HP Envy Spectre XT review: HP Envy Spectre XT

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MSRP: $999.00

The Good Slim and lightweight, the HP Envy Spectre XT is portable, well-built, and easy to use, with a great keyboard.

The Bad The design doesn't stand out as much as the original Spectre's did, and its battery life won't get you through an entire day. From a premium product, we'd expect a higher screen resolution.

The Bottom Line A high-end laptop at a mainstream price, the HP Envy Spectre XT gets much of the look and feel right, with only a few missteps.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 6
  • Support 8

As the current flagship of HP's laptop line, the new Envy Spectre XT certainly packs a lot of names into one product. This is a premium ultrabook, and our understanding is that the Spectre designation now indicates a level of product above HP's already high-end Envy line. The XT is for an especially thin product (eXtra Thin, perhaps?), and serves as a further modifier to either Envy- or Spectre-branded products.

That's a lot of code names to go through for something that's essentially a very nice second-gen ultrabook, with an up-to-date Intel Core i5 CPU, a standard 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), a large buttonless clickpad, and Beats-powered audio. Other premium features include a backlit keyboard (which should be standard for all ultrabooks by now, but sadly isn't), and full versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 and Adobe Premiere Elements 10.

Making it feel a little less upscale: the pedestrian 1,366x768-pixel screen resolution and basic Intel HD 4000 graphics.

Starting at $999 (with some CPU and SSD upgrades available), the Spectre XT is reasonably priced and fits in with other higher-end ultrabooks, such as the Asus Zenbook UX31. It's less expensive than the Samsung Series 9 or Acer Aspire S5, while being just about as attractive. The biggest missed opportunity is the lack of a higher-resolution screen, which prevents the Spectre XT from feeling like a truly premium product.

Price as reviewed $999
Processor 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
Memory 4GB, 1,600Hz DDR3
Hard drive 128GB SSD
Chipset Intel HM77
Graphics Intel HD 4000
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 12.4x8.8 inches
Height 0.7 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.1/4 pounds
Category 13-inch

The 14.5-millimeter-thick Spectre XT looks and feels a lot like other ultrabooks we've seen, including Dell's XPS 13, HP's own Folio 13, and even Apple's MacBook Air. Like those models, it has a 13.3-inch screen. Its body tapers slightly toward the front and the lid has a brushed-metal finish that ties it in with the overall look of both Envy and Pavilion laptops from HP.

If this laptop looks very familiar to you, it might be because you've seen the HP Pavilion m6 I recently reviewed. Even though that system is a modestly priced slim 15-inch midsize laptop, its design is virtually indistinguishable from the Spectre XT's.

On one hand, this re-emphasizes what was so appealing about the Pavilion m6 -- a very Envy-like design at Pavilion prices. On the other hand, it's a bit off-putting to find almost the same exact design in both HP's highest-end laptop and a midtier product. With the previous-generation glass-covered HP Envy Spectre, at least it felt like you were getting a totally different product that looked and felt like nothing else from HP or any other laptop maker.

Physically, the Spectre XT is a joy to use, which is something I don't say about most laptops. The keyboard, with flat-topped, island-style keys, is just the right size for a 13-inch laptop, and the keys themselves felt firm and quiet. This keyboard lacks the obnoxious clackiness of those found on so many smaller laptops. Thankfully backlit, the keyboard's ease of use is further helped by large Shift, Tab, and Backspace keys.

The top row of Function buttons are function-reversed, meaning hitting these keys activates the control audio, screen brightness, and other functions by default, rather than requiring an Fn+F-key combo.

The touch pad is of the buttonless clickpad variety, but it has a unique look that stands out from similar pads on Dell, Apple, and other laptop brands, with the rectangular touch surface set in the middle of a larger depression in the wrist rest. It's a look you'll find on other current Envy laptops, as well as the Pavilion m6 (although the latter has separate left and right mouse buttons). The matte surface offers enough resistance without being sticky, and two-finger scrolling was smoother than I expected, likely because the multitouch sensitivity seems to be jacked up to the top of the scale.

The 13.3-inch display is one of the few letdowns on the Spectre XT. The only option available is this 1,366x768-pixel panel. While that's a perfectly acceptable resolution for a 13-inch laptop, many systems this size that brand themselves as premium products offer 1,600x900- or even 1,920x1,080-pixel displays. Down here at lower resolutions, HD video won't display at its native resolution, and Web pages and productivity docs can feel crowded.

HP Envy Spectre XT Average for category [13-inch]
Video HDMI HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Four speakers, headphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None DVD burner

Ports and connections sometimes get short shrift in ultrabooks, but here you'll find an Ethernet jack and HDMI, along with standard stuff such as a USB 3.0 port. Like most HP laptops, and the entire Envy line, the Spectre XT has a Beats Audio sound system, in this case through four (tiny) speakers. It sounds decent for casual use, but headphones are highly recommended for immersive movies and games.

One nice touch is the inclusion of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 and Adobe Premiere Elements 10 -- not the full-featured software suites, but consumer versions that should be powerful enough for most.

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