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HP Spectre x360 (late 2016) review: HP's best hybrid hangs onto its last USB port

Like the new MacBook laptops, the HP Spectre x360 sacrifices ports for a thinner body.

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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.

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5 min read

If your laptop could be thinner, lighter and smaller with the same great battery life and performance, would you celebrate? Or complain about all the missing ports?

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8.2

HP Spectre x360 (late 2016)

The Good

The new HP Spectre x360 is a durable, stylish and light machine with a comfortable keyboard, touchpad, long battery life and a crisp backflipping touchscreen. Extras include excellent speakers, USB-C charging and Windows Hello face login.

The Bad

Only one full-size USB port. No HDMI output or SD card slot. The fan is noisy and spins up frequently. The size tradeoff doesn't justify the missing features.

The Bottom Line

The new HP Spectre x360 is an excellent laptop with a lot to offer in a small package, but it's only incrementally better than the previous model, and leaves out some useful features.

That's not a rhetorical question, it's the deciding factor when you consider the latest version of the HP Spectre x360.

Earlier this year, I called the 13-inch Spectre x360 one of my favorite laptops, because it didn't force me to compromise. It offered powerful processors, long battery life, a beautiful backflipping hybrid screen, a relatively thin aluminum frame plus enough ports to plug in two monitors, a mouse, keyboard, a USB thumb drive and my camera's SD card simultaneously.

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The HP Spectre x360 has slimmed down.

Josh Miller/CNET

Starting at $1,049 or AU$2,299 (UK availability TBD) the new, slightly revamped version of the HP Spectre x360 is just as good in almost every way -- but it's missing a lot of those ports. Like Apple with its new MacBook Pro, HP chose thinness over utility.

HP Spectre x360 (late 2016)

Price as reviewed $1,099 in the US, AU$2,299 in Australia
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 1,920x1,080 touch-display
PC CPU 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U
PC Memory 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)
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Personally, I'd buy last year's laptop. The same point goes for last year's MacBook Pro if you need HDMI or USB-A ports. But I'm not you. Here's what you need to know about HP's new Spectre to make the right call.

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The Spectre x360's keyboard still folds back into a tablet mode.

Josh Miller/CNET

Pros:

  • Build quality: These days, a strong metal frame is table stakes for a $1,000-plus laptop, but the Spectre is exceptional. This new one, now just 13.8mm thick, doesn't bend even a little when I try to twist it. The hinges feel smooth and keep the screen where I put it, and I love the way the chromed edges gleam.
  • Wrist rests: Previous versions of the Spectre x360 -- like many thin metal laptops -- had rough edges that dug into my wrists after a while. This new one had a subtle curve that smooths them out.
  • Keyboard: The backlit keyboard is slightly slimmer than the previous model, but still comfortable to type on. Plus, new dedicated Home, Page Up, Page Down and End buttons on the right make navigating documents easier.
  • Touchpad: A wide panel of smooth glass, which is easy to use. Not MacBook-level for two-finger scrolling or pinch-to-zoom, but better than many Windows laptops. The cursor doesn't jump around when typing.
  • Speakers: The Spectre x360 now has four Bang & Olufsen branded speakers (the audio company "consults" on the audio, but doesn't design or build the speakers), with two of them pointing upward so audio no longer gets muffled by my lap. They can sound a little flat, but they're loud and clear. I actually enjoyed listening to music on the Spectre, and I can't say that about many thin laptops.
  • Battery life: We actually got an extra 1 hour, 20 minutes of battery life in our streaming video test (over 9 hours in all), but the same 6 to 6.5 hours of real-world use as the previous model. That's great battery life either way, you'll only find a few machines with longer runtimes.
  • USB-C charging: The new Spectre x360 can charge from either of its USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right side, which meant I could use USB-C chargers from other companies as long as they provided enough power. Dell's USB-C external battery pack, for instance, gave me nearly three extra hours of juice.
  • Face login: While not quite as quick and foolproof as the fingerprint reader I loved on the HP Envy 13, it's pretty awesome how the Spectre lets me log into Windows just by looking at the screen. (You need to set it up yourself; here's how.)

Cons:

  • Ports: This is the big one. It's still got a single full-size USB-A 3.0 port on the left, so I was still able to use my thumbdrive, but adding monitors or an SD card reader was impossible without adapters that didn't come in the box. You'll probably want to invest in a Thunderbolt 3 docking station.
  • Fan noise: The Spectre x360 could always get a little noisy, but I'd swear this new model spins up the fan more often (pretty much any time I plug it in to charge). It can sound whiny and annoying.
  • Power button: It took weeks to train myself not to accidentally hit the power button and put the machine to sleep when picking it up. Not a fan of the placement.
  • No higher-res display options: Many laptops, like the previous Spectre x360, now offer higher-def 2,560x1,440 or 3,200x,1800-pixel resolution screens. Here, you're stuck with 1,920x1,080, and there's also no OLED screen option yet -- both signs of a true premium laptop.
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The touchpad is better than many other Windows laptops.

Josh Miller/CNET

Also worth noting:

  • Size and weight: It's thin, at 13.8mm and light at 2.85 pounds, but that's only 2.1mm thinner and a third of a pound lighter than the previous model (which wasn't really meaningful for me). It's still cumbersome when used as a tablet.
  • Screen: It has a crisp, colorful 1,920x1,080p IPS display, which gets bright and has reasonably wide viewing angles -- but that's to be expected from today's PCs. The new thinner bezels are nice to (not) look at, but also make it easier to accidentally touch the screen.
  • Speed: The new 7th-gen Kaby Lake processors might be why I got an extra hour of streaming video, but they don't seem to make much of a difference in speed. There was a slight bump in one benchmark, but none in day-to-day use. It'll be just as fast as any other slim Core i5 notebook sold in the last couple years, which is plenty for most purposes.
  • Price: The new Spectre x360 has a slightly higher starting price, but evens out because it also now comes with 8GB of memory by default. That's a good thing, because Windows 10 can easily consume 4GB with just a handful of apps running at the same time.
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The hinge can help stand the computer up like a kiosk.

Josh Miller/CNET

Welcome to the port-light future

If you're ready to live in a future where you don't need (many) traditional ports, the new Spectre x360 is a great pick. I just wish HP had added a few of these improvements (like USB-C charging and face login) to the old design. You know, the one I personally prefer.

I'm just not quite sure why HP felt the need to make the Spectre x360 slimmer, since the company's under-10mm Spectre 13 already fills that role. HP's old Spectre x360 stood out in a crowded thin laptop market because it didn't skimp on ports and extras, but the new one feels like just another face in the USB-C crowd.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Dell XPS 13 (touch) 452HP Spectre x360 (late 2016) 492HP Spectre x360 (early 2016) 496Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (OLED) 590Microsoft Surface Book 610
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Dell XPS 13 (touch) 7878HP Spectre x360 (late 2016) 7680Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (OLED) 7378Microsoft Surface Book 7337HP Spectre x360 (early 2016) 6439
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test

Microsoft Surface Book 709HP Spectre x360 (late 2016) 561HP Spectre x360 (early 2016) 483Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (OLED) 482Dell XPS 13 (touch) 475
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System Configurations

HP Spectre x360 (late 2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD
HP Spectre x360 (early 2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Book Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M; 1TB SSD
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (OLED) Micorsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (touch) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
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8.2

HP Spectre x360 (late 2016)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Battery 8