lacking. For solid consistent lines pressure needs to be high and isn’t ideal and essentially requires the screen to be supported from behind when writing. The device supports palm rejection which makes the writing experience much more manageable. It should be noted HP doesn’t highlight the pen capabilities so ultimately it is a nice bonus.

Gaming

Gaming

The Spectre x360 is not a gaming laptop, with that said, it can play some games fine and some games not at all. Major titles like Team Fortress 2, Skyrim, and Civ 5 can require several gigs of hard drive space and with only the single SSD this can be an issue. Steam In-Home streaming however does work wonders when gaming. I was able to stream Skyrim and TF2 with great results. Streaming games does require a fast and unhindered network which isn’t always the case if others on the network are doing intensive tasks like video streaming or bulk uploads.

Obviously the i5 can handle Windows Store games with ease, so if light or casual gaming is all you need then this device will do fine. One issue with gaming however involves the way HP designed the trackpad to freeze while typing occurs. This is a deal breaker when gaming without a mouse because it means you can either be moving or looking, but not both at the same time like most games require. There is no game mode which can be enabled to prevent this behavior meaning an external mouse is essential for gaming.

Multimedia

Multimedia

The beautiful display and loud speakers makes the Spectre great for watching video content or listening to music. However the speakers are near the edges on the bottom which means viewing content while the device is on a hard surface sounds great, but audio quality suffers when the laying the laptop on a blanket or on a pillow. The ability to flip the x360 back would be better for viewing content if the speakers were on the bezel of the display instead of under the device.

All the Little things

All the Little things

No matter what you’re doing on this laptop, it will involve waking the device and using the trackpad. Having the hardware buttons on the edge of the device is a little odd, but you get accustom to it pretty fast. The right side has volume keys and a Windows button which are nice but rarely used. Trackpad gestures work decently well and include two finger scrolling, two finger right click, and soft select. Windows 10 currently doesn’t take over gestures so any options are handled via the Synaptic utility.

Sleep and resume occur instant or decently fast depending on how long the device has been inactive. The power button the left side will indicate if the device is sleeping (flashing) or in a deeper state of power saving standby (not flashing). When in standby the device consumes very little battery and can resume in several seconds. In practice, removing the laptop from a bag and pressing the power button and waiting for the device to resume is not a bad experience.

Conclusion

The HP Spectre x360 is a wonderful laptop with a great amount of capabilities. Great battery life, huge range of ports, powerful chipset, lots of RAM and storage, thin and attractive body makes this one of the best Windows laptops on the market. Any serious criticism of this laptop would only be found outside what this device was intended to be. This is not a Surface or a rugged PC, but the x360 is extremely robust and delightful to use. The HP Spectre x360 is highly recommended as a do almost everything while remaining a very portable and good looking laptop.

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