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, 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, 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.
HP Spectre x360
|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)|
Design and features
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.