Hands on: HP Spectre Folio Review

Leather is the new metal according to the fashionable Windows 2-in-1 Spectre Folio

First Impressions

The HP Spectre Folio is a lightweight 2-in-1 laptop that’s heavy on style and features, but not so heavy on battery staying power

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £1499
  • 13.3-inch Full HD touchscreen display
  • Intel Core i7-8500Y CPU
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD
  • Weight: 1.49kg

Editor’s note – this is a review in progress. We’re investigating an issue with the battery performance of the HP Spectre Folio, and are currently waiting on delivery of another review sample to determine whether what we’ve seen is indicative of the whole line or a one-off. We will update our review in due course.

If you’re shopping around for a premium 2-in-1 laptop-tablet, there will be a few things you’ll want your potential purchases to have before you hand over your money. You’ll want a big, high definition touchscreen which ideally supports styluses. You’ll want it to be light, so you can grab it and go if you’re in a hurry. You’ll want a nicely-spaced and responsive keyboard. And, you’ll want the 2-in-1’s body to be made of a premium-grade material, like… leather?

Aside from this curious sartorial choice, what else does the HP Spectre Folio have to offer? Let’s take a look beyond the leather.

What is the HP Spectre Folio?

The first thing you’ll notice about the laptop-tablet hybrid HP Spectre Folio is that it’s clad in leather. That’s right, the Folio has foregone the brushed aluminium of the Dell XPS 15 2 in 1 and the flexible carbon magnesium compound of the LG Gram 2 in 1 in favour of tanned cow skin. This is a pretty unusual move for a laptop maker, but it’s certainly eye-catching.

Aside from the leather jacket, the HP Spectre Folio 13 ak0001na also boasts a bundled stylus while the double-hinged display supports a number of different user modes: the traditional laptop mode, a ‘tent’ mode for watching video content, and a tablet mode for when you want to get some sketching done, or you simply wish to use the Folio as a Windows tablet.

Such skills put the Folio in direct competition with the likes of the Microsoft Surface Pro 6, which despite showcasing a more modular setup, is another lightweight tablet-laptop hybrid aimed at people who want a premium device suitable for both work and play. Can the leather design help the Folio become a worthwhile alternative, or is it destined for future most bizarre laptop EVER top 10 lists?

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HP Spectre Folio – Design

The HP Spectre Folio is a 2-in-1 Windows laptop with, as we’ve established, a rather distinctive look.

The show-off value of the HP Spectre Folio is undeniable. Whenever I broke this out in work meetings, colleagues cooed and joked this was the kind of laptop Patrick Bateman would be proud to show off. I’m unsure if that’s an endorsement or not. It’s relatively lightweight (1.49kg) and looks like an actual folio case when folded up too.

The HP Spectre Folio is intended for taking notes, making sketches and getting traditional office work done while on the go. The screen portion of the laptop is also hinged, so you can prop it up in tent mode which lends itself nicely to showing off your PowerPoint presentations, making video calls, or watching Netflix.

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When propped up in tent mode, the HP Spectre Folio is strong and stable… but that footed lambda shape means sound from the speakers is obscured.

This sees the chin of the screen resting neatly in the furrow between the trackpad and the end of the keyboard, which makes for a very sturdy-feeling Tent mode. If you want to use it to jot down notes or sketch away with a stylus, you can pull the screen all the way down so it rests on top of the keyboard, with Windows switching you to Tablet mode as you do so.

Some laptop-tablet hybrids, like the LG Gram 2 in 1, have the awkward design of a backward-facing keyboard when flipped into tablet mode. This not only feels odd, but isn’t fantastic for longevity – if you’ve got your device propped up in stand mode, with the keyboard facing down on a flat surface, and someone spills a drink, things could go bad quite quickly. The HP Spectre Folio’s design, however, means the keys will never be resting on a flat surface in the same way.  

Related: Best ultrabook 2019

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What’s this? Why, it’s the HP Spectre Folio’s stylus holder, of course.

