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HP Spectre Folio review: Get your hands on this luxury leather laptop

A 13-inch leather-clad laptop that would make even Ricardo Montalban jealous, but some of its design tweaks could stand some refinement.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
4 min read

The problem with laptops in general is that even the high-end premium ones all tend to look and feel the same after a while. It's clear when a laptop is trying to be a MacBook Pro or an XPS 13. In a world of copycat  laptops , almost all of which seem to want to be just like something else, the new leather-covered HP Spectre Folio at the very least offers a different approach to design. 

HP Spectre Folio

HP Spectre Folio

The Good

An excellent, premium-looking design with a leather outer shell over a metal frame. Good stylus response and excellent battery life.

The Bad

The rotating hinge design is too fiddly for its own good and the dual-core processor is a letdown for this price range. The stylus has nowhere to live, except in an awkward leather loop hanging from the side.

The Bottom Line

HP's inventive two-in-one hybrid is fun to use and show off, but its ambitious hinge design can get in the way at times.

No, it's not Corinthian leather, but it's still pretty nice. And I'd be the first to admit I'm having fun using it, despite a few design and usability frustrations. 

The leather cover is not just bolted on top of a standard laptop body. Instead, a magnesium frame is paired with a leather outer shell that covers just about everything except for the keyboard and screen. HP says that cuts down on weight and thickness, although this still feels hefty for a 13-inch laptop, at 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg).

HP Spectre Folio
Sarah Tew/CNET

We rarely see them now, but this isn't the first leather-shelled laptop I've tested. About 10 years ago, it was briefly in vogue, like this Asus U6S I reviewed back in 2008. But this example makes the leather more a part of the overall design, rather than just gluing it onto the back of a standard laptop body.

It's called the Folio because, when closed, it looks like a leather folio. So much so, that when I took it for a test drive to the new coffee shop on the corner, I just tucked it under my arm and went, no bag.

HP Spectre Folio
Sarah Tew/CNET

Flipping the script

That part of the design is certainly clever, but other parts feel a bit too clever. The hybrid hinge, which folds the 13-inch screen into different modes, is complicated, with the entire screen flipping out from the middle of the rear panel.

The screen can swoop down in front of the keyboard, creating a kind of kiosk. That's great for video playback, but it only hits one angle, and it may not a particularly useful one unless you're slightly above the laptop, looking down.

HP Spectre Folio
Sarah Tew/CNET

It also forms a tablet, and using the included stylus in that mode is very nice, especially with the leather outer shell under your hands. But the stylus has nowhere to go, except a protruding leather loop -- I find those always get in the way and get snagged on things. A compromise might have been a stylus that slides into a hidden compartment on the body, but that requires one of those tiny styluses, usually about as thick as a coffee stirrer, so there's no perfect answer.

If you're comparing this to the new MacBook Air, they both use dual-core Intel Y series processors, which means they're not especially speedy, but still fine for everyday use. For these prices -- the Folio starts at $1,299 while the new Air starts at $1,199 -- you're not wrong to want something faster. 

HP Spectre Folio
Sarah Tew/CNET

This test configuration has a Core i7 Y-series CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 4G LTE antenna. The closest configuration on HP's US website right now is $1,500, but cuts the RAM to 8GB. A very close MacBook Air 16GB/256GB config with a higher screen resolution -- but swapping the Y-series Core i7 for a Y-series Core i5 and dropping the LTE antenna -- is $1,599. A 12-inch MacBook with the same 16GB/256GB/Core i7Y config is $1,749. HP says a version of the Spectre Folio with a 4K display is coming later this year. 

The single Spectre Folio configuration on HP's UK website is £1,499. In Australia, it starts at AU$2,799.

HP Spectre Folio (pictures)

See all photos

Longer, but not faster 

The dual-core CPU means it lags behind many other current premium laptops in terms of raw performance. In fact, the performance in our tests hewed very close to the new MacBook Air. But, as in the case of the new Air, I don't think that's a fatal flaw. For most of what you're likely to be doing on your laptop -- working on office docs, drawing with the stylus, web surfing or streaming videos, you're unlikely to notice the difference between this and a quad-core PC like the Surface Laptop 2. 

Battery life on par with those and most other current laptops in this class, hitting 10 hours, 45 minutes on our streaming video battery drain test, just a few minutes apart from the new MacBook Air or Surface Laptop 2. 

That solid battery life score puts a thumb on the scale for me, leaving me feeling mostly positive about the Folio. And I'm not entirely surprised. HP's done a great job of making big, bold statement pieces in the last few years, mostly from this high-end Spectre line. (I'm also very fond of the clamshell Spectre, which is another design win, thanks to a very slim body and excellent color choices.) The new Folio isn't perfect, but it certainly stands out. 

Geekbench 4 multicore

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 12,488Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 11,983Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition 11,688HP Spectre Folio Convertible 8,306Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2018) 7,870
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 multicore

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 596Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 589Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition 389HP Spectre Folio Convertible 267Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2018) 253
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Online streaming battery-drain test (in minutes)

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 671Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2018) 646HP Spectre Folio Convertible 645Microsoft Surface Pro 6 606Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition 300
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

HP Spectre Folio Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.5GHz Intel Core i7-8500Y; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz, 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB
Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 16GB DDR4 1,866MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce MX150; 512GB SSD
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2018) Apple MacOS Mojave 10.14; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8210Y; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 1,536MB Intel UHD Graphics 617; 256GB SSD
HP Spectre Folio

HP Spectre Folio

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 7Battery 9