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HP is looking to put a new spin on a well-established idea with the Spectre x360. This new-for-2015 Windows hybrid laptop doesn't break any new ground -- its foldback hinge allows for easy conversion to "tablet" mode -- the combination of premium metal construction, solid performance and all-day battery life puts it towards of the top of our list of 13-inch laptops.
The idea of a laptop that folds over backward into a tablet isn't a new one, and since Lenovo introduced the Yoga line in 2012 , we've seen similar hybrids from Dell, Toshiba, HP and others. This fold-back design has become the most popular style of laptop/tablet hybrid, because it doesn't compromise the original clamshell laptop experience, and because it's generally less mechanically complex and cheaper to produce than overly fidgety pull-apart or sliding-screen hybrids.In this case, HP takes the x360 brand name the company has used for its previous fold-back hybrids , which were part of the mainstream Pavilion line, and upscales it with a new hinge design, premium construction and the promise of high-end performance and battery life. For the uninitiated, HP considers its Spectre line to be its most-premium brand, above both the Pavilion and Envy lines.
With this system, HP jumps into Intel's fifth-generation of Core i-series CPUs, offering Core i5 and Core i7 models. In our tests of the handful of other Broadwell-generation laptops currently available, performance has been only marginally faster, but some configurations have the potential for big battery life gains, as seen in both this model and in the non-touch version of the Dell XPS 13.The Spectre x360 aims to maximize battery life gains without sacrificing design or features, and HP says the company worked closely with Microsoft to tweak drivers and settings to maximize the run time. One example offered by HP was the removal of the traditional hard drive activity indicator light, a PC staple dating back decades, which was cut as a small but unnecessary drain on battery life.
In tests, this looks like a partnership that has yielded successful results. The x360 unit we tested ran for an impressive 12 hours in our video-playback battery-drain test, putting it in the same category as battery-life leaders such as the MacBook Air and the previously mentioned Dell XPS 13.
The configuration of the x360 we tested has a 13.3-inch 1,920x1,080 touch display, Intel Core i5-5200U processor, a big 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM, and is available for $999 in the US. For $899, you can get a version with half the RAM and half the hard drive capacity, while version expected later in the spring will offer a higher-res 3,200x1,800 display, 512GB SSD and faster Core i7 processor. That model will cost $1,399 in the US. HP says a UK version, similar to our test unit, will be available in the UK in mid-March for £899, but the Spectre x360 is not currently available on HP's Australia site.
The overall performance and design puts our $999 version in direct competition with the Dell XPS 13, Apple MacBook Air and Lenovo Yoga 3, all of which can be found in similar configurations for within $100. Your preference for a touch screen, hybrid hinge or a non-Windows operating system will lead you toward the most appropriate model, but it's gratifying to see so many very capable laptops and hybrids available right now for under $1,000.
|Price as reviewed||$999|
|Display size/resolution||13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen|
|PC CPU||2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5200U|
|PC memory||8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5500|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
Taking design cues from both a MacBook and a Yoga, the Spectre x360 is crafted from large aluminum sheets, giving the chassis a seamless look, with a highly polished outer edge contrasting with a matte silver-gray interior.
In the hand, the Spectre x360 feels professional and polished, although at 3.2 pounds, it's heavier than you'd expect, considering the XPS 13 and Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro both weigh around 2.6 pounds and the 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 2.9 pounds. The hinges move smoothly, with just enough stiffness to keep them in place, and HP says the internal mechanism has a new design, using three interlocking gears.
The backlit keyboard is similar in style to systems across HP's various brands, with a sunken keyboard tray, widely spaced island-style keys and rounded corners on the four edge keys. The touchpad keeps the extra-wide design seen on a handful of previous higher-end HP systems, but without the Windows 8 control zones on the far edges that originally used to trigger the Windows 8 Charms bar and other Win 8 navigation. This time, it's all usable finger-space for tapping and swiping.
The display on most versions of the Spectre x360 (including the one tested here) is a 1,920x1,080 touchscreen. It's an IPS display, so it looks good from nearly any angle, which is especially important for hybrids that might be viewed from all around in tablet or kiosk mode. Our one complaint about the otherwise excellent screen is that it's especially glossy, and reflects quite a bit of light. The Dell XPS 13 has a glossy display on its higher-resolution touch version, and a matte display in the 1080p non-touch version.
A second screen configuration of the Spectre will be available later in 2015, with a 3,200x1,800 touch display. For a 13-inch laptop, 1,920x1,080 still feels more than adequate, and based on other systems we've tested, there's a legitimate concern that these higher resolutions can have a significant adverse effect on battery life.
|Video||1 mini-DisplayPort, 1 HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack|
|Data||3 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
With dual video outputs, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort, the Spectre x360 can drive two external monitors at once, and the system also follows a welcome recent trend of dropping older USB ports and making every port a USB 3.0 version.In our CNET Labs benchmarks, both the Spectre x360, the pair of Dell XPS 13 systems we reviewed, and a new 14-inch Lenovo Yoga 3, each with a fifth-generation Intel Core i5-5200U processor, were closely matched in most tests. The non-touch version of the Dell was slower at Photoshop, but that model has only 4GB of RAM, versus the 8GB in the other Broadwell systems.
But, before you expect too much in terms of performance from the new Intel CPUs, a MacBook with last year's Core i5 CPU, was still in the running (and led in one test), while a different Broadwell-generation chip, the ultra-low-voltage Core M found in the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, was slower in all tests by a noticeable margin.
It's battery life that really makes this system stand with the best in its category, with the Spectre x360 running for exactly 12 hours in our video playback battery drain test. That's not as rare a score as it might have been even last year, but having more laptops that top a dozen hours of battery life is not a trend anyone should argue with.
A pair of Dell XPS 13 systems, with substantially similar hardware configurations (including the same fifth-gen Intel Core i5 CPU), showed the wide range of possible battery life, with a higher-res touchscreen model running for about seven hours, while a non-touch 1,920x1,080 screen model running for about 12 hours, closely matching the Spectre x360.
HP doesn't break any new ground in terms of design or features in the Spectre x360. It's essentially a slightly nicer version of what's come before, built from premium materials and outfitted with an excellent screen and Intel's latest CPUs.
But it does all this for under $1,000, even for a configuration with a big 256GB SSD, which is enough for me to ignore the fact that it's just a little heavier than it should be.
|HP Spectre x360 13t||Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 256GB SSD|
|Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch)||Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2,000MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 128GB SSD|
|Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen)||Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 256GB SSD|
|Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)||Apple OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks ; 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-4260U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000; 128GB SSD|
|Lenovo Yoga Pro 3||Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.1GHz Intel Core M-5Y60; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5300; 256GB SSD|
|Lenovo Yoga 3 (14-inch)||Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 256GB SSD|