The Spectre 13 is the latest addition to HP’s range of premium notebooks, and it makes an immediate impact simply by differing from its rivals. Ease the lid open and the interior is dominated by the widest trackpad we’ve ever seen, and the aluminium isn’t the standard metallic colour – instead, it’s what HP calls “Truffle brown”.
Under the hood the Spectre is more conventional but no less impressive. It’s got a Haswell Core i5 processor, a 256GB SSD, and a 1,920 x 1,080 screen, so we won’t see any of the resolution-scaling issues that have plagued rivals with super-high resolution panels.
That Truffle brown description doesn’t mean that the Spectre looks like it’s been dug up from a farmer’s field – instead, the metal used for the interior is tastefully tinged with a light brown shade, with a darker colour used on the lid – a brown with a hint of purple.
The unique colouring helps the Spectre stand out – a good thing, because the rest of the HP’s exterior is typical Ultrabook. The bottom section tapers to a thin front edge, and the all-aluminium construction includes a sunken area for the Scrabble-tile keyboard. The screen is wafer-thin, and the 13.3in panel has a glossy black bezel.
Build quality is excellent. The aluminium around the keyboard and the trackpad didn’t budge when we pushed hard, and the screen is one of the sturdiest on any Ultrabook – there’s barely any give in the thin rear, and the desktop barely warped even when we pushed hard. The underside budged slightly, but it’s nothing to worry about. It’s in the top class of ultraportables, along with the Apple MacBook Air, Dell Latitude E7440 and the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus.
The Spectre’s body is just 15mm thin, but that extends to 18mm when the feet are included. That’s still svelte enough to compete: only one millimetre thicker than the MacBook, almost four more than the Samsung, and three millimetres thinner than the chunky Dell.
That 18mm body weighs 1.4kg. Again, that’s right in the middle of the pack – a tad heavier than the MacBook and the Samsung, and lighter than the Latitude.
Two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, one audio jack and an HDMI output is the normal port loadout for an Ultrabook, but HP goes one better by including a mini-DisplayPort connector. That’s a generous inclusion that means the HP can output to 4K displays as well as be used for various daisy-chained monitor setups.
There’s no Gigabit Ethernet, but there is a dual-aerial, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi chip – a decent inclusion for a consumer machine. It sits alongside Bluetooth 4.0.
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The glossy touchscreen has one attribute we immediately like: a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. That means there’s no chance of third-party software that struggles to scale on the super-high resolution screens we’ve seen on recent Ultrabooks, which makes the HP a much better prospect for effective working without tiny text, missing page furniture and other broken elements.
Our first impression, though, was of disappointment: plenty of third-party tools still looked blurry. That’s because HP had used Windows’ own settings to scale up the OS – so this 1080p screen mimicked a 1,366 x 768 panel. Once we’d turned everything down to its normal size, order was restored, and everything looked pin-sharp, if a little small.
It’s a superbly balanced screen: the 314 nit brightness level is ample, the 0.33 nit black level is even better, and the resultant contrast ratio of 951:1 is impressive. That final figure is excellent – much better than the Apple and Samsung machines because of the deeper black level, and not far behind the Dell’s contrast ratio.
The average Delta E of 2.08 is significantly better than the Apple and Dell machines, and the Spectre’s 6,676K colour temperature is similarly dominant – again better than both key rivals. Its sRGB gamut coverage of 87.6 per cent is one of the best we’ve seen on any Ultrabook, with only some red, pink and purple shades falling short.
The sensible resolution, great brightness and contrast and accurate colours mean that this is one of the best screens we’ve ever seen on an Ultrabook: more quality and pixels than the MacBook Air, better quality than the 1080p Dell Latitude, and easier to use than every high-resolution rival.
The speakers aren’t as impressive. They’re Beats-branded, but lack the punchy bass synonymous with the Apple-owned brand. The low-end lacks bite, and there’s nothing to shout about in the mid-range. The high-end’s hi-hats are tinny and loud enough to dominate entire songs.