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HP Spectre (2017) review: A white knight in the war on boring laptops

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The Good HP upgrades the super-slim Spectre with a fast new CPU, a much-needed touchscreen and a cool new white-and-gold design.

The Bad Battery life isn't in the top tier, and the touchpad feels a bit off. The hinges don't allow the screen to be tilted very far back.

The Bottom Line The new version of the HP Spectre cuts down on the compromises, adding a touchscreen and a big power boost, while staying just as thin.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Battery 7

Outside of a handful on inventive (if flawed) gaming systems, this has not been a year for radically memorable laptop designs. They've all got thin bodies now. Everyone has managed to shrink the bezels around screens down to near-nothing. And even Apple's unique Touch Bar is already a year old.

That's why I tip my hat to HP, which has made its revamped 13-inch Spectre arguably the coolest-looking new laptop of the year. It's also a highly competent super-slim computer, which gives us the freedom to dwell on its good looks.

But good looks will cost you. The Spectre starts at $1,299 in the US. Slightly different configurations are available in the UK, starting at £1,599 and Australia, at AU$3,299.

HP Spectre 2017
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Sarah Tew/CNET

Design is king

People sometimes give me a doubtful look when I tell them that a laptop is like a pair of eyeglasses. Asked to explain, I say that it's something very personal, that you use all the time, that you're regularly seen in public with. It's an extension of the self and therefore part of your public persona. That's why you choose one pair of eyeglasses over another -- the lenses generally work the same across different frames, so style and comfort (and price) become primary factors.

Computers, especially laptops, are largely built from the same core group of components, so systems in the same price range, with the same parts, will usually have similar performance. That's why, for many years, I've counseled shoppers to first make sure a potential new laptop does what they want at a price they like, but then choose based on aesthetic and ergonomic considerations.

HP Spectre 2017
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Microsoft's Surface Laptop next to the new HP Spectre. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Last year's Spectre was similarly slim (although it actually had a slightly wider desktop footprint) and impressive, but it missed on a few key points. The 13-inch screen lacked touch, which was a glaring omission in a super-premium laptop at the time, and the battery ran for about seven hours in our testing, which was merely OK. 

HP Spectre 13

Price as reviewed $1,299
Display size/resolution 13-inch 1,920x1,080-pixel display
PC CPU 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U
PC Memory 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz
Graphics 128MB Intel HD Graphics 620
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Changelog

For the 2017 model, there are some major changes, both internally and externally. First, the processor inside has been upgraded from a 7th-generation Intel Core i-series CPU to a newer 8th-gen one, which results in a surprisingly impressive performance boost.

Second, the display has been updated to a touch version, which is the single thing most glaringly missing from the previous Spectre. Not everyone wants or needs a touchscreen in a laptop, but even in Windows 10 ($116 at Amazon), there are a few areas where it comes in handy (scrolling long web pages, setting up Wi-Fi connections), and it's really just table stakes at this point for any laptop that costs more than a few hundred bucks. And even with the new touch display, the Spectre is still just 10.4mm thick, and less than a half-ounce heavier.

HP Spectre 2017
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Sarah Tew/CNET

The final big upgrade is to the already excellent design. The speakers move from the sides of the keyboard to above it, allowing for a narrower body, and the screen bezel has shrunk a bit. But I'm most impressed by the new ceramic white design, which looks just stunning. The matte ceramic finish feels great under the fingers, and even the gold-accented hinges don't throw off the vibe.

White laptops come and go, and have certainly been on the design outs, at least in the US, for the past several years. So, part of the appeal is that this is just different, but it's also incredibly well done. Everyone in this office who's seen this review sample, even if they're skeptical of "flashy" laptops, has been impressed.

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