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HP Spectre x360 (2016) review: My favorite backflipping laptop

Now available in both 13- and 15-inch models, the Spectre x360 is one of our top picks for a thin-and-light Windows laptop.

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Sean Hollister
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Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews

When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.

4 min read

"Which Windows laptop should you buy?" That's no longer a tough question: these days, I almost always recommend a Dell XPS 13 or an HP Spectre x360. When these notebooks first hit shelves last year, they offered more style and performance than we'd ever seen for under $1,000.

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8.3

HP Spectre x360 (2016)

The Good

Two years running, the HP Spectre x360 offers incredible value for the money. Its slim, premium aluminum frame houses a speedy processor, comfortable keyboard and touchpad, plenty of full-size ports, a beautiful touchscreen and a surprising amount of battery life under the hood.

The Bad

While attractive, it's a little chunkier than some of the competition. The glossy screen can generate distracting reflections -- the price you pay for touch -- and the 15-inch model's speakers sound muddy.

The Bottom Line

If you're looking for a full-featured Windows laptop with major bang for the buck, the HP Spectre x360 is it.

In 2016, none of that has changed. The only difference is a new generation of Intel processors that are slightly faster. And I like it that way.

Update, November 2016: While this Spectre x360 is still on sale -- and this is the one I prefer! -- you should also check out my review of my review of HP's newer, slimmer model.

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The 13-inch HP Spectre x360.

Josh Miller/CNET

Starting at $999 (£849, AU$1,999), the 13-inch HP Spectre x360 has everything I need in a thin-and-light laptop. I don't ask for much: just a comfortable, lightweight machine with great looks, long battery life, plenty of speed and an excellent selection of ports.

I've been using the Spectre x360 for weeks now, and it ticks every one of those boxes. It's like an Apple MacBook Air with a slightly worse touchpad, but more connectivity and a far better screen -- one that bends over backwards to become a Windows 10 tablet in a pinch. Literally.

One big difference for 2016: there's a new 15-inch model that starts at $1,149. I tried both the 13- and 15-inch models, and they're practically identical. That's a very good thing. (From here on out, you can assume my notes apply to both models unless I specifically say otherwise.)

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Josh Miller/CNET

Why do I love HP's laptop? Keep on reading.

Love

  • The rigid anodized aluminum frame that doesn't flex or creak
  • The way the shiny aluminum rim and chrome hinges positively gleam
  • The extra-wide glass touchpad that feels fantastic under my fingertips
  • The crisp, colorful 1080p touchscreen (HP offers higher-res screens, too)
  • The speedy Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage that come standard on models $999 and up -- with my usual dozens of Chrome browser tabs, it never struggled
  • The bend-over-backwards hinge that lets me prop up the screen on cramped public transportation -- and without the display wobbling
  • The lack of bloatware (The only thing I had to uninstall was antivirus software) on the system
  • The fact that despite being just 15.9mm thick and weighing only 3.2 pounds -- 4.1 pounds for the 15-inch model -- HP managed to cram 10 hours of battery life and enough ports to drive two external monitors and three USB peripherals simultaneously.

It's the last one that really astounds me. At a time when laptops are getting thinner and thinner for bragging rights, HP's designers showed restraint -- keeping the Spectre x360 thick enough to house a sizable battery, three full-size USB 3.0 ports, a full-size HDMI port, a Mini DisplayPort, a headset jack and still have enough room to fully enclose an SD card inside the frame.

(That's several more ports than we get on the smaller Dell XPS 13.)

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The Spectre x360's keyboard and touchpad are spacious and comfortable, even if they aren't the very best I've used.

Josh Miller/CNET

The 15-inch Spectre x360 even adds a USB-C port, for those with compatible phones or PC accessories. Mind, you can't charge the laptop over USB-C, but the 15-incher also comes with a delightfully tiny power adapter to make up for it.

Hate

Sure, I've got a few nits to pick:

  • I'd like it if the Spectre x360's keyboard keys were made of metal and had a bit more throw
  • The big black border around the screen could stand to be smaller, like the barely-there bezels on Dell's XPS laptops
  • I wish the Spectre had a fingerprint reader (my favorite feature on the new HP Envy) so I could easily and securely log into Windows with a quick swipe or tap
  • The touchpad could also stand to be better at recognizing two-finger gestures
  • I'd really appreciate it if HP rounded off the sharp metal edges of the keyboard deck
  • It'd be nice if the hinge were better balanced so I could open the lid with one hand
  • I wish the 15-inch Spectre x360, in particular, were a little less bulky and had better speakers. Neither model sounds particularly amazing for listening to tunes, but the 15-inch laptop's audio sounds pretty muddy. I'd pick the 13-inch if you care about audio.
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Plenty of ports, plus another USB jack and an SD card slot on the other side.

Josh Miller/CNET

It's also slightly weird that the 13-inch Spectre x360 ran for only 10 hours on our battery drain test -- compared to 12 hours last year. I wouldn't worry, though: I got the same six hours of real-world battery life from both the 13- and 15-inch models, one of the best results I've seen from a machine this thin.

Long story short, it's great

Really, that's about it. The biggest compliment I can pay the HP is that the complaints you see above are the only ones I have. And the only reason you should hesitate to buy one is if you're waiting for next year's model -- or if you really want a MacBook instead.

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8.3

HP Spectre x360 (2016)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Battery 8
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