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HP Spectre review:

The world's thinnest laptop is surprisingly powerful

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The Good The HP Spectre is remarkably thin while still managing to fit in Core i5 and Core i7 processors. The keyboard is excellent for such a slim body, and the bold design stands out in a sea of thin ultraportables.

The Bad The lack of a touchscreen is a big omission for a premium Windows laptop, and the limited ports may force you to carry extra dongles and accessories.

The Bottom Line If you can work with USB-C ports and a nontouch display, the HP Spectre offers a great design and excellent performance in the world's thinnest full-power laptop body.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.4 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Battery 8.0

To touch or not to touch. That is the question asked of many Windows laptops, from bulky budget boxes to the slimmest premium systems. HP has two new high-end, very thin laptops, and it answers that question differently in each model.

While the 12-inch EliteBook Folio G1 is available with a 1080 or 4K touch screen (there's also an entry-level nontouch version), the much-buzzed-about 13-inch Spectre has only one display option, a 1,920x1,080 nontouch screen.

hp-spectre-2016-01.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

It's a trade-off, the company says, required to hit the Spectre's most noteworthy feature -- that it's the world's thinnest full-power laptop, at just 10.4mm thick. That's despite offering current-gen Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors, rather than the lower-power Core M CPUs in the also-impressive HP EliteBook Folio G1 (and 12-inch Apple MacBook).

With a Core i7-6500U processor, 8GB of RAM and a decent 256GB SSD, the Spectre costs $1,249 in the US. A Core i5 version knocks the price down to $1,169. In the UK, configurations start at £1,149, and AU$2,299 in Australia. Whichever model you choose, just be ready to jump fully into the world of USB-C, the new multipurpose data, power and accessory connector. The Spectre has three USB-C ports along the back. All three can carry data or power, and the two center ones also act as Thunderbolt ports for high-speed data transfer.

HP Spectre

Price as reviewed $1,249
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 screen
PC CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U
PC memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB Intel HD Graphics 520
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Just how thin is the 10.4mm Spectre? Apple's aforementioned 12-inch MacBook and the recent Razer Blade Stealth are both around 13mm thick at their thickest parts, while a 13-inch Dell XPS 13 is about 15mm thick. Since the MacBook is tapered, it's slimmer in the front, thicker in the rear. Down at the 13mm-and-under level, the differences are more about bragging rights than anything else.

hp-spectre-2016-01.jpg

From the top: 12-inch MacBook, HP EliteBook Folio, HP Spectre.

Sarah Tew/CNET

At 2.4 pounds (without its power cable), it's also very light, but not the lightest 13-inch laptop we've tested (that distinction may belong to the Lenovo LaVie). At the very bleeding edge of laptop design, you generally have to choose between thickness and weight, especially when trying to support full Core i-series processors. In this case, HP went for shaving millimeters from the chassis, at the expense of weight and features (such as touch and ports other than slim USB-C ones).

A bold color scheme also helps the Spectre stand out, ditching the usual silver and gray for a dark, smokey gray with gold accents. The entire hinge is a bright, jeweled gold, which just draws more attention to its unusual design (and which picks up fingerprints pretty easily). To avoid unnecessary bulk, the hinge has moved in from the very rear edge, and is instead inset by a tiny bit.

hp-spectre-2016-01.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

That hinge mechanism is aluminum, as is the laptop's lid, while the bottom panel is carbon fiber. HP says the mix of materials serves to give the Spectre the right balance between weight and stiffness, especially in the lid. After all, you don't want your very thin tech to feel flimsy and flex under the slightest touch.

Part of making the Spectre this thin was accomplished by flattening the battery into four separate cells that fit across much of the bottom footprint, rather than having to find space for one large battery. The heatsink has been moved off the CPU as well, and instead the Spectre uses small fans to pull air in through bottom vents and funnel it out through the rear. It's a version of a cooling scheme from Intel called hyperbaric cooling.

A surprisingly good keyboard

Compared with other very thin, very light laptops, such as the 12-inch MacBook, the keyboard on the HP Spectre really stands out as excellent. The keys are a little shallower than on a more full-size 13-inch laptop, such as HP's own Spectre x360, but this is still a standard island-style keyboard that doesn't have the learning curve of something like the very flat keys on the MacBook.

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