Introduction, Design, Features
What did you get for your second birthday? Probably a stuffed animal. Maybe a Batman T-shirt. A new pair of footie pajamas.
What did HP’s Spectre x360 13 get for its second birthday? The 13.3-inch convertible was already one of our favorites, both as a 2-in-1 and as a thin and light laptop. Its most recent upgrade brought an Intel seventh-generation “Kaby Lake” processor, two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, and stylishly thin bezels for its touch screen.
That screen, however, had the same resolution the Spectre has had since its 2015 debut—1,920×1,080 pixels, also known as full HD or 1080p. Today, HP is unwrapping two presents: an ultra-high-resolution 4K (3,840×2,160) panel and a stylus pen, letting the convertible that was born to compete with Apple’s MacBook AirMicrosoft’s Surface Book.
The 4K version of the Spectre x360 13 sells for $1,599 ($250 more than the full HD model) with a Core i7-7500U CPU, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB PCIe solid-state drive. The stylus is standard in the box, as is a carrying sleeve, though there’s no niche or place to store the pen in the computer—you’ll have to keep it in your shirt pocket.
Presumably you’ll keep your reading glasses there too, because 4K is an awful lot for a 13.3-inch display: Images and videos look razor-sharp, but productivity apps’ icons and menus can be tiny. Indeed, the HP arrived with Windows 10’s zoom scaling set to 300 percent, which we felt was too much—line widths held only as many characters as a 1,366×768 laptop—so we dialed it back to 250 percent.
Like other convertibles, the Spectre has been to one of Lenovo’s Yoga classes, learning how to flip and fold between laptop mode and a tablet configuration or perching on a desk or table in an easel-like stand mode or A-frame tent mode. Unlike 15.6-inch convertibles, it’s not too heavy or bulky to be comfortable in tablet mode, although you’ll probably use it in your lap or on a desk rather than held in one hand.
Compared to the 1080p Spectre, the 4K screen adds a couple of hundredths of an inch and hundredths of a pound here and there; the system measures 12.1 by 8.6 by 0.55 inches and weighs 2.89 pounds, still vanishingly thin and light in your briefcase. The aluminum-clad x360 is also one of the most strikingly good-looking laptops you can buy, from the stylized four-diagonal-lines HP logo on its lid to the copper accents that highlight its dark gray finish.
The logo reappears centered beneath the screen, while Bang Olufsen and Spectre (minus the octopus symbol) insignia mark opposite corners of the keyboard deck. The Intel Core i7 Inside sticker on the palm rest is small, which partly makes up for the fact that such stickers always seem to us to be a bit crooked. The 1080p Webcam above the display captures better-than-averagely bright, detailed images and video.
The HP feels solidly built and well balanced. The screen wobbles a little when poked and swiped, but doesn’t bend when you grasp its corners, and the keyboard tray is flex-free as well. Two speakers are mounted below the filigreed grille at the top of the keyboard, with two more on the convertible’s bottom; they provide crisp and rich sound that easily fills a room, though bass is subdued and we noticed some echo creeping in at peak volume.
The tiny, recessed power switch is on the Spectre’s left side, along with a USB 3.0 port, an audio jack, and a row of ventilation slots—the system doesn’t get particularly hot in use, though you’ll hear a faint, water-running-somewhere-in-the-house fan noise.
On the right side, you’ll find a volume rocker and two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, either of which works with the HP’s compact AC adapter. Missing in action are an SD or micro SD card slot and an HDMI or DisplayPort video output (connecting an external monitor requires a USB-C dongle).
We despair of HP ever listening to our complaint in every laptop review and fixing its icky placement of the arrow keys—half-sized up and down cursor arrows sandwiched between full-sized left and right arrows, rather than the inverted T on which other vendors rely. But at least the Spectre has dedicated instead of Fn-key-combination Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys, as well as convenient top-row function keys for settings such as volume, screen brightness, keyboard backlight, and airplane mode.
More important, the keyboard rewards users with quick and comfortable typing. It has a somewhat shallow but snappy feel, with just the right amount of pressure needed to trigger just the right kind of response. Firmer than, say, a Lenovo—and we regularly swoon over Lenovo keyboards—it’s almost reminiscent of a mechanical desktop keyboard.
The extra-wide touch pad below the keyboard works smoothly, though we preferred tapping its surface to clicking the lower corners, which felt a bit stiff. The pad is so much wider than it is high that vertical scrolling maneuvers felt slightly cramped, but multi-finger gestures worked without a hitch.
Images and videos, as we said, looked terrific on the sunny 4K IPS screen, with sharp details, wide viewing angles, and keen contrast. Text was free of jaggies, while colors were popping fresh (at least at the top few brightness settings).
Sketching and scribbling with the provided stylus felt smooth, with minimal lag, though palm rejection wasn’t perfect. A supplied utility lets you choose among a score of functions to assign to the pen’s two buttons (normally right-click and erase).