An obvious downside of the HP Spectre Folio’s design is the positioning of the Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers. If you’re using it in Tent or Tablet mode, any sound coming out will be muffled thanks to the speakers being trapped behind the screen portion of the device. This doesn’t mean Netflix or iPlayer content is inaudible, just that things occasionally sound squashed.

Underneath the screen’s chin flap, there’s a little indentation over on the right. This is where the stylus holder, the small leather hoop that’s included in the box, sits. It actually works really well, even if the adhesive strip you use to stick the hoop to the Spectre’s body feels a little low-tech when compared with the magnetic stylus attachment of the Microsoft Surface Pro 6.

Measuring 321 x 234.5 x 15.4mm, the HP Spectre Folio is pretty thin, wire-thin in places where the leather tapers down to a flat edge. As such, it’s very light and will easily slip into your satchel, but there’s not a lot of room for ports here. There are three Type-C USB ports, two with Thunderbolt 3 support over on the right, and one USB 3.1 Gen 1 on the left that supports data transfer rates of up to 5Gbps. The Thunderbolt 3 tech, meanwhile, means the other two give you speeds of up to 40Gbps instead.

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The stylus holder solution is rather elegant, and gives you a convenient place to stash your HP Tilt Pen when you’re not using it.

All three ports support Power Delivery, so if it’s more practical for you to use a right-hand port at the place you’re working, you can still draw power. They also all support DisplayPort 1.2 as well, so you can connect the HP Spectre Folio up to an external monitor from any of the Type-Cs.

While the Thunderbolt 3 standard is versatile, the lack of any other kind of connection – no microSD card slot, no HDMI, not even old-school Type-A USB – means you’ll have to shell out for a dock or some dongles to get the most out of the Spectre Folio.

In fairness, HP does throw you a bone by way of a USB-A-to-USB-C dongle, which is included in the box, but you’ll likely want to get Ethernet and card reader adaptors too.

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HP Spectre Folio – Keyboard and touchpad

The HP Spectre Folio features a full QWERTY keyboard crammed into a small space. General typing feels good here as the keys are spongy and feature low travel.

You get Page Up/Down, Home, and End keys, which is nice as not every laptop maker throws these in. These keys are hemmed in over on the far right of the board though, so it’s easy to accidentally hit Page Down when you really meant to hit Enter.

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Like a lot of keyboards on 13-inch laptops, you don’t have a lot of breathing room here, but the overall typing experience is pretty good.

The arrow keys are also relegated to a small corner, which can make navigating large documents a pain. This is something a lot of 13-inch convertibles and ultrabooks suffer from, so it’s not a singular failing of the HP Spectre Folio, but worth pointing out – especially if you have large hands.

Similarly, the touchpad is tiny and – for me at least – not that responsive. I had to go to the settings to boost the sensitivity all the way to the max before I could comfortably use the Spectre Folio’s touchpad.

HP Spectre Folio – Display

The HP Spectre Folio has a 13.3-inch Full HD (1920×1080) touchscreen display that, on top of letting you sketch with a stylus and watch YouTube from multiple angles, performed very well during my tests.

Using DisplayCAL software and an X-Rite i1Display colorimeter, I recorded a peak brightness close to 400 nits (396.49) and black levels of 0.2343 nits, which adds up to an excellent contrast ratio of 1692:1. Anything which scores above 1000:1 is generally a good indicator that dark areas of photos and videos will look rich and deep, while brighter areas won’t look washed out and lacking in definition.

This certainly bore out in my everyday experience of the HP Spectre Folio with Netflix and iPlayer streams. I watched episodes of The Umbrella Academy and Fleabag on this, both of which featured several scenes shot at night, and dark areas of the action here were clear and detailed.

