HP's upscale-feeling Spectre x2 is a hybrid that isn't afraid to go against the popular wisdom. That's an admirable quality in some areas, less so in others.
Most of the hybrid PCs we see these days -- computers that shift between laptop and tablet configurations by flipping, folding or detaching -- have settled into the fold-back style popularized by . These systems, including HP's own , have 360-degree hinges that allow the system's screen to fold all the way back into a table mode.
But that's not the only game in town, especially if you're looking for something a bit on the slimmer side, or something that feels more like a tablet and less like a laptop, without going full iPad Pro. For you, the pull-apart hybrid is what you're looking for, taking a glass-covered slate-style tablet and adding a keyboard cover and kickstand to create an ersatz laptop.
That idea has been around for years but has really been popularized by the Microsoft Surface line, which continues to refine and improve itself year after year. But the latest , from late in 2015, isn't the only pull-apart hybrid worth looking at. The SP4 is expensive, starting at $899 in the US for the tablet itself (£749 or AU$1,349), and going up from there. Even the lowest-cost model requires an extra $130 investment (£109 or AU$199) in a keyboard cover, which is a must-have accessory for even minimal typing.
In contrast, the HP Spectre x2, which is clearly a close cousin of the Surface Pro, starts at $799 (£799 or AU$1,699), and includes its very good keyboard cover in that price. It also embraces features such as built-in mobile broadband (which requires a separate subscription), handy USB Type-C ports, Intel's RealSense 3D camera and second-generation Intel Core M processors, which may be a better price/performance choice than the mainstream Core i3/i5/i7 chips in the Surface and other hybrids.
The Spectre x2 we tested is a more expensive model, with the faster Intel Core m7 CPU, a big 256GB SSD and 8GM of RAM for $1,149 in the US (£999 or AU$2,299) -- but keep in mind, that also includes the keyboard cover, something not included with even the most expensive Surface Pro model.
Some of the ideas here feel fresher than the Surface Pro line, and once you get it set up on your desk, it feels flexible and functional. But, like the Surface, it's still not as lap-friendly as an actual laptop, and the kickstand here, a U-shaped model on a spring-loaded hinge, thoroughly mystified every single person who tried it in the CNET Labs, thanks to an unforgivingly stiff release button tucked away on the left edge. The Surface also has faster processor choices, higher resolution (with brighter) screens and includes an excellent active stylus, an accessory sold separately here.
To shave some bucks off a Surface Pro, or for easy to use mobile broadband (if you don't mind Verizon's service), this is an excellent tablet-first hybrid. A few design quirks keep it from being a clear winner over Microsoft's slightly better-conceived-overall Surface line.
HP Spectre x2
|Price as reviewed||$1,149|
|Display size/resolution||12-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 touchscreen|
|PC CPU||1.2GHz Intel Core m7-6Y75|
|PC Memory||8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 515|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Micorsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)|
Design and features
Like other pull-apart hybrids, the HP x2 is comprised of two distinct halves. The top part is the slate-style tablet, which contains the display and also the internal components, including the motherboard, CPU, RAM and storage. It has the same glass slate look as an iPad, Surface Pro or any other modern tablet, with a glossy top surface, buttons and ports along the outer edges along with a wide black bezel surrounding the display. Its footprint is slightly larger than the Surface Pro 4's, but they're overall very similar.
The outer edges are a little busier than on the Surface Pro 4, with protruding buttons for volume, power and the kickstand release, plus two USB-C ports and covered slots for microSD and SIM cards (which will require a pin or paper clip to open). The bottom edge has a strip of magnetic connection points which bind to the included keyboard dock. It's a strong connection, so the two halves snap together effortlessly and stay firmly connected.
Unlike the soft, textile-like keyboard cover of the Surface Pro 4, the keyboard here has a metal surface on the keys, wrist rest and keyboard tray. The back of the cover, the part against your knees or tabletop, or that's exposed in a shoulder bag, has a soft felt-like coating. The end effect is a keyboard that feels stiffer and more substantial than the Microsoft version. Aside from that, the two keyboards are remarkably similar in terms of key size and layout, and the size of the touchpad. The HP version also includes some extra (small) speakers that kick in when the two parts are connected. Like other new HP systems, the speakers carry Bang & Olufsen branding, which basically means the audio company listened to and signed off on the system's speakers, but didn't actually build or design them.