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HP Spectre 13 x2 review: A big-screen hybrid with dual batteries

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On paper, the HP Spectre x2 sounds like a great idea. Take a 13-inch laptop from HP's high-end Spectre line and give it the hybrid treatment, allowing the screen to pop off at the touch of a button to become a larger-than-average tablet. In practice, it's a mixed bag, offering flexibility beyond other hybrids, but also held back by some awkward design decisions.

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7.5

HP Spectre 13 x2

The Good

The <b>HP Spectre 13 x2</b> converts into a large 13-inch tablet with a full 1080p display. The system is reasonably priced, and has a decent selection of ports on the keyboard base.

The Bad

The combined hybrid body is awkwardly top-heavy, and the touch pad isn't sensitive enough for easy all-day use.

The Bottom Line

A rare larger-screen hybrid, the HP Spectre x2 aims to be both a portable laptop and a video-friendly slate. The price is right, but the design feels awkward and the wonky touch pad makes it hard to use as a full-time laptop.

At least the price starts off in the right ballpark. HP's excellent Spectre 13 (this model's nonhybrid cousin) opens at $999, while this detachable screen version comes in at $1,099. For a standard Core i5/128GB SSD combo in a premium package, that's reasonable, although those basic specs can be found for less in more plastic-feeling laptops. Our review unit added a high-res 1,920x1,080 screen (over the stock 1,366x768 version) and faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi, for a total of $1,189.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like most detachable-screen hybrids, the internal components are all housed inside the upper half of the laptop, which detaches via a chunky push-button in the center of the hinge. Unfortunately, the screen half is much denser than the keyboard base (which also contains a second battery), so it feels very heavy in the hand as a tablet, and like it's about to tip over backward as a laptop.

That might be forgivable, if the rest of the clamshell experience was up to par. But while the keyboard is up to HP's usual good standards, and the hybrid base has enough ports and connections to be useful, the twitchy touch pad simply missed too many taps and swipes, making it frustrating to use.

I'd call the Spectre 13 x2 a first-gen experiment that could be truly great with a few moderate tweaks. As it stands, this is a very good 13-inch tablet that also transforms into an awkward laptop.

HP Spectre 13 X2 Acer Aspire S7- 392-6411 Dell XPS 12
Price $1,189 $1,399 $1,199
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen
PC CPU 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4202Y 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U
PC Memory 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics 1792MB Intel HD Graphics 4200 128MB Intel HD Graphics 4400 1745MB Intel HD Graphics 4400
Storage 128GB SSD hard drive 128GB SSD hard drive 128GB SSD hard drive
Optical drive None None None
Networking 802.11 AC WLAN and Bluetooth 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8.1 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit)

Design and features
If not for the recent HP Spectre 13, a sister system to this one, I'd be tempted to describe the Spectre 13 x2 as a slim, attractive ultrabook. But the nonhybrid version is so well-designed that it leaves the the x2 looking dowdy by comparison. Of course, the x2 needs to fit all its key components behind the display, so it's operating at a design disadvantage.

The screen detaches from its base in the same manner as nearly all detachables in the Windows 8 era -- via a big, chunky button right in the middle of the hinge. It's a mechanism that looks distinctly low-tech, and its central position along the hinge makes it awkward to reach, especially while your other hand needs to be on the upper lip of the screen to safely pull it away. To be fair, this is a problem we've encountered with many detachable hybrids, and I'm waiting for some forward-thinking PC company to come up with a more elegant solution.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When detached from its base, I liked the 13-inch tablet part of the Spectre x2 a lot. The big 13-inch display and decent 1080p resolution help it stand out from both slate-style tablets and other hybrids with smaller screens. It feels most at home on your lap while sitting in a chair or on the couch, but it could slip inside a padded shoulder bag and go along with you for a better-than-average mobile movie experience or an extremely easy-to-see e-book reader.

Volume controls are handily placed on a small rocker switch on the back of the display, designed to be directly under your left forefinger when holding the tablet in both hands. A power switch occupies a corresponding space under your right hand. I was concerned about accidentally hitting one or both of these controls while holding the tablet, but enough force is required to activate either that it wasn't a problem.

The keyboard base looks and feels like a standard HP island-style keyboard, with rounded corner keys and a reversed Function key row. Typing was as good as on a standard clamshell laptop, but the large touch pad was not as responsive as I'd like, often missing taps and swipes. The very responsive touch screen makes up for this slightly, but office and productivity work was frustrating at times.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When connected to the keyboard base, the 13.3-inch display of the Spectre 13 x2 works well, exhibiting bright colors, although it didn't seem to pop as much as the display on the nonhybrid Spectre 13. The x2 version, while offering wide viewing angles, is also especially glossy and reflected a lot of light. That's especially problematic for a tablet, which you'd be expected to hold at varied angles under different lighting conditions.

One note: our review unit had an upgrade to a full 1,920x1,080 resolution, which adds $70 to the cost. That seems like a no-brainer to me. If I laid out more than $1,000 for a high-end laptop with only a 1,366x768 screen in 2014, I'd be pretty unhappy with the transaction.

Video HDMI (on base)
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack (x2)
Data 2 USB 3.0 (on base), microSD card reader (on tablet)
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery
Hybrids often skimp on ports and connections, but the Spectre 13 x2 does better than most. The keyboard base has a pair of USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI output, while both the base and tablet have combo audio jacks. On the bottom edge of the tablet is its power connection and a microSD card slot, but they're only accessible when the two parts of the system are detached.

Most ultrabook-style laptops -- and even some hybrids -- use Intel's low-voltage U series of Core i-series chips. The Spectre 13 x2 instead uses the Y series, specifically designed for tablets, with a lower power usage during mainstream tasks.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That led to the Spectre 13 x2 scoring slightly slower in some of our benchmark tests when compared to other ultrabooks and hybrids. But, in real-world terms, the differences are minimal, and you're unlikely to notice when working on everyday tasks such as Web surfing, HD video streaming, social media sharing, and working on productivity apps. Frankly, the wonky touch pad caused more of a slowdown when typing than did the CPU.

One of the interesting things you can do with a hybrid is include one battery in the tablet screen, and a second battery in the keyboard base. HP does that, and when using both batteries combined, the system ran for 7:15 on our video playback battery drain test, which is very good for a 13-inch non-Apple laptop. Using just the tablet screen alone, we got a result of 4:38 on the same test. That's not great for a full-time tablet, but it will at least get you through a couple of movies.

Conclusion
The ambitious HP Spectre 13 x2 is one of those products that may be better on paper than in person. But that's only because the idea of a 13-inch high-res hybrid that builds off of HP's excellent Spectre line is such an appealing one.

The Spectre 13 x2 works well as a big-screen tablet, and its laptop mode is only held back by some awkward weight and balance issues, not to mention a touch pad that doesn't always register taps and swipes. Fix those two things and you've got a real winner.

HandBrake multimedia multitasking
(In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test
(In seconds; shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test
(In seconds; shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test
(In minutes; longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations

HP Spectre 13 X2
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.6GHz; Intel Core i5-4202Y; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz, 1792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4200; 128GB Samsung SSD

Sony Vaio Tap 11
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.5GHz Intel Core i5-4210Y; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1739MB (Sharedl) Intel HD Graphics 4200; 128GB Tosiba SSD

Dell XPS 12
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1745MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400: 128GB Lite-On SSD

MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Acer Aspire S7- 392-6411
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (Dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4400: 128GB SSD

Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.

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7.5

HP Spectre 13 x2

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7Battery 8