The Folio recorded a colour temperature of 7139K, which is slightly above the 6500K colour temperature that most closely resembles natural daylight. This means, in theory, the HP Spectre Folio’s display should look a little cooler/bluer than the displays of the Surface Pro 6 and Dell XPS 15 2 in 1, both of which gave colour temperature readings of 6265K and 6735K respectively. Nothing looked especially dull or blueish to my eyes, but it’s something you may pick up on if you’re a keen photographer.

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One of the best selling points of the HP Spectre Folio is the quality of its display.

In terms of colour space coverage, the HP Spectre Folio reached a respectable 96.2% of the sRGB gamut, which is excellent – digital art, from websites to comics, will look particularly good.

Less exciting was the fact that the Spectre Folio mustered just 67.6% and 70.5% of the Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 spaces. While some digital photographers are happy to shoot in sRGB, others prefer to work in Adobe RGB, as this is a wider and more ‘natural’ colour gamut. As most high end cameras can capture video in a RAW format, containing more info than what’s in the sRGB colour space, videographers like to work with displays which can cover more than 80% of the wider DCI-P3 gamut.

Frankly, if you want a laptop for video work, you shouldn’t be looking at the HP Spectre Folio anyway. It doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card and in terms of storage and RAM, you’re limited to 256GB and 8GB respectively – that doesn’t give you much in terms of on-board storage and 8GB is the minimum amount of memory you’d need for something like Adobe Premiere Pro to run.

As well as registering your digits (up to 10 points of multi-touch is supported here), the display also supports N-trig and Microsoft Pen Protocol. In a nutshell, this means that as well as working with the HP Tilt Pen stylus out of the box, the display will also recognise styli like Microsoft’s Surface Pen.

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HP Spectre Folio – Performance

There are no reliable benchmarks available for measuring stylus performance, but I can say I only really noticed lag when I was painting wide corner-to-corner brushstrokes. When making smaller motions, I was impressed by the speed and sensitivity. While I’m not a professional scribbler, I was pleased at how quickly the Spectre Folio reacted to my gestures.

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Sketching and note-taking on the HP Spectre is a real joy.

Freeware drawing program Krita worked out of the box, with the control on the side of the Tilt Pen stylus opening up a quick menu. The HP Spectre Folio can’t compete with a dedicated graphics tablet like the Wacom Cintiq Pro 24, but I think arts and graphics students could find a lot to love here.

How does the HP Spectre Folio perform as a laptop? A 1.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-8500Y Amber Lake CPU and 8GB RAM run the show here. The PC Mark 10 benchmark results, which simulates a range of everyday computing tasks from web browsing to word processing, saw the HP Spectre Folio score a sub-standard 2964. That’s quite far below the 4000 baseline score PC Mark 10’s maker Futuremark has pegged.

Geekbench single-core Geekbench multi-core PCMark 10
HP Spectre Folio (Core i7-8500Y 8GB RAM) 4617 8585 2964
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (Core i5-8250U 8GB RAM) 4080 13913 3309
LG Gram 2 in 1 (Core i7-8565U, 16GB RAM) 5233 15,633 3750

Geekbench 4, which is a pure CPU stress test, gave me single and multi-core scores of 4617 and 8585 each, which is just a hair above the 4000 and 8000 entry-level scores for that benchmarking suite. To round this out, I ran Maxon’s new Cinebench R20 CPU stress test, and got 656 cb.

As this is the first device I’ve run Cinebench R20 on, I can’t say how that stacks up overall. Maxon says that R20 is more advanced than the older R15 benchmark Trusted Reviews has used in previous laptop reviews – once we’ve tested out more machines with Cinebench R20 and have a better idea of what that result means, I’ll update this review.

