We go hands-on with HP's flagship laptop
When HP announced its Spectre laptop and showed it off to US journalists last month, I was on the fence about it. The grey and copper-coloured device – also the world’s thinnest laptop powered by Intel Core i processors at 10.4mm thick – looked just a little bit too full of itself, a little too glamorous.
Having seen it in the flesh at an HP event last night, my initial opinions have been confirmed. This is a technically impressive laptop that’s a little let down by its high-end appeal. This laptop is of the type you'd find gleaming on the shelves in Harrods. It’s almost an impulse buy model for the super-rich. HP is quite clearly trying to reposition the Spectre line as a high-end lifestyle brand, starting with the Spectre 13.
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Let’s begin with the positives. Under the shiny exterior, the HP Spectre 13 is technically brilliant. It’s absurdly thin – thinner than a MacBook – and packs an Intel Core i5-6300U or i7-6500U. Both are capable, low-power dual-core chips, and they're paired with 8GB of RAM. They’re more powerful than the Core M chips in the MacBook, and the same specification as the Surface Pro 4. Most interestingly, this is the same processor choice as the Dell XPS 13, which is slightly chunkier and around 100g heavier.
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How has HP managed to cram so much into such little space? The company says it’s possible thanks to Intel’s Hyperbaric cooling system, which not only ejects hot air from the laptop, but actively sucks cool air in and across components that need to be cooled.
It isn't yet clear exactly what voltages the processors will be running at, since Intel leaves some wiggle room when shipping these processors to manufacturers; it may be that while the core processor is the same, it may be less powerful. This is pure speculation, however, since there’s no final specification list.
What was apparent in my time with this laptop, where the most challenging task I could set was to open several media-heavy web pages, is that the Spectre 13 is a speedy performer. Pages were responsive almost instantly, and the touchpad reacted without delay – and without issue – to Windows 10 gestures or more basic taps and clicks.
Aside from its incredible 10.4mm thickness and 1.1kg weight, build quality is reasonable; not exceptional. There was a significant level of flex in the lid, which is expected considering the slender frame of the laptop, but the keyboard stood up well to scrutiny under my fairly harsh typing style. The keys themselves have a reasonable amount of travel, but being conventional laptop key switches, they suffer slightly due to the laptop’s thinness.
HP makes plenty of noise about the piston-style hinges, and while they certainly help to achieve a thinner overall design, they didn’t feel like they had much strength. I felt nervous pulling the lid open with any force.
The screen, while perhaps not best demonstrated under fairly harsh lighting, looks decent. It’s a Full HD IPS panel coated in Corning Gorilla Glass, so it should stand up well to scratches. Unusually for a Windows laptop display with a glossy finish, it isn't a touchscreen.
At the rear of the Spectre 13 sit three USB Type-C ports. The HP representative on hand said that all three could be used for charging the device, and that a Type-C to standard USB adapter will be supplied in the box. There’s no USB to Ethernet adapter, however, so you’ll have to buy one separately if you prefer to have wired internet access.
As an about-town sort of laptop, I can absolutely imagine the Spectre 13 being a very appealing choice. Its light weight and slim design means it can fit into even the smallest and tightest of satchels, which is something the vast majority of laptops – even many ultraportables – cannot do. It's hard to tell how easily the Spectre 13 will hold up to knocks and scrapes; while the Gorilla Glass screen is nice, this coating does not extend to any other part of the laptop, and I couldn't tell by touch how durable the aluminium coating will be.
HP rates battery life at 9 hours, but since Windows 10’s battery life estimation was disabled on the Spectre 13 demonstration model, I can’t verify these claims. If it gets anywhere close, it would be very impressive given the specifications.
Pricing of the laptop is steep, although with these specifications it isn't actually outrageous as it first appears. All models will include 512GB of PCI Express-based SSD storage and 8GB of RAM. A Core i5 model will set you back £1,149, which isn’t a huge amount more than a MacBook, and should be a good deal more powerful.
According to a company representative, the Spectre 13 should land with retailers from July, and will be available on the HP website within a month, so you've not got long to decide whether you want one or not.
While the Spectre 13's design certainly won’t be to everyone's taste, the laptop is technically very impressive. If it lives up to its claims, it could be a genuinely compelling machine. Its thin and light build are by far the most appealing features, and if performance holds up this could be a serious contender for the best ultraportable this year.