In terms of GPU performance, the Folio served up predictably low benchmark results. It scored even worse than the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 and LG Gram 2 in 1 on the 3DMark Ice Storm test, and those devices already offer sub-par performances when it comes to advanced media editing and the like. That said, the HP Spectre Folio really isn’t really designed for video editing or gaming, so that shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

3DMark Ice Storm
HP Spectre Folio 45029
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 50,847
LG Gram 2 in 1 46,144

The disk read and write scores are very good at 3273.50MB/s and 1554.50MB/s respectively – the SSD HP’s used here is a Samsung MZVLB256HAHQ – but also typical of a PCIe NVMe-type solid state drive. In practical terms, this means that apps and files will (for the most part) load quickly, though on occasion, I’d find that Netflix would take several seconds to ghost into life, whereas other times it would load instantly. 

A final point on the HP Spectre Folios performance – it boasts an integrated eSIM which will let you connect to 4G networks on the go, instead of having to use a mobile broadband dongle or Wi-Fi hotspot. At the time of writing, the two network providers available for use, GigSky World Mobile Data and Ubigi, were not letting us connect, so I can’t currently comment on speeds and performance here. I’ll update this portion of the review as and when.

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HP Spectre Folio – Battery

Unfortunately, the battery performance of the HP Spectre Folio was not that fantastic on the model I tested. I dipped the screen’s brightness to 150 nits and used PC Mark 8’s built-in power performance tool to run the ‘home conventional’ simulation until the battery hit critical levels. This benchmark gave me a score of four hours and 13 mins, which is poor by most laptop’s standards – I’d have hoped for six hours at the very least.

By comparison, I got close to eight hours (seven hours and 55 minutes) with the Microsoft Surface Pro 6, but that was with the older, and less demanding Powermark benchmark test. That said, seven to eight hours is what I could expect to squeeze out of that device day to day anyway, so I expect that if I had run the same benchmarks on both devices, I would have seen similar results. Without having a Surface Pro 6 to hand to test this, I cannot say for sure, however. 

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Krita worked well on the HP Spectre Folio. Occasionally, the screen would detect my palm instead of the stylus, but correcting mistakes is easy enough.

Using the HP Spectre Folio conservatively – dipping the screen brightness to below 150 nits and using Ethernet via a USB adapter where I could – I’d be able to eke a bit more than five hours unplugged.

Anecdotally, I can say that for general office work  (writing documents in Google Docs, using Office 365, editing and resizing photos in GIMP) I could get around five to five and a half hours of use from the Spectre Folio before having to reach for the charger.

Using the supplied stylus to scribble away in Krita and Sketchpad with the screen’s brightness set to 150 nits, I would be down to about 89% battery after an hour, but after two hours, this fell to 72%.

I’ve contacted HP about this, who say our findings are atypical. Trusted Reviews is being sent a different review model to re-test this – this portion of the review will be updated as soon as possible. 

Why buy the HP Spectre Folio?

If you like the look of the Microsoft Surface Pro, but you’re stung by the idea of having to fork out extra for a keyboard and stylus, then the HP Spectre Folio is an excellent alternative.

For £1500 you’re getting something comparable to the Surface Pro 6 configuration with an Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, but without having to drop an extra £200-odd for a Type Cover keyboard dock and Surface Pen stylus. But, this recommendation does come with a few caveats – there’s just one flavour of the HP Spectre Folio on offer, meaning you’re limited to 256GB of storage and 8GB of memory.

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One of the three Type-C USB ports you get with the HP Spectre Folio. You’re going to have pick up a dongle or two here.

Audio quality is hampered when you’re watching content in Tent or Tablet mode. Hopefully future versions of the Folio will feature forward-firing speakers built into the screen portion to counteract this.

Battery performance may also be an issue, but we will run more tests to verify this before giving the Spectre Folio a definitive score.

If you can live with these issues and the storage options aren’t a deal breaker, then the HP Spectre Folio has plenty to offer – it looks fantastic (although we wish there was a leatherette, alcantara, or more animal-friendly version available), features Thunderbolt 3 ports, comes with an N-trig stylus included and is otherwise a top quality product.

Verdict

The HP Spectre Folio is a flexible and well-designed 2-in-1 Windows 10 laptop-tablet with a few drawbacks, including storage and a design which muffles the integrated speakers in certain configurations.

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