HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) Review

Posted on April 13, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 26 Comments

HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) Review

Like its predecessor, the 2017 15-inch HP Spectre x360 is a productivity monster. But this version dials it up with a gorgeous new design, an incredible 4K display, and more modern technology across the board.

As you may know, I’ve long preferred large-screen portable PCs. So when HP revealed its stunning first-generation Spectre x360 with a 13.3-inch display in early 2015, I asked the company whether they’d ever consider a 15-inch version. I was surprised when they complied a year later, and the resulting Spectre x360 15-inch was an ideal machine for productivity users who prefer big screens, as I do.

But according to HP, I’m not alone. In that unique market-within-a-market that the company describes as premium hybrid PCs, fully 65 percent of customers prefer 15-inch displays over 13-inch displays. So when HP updated the smaller Spectre x360 in late 2016 with a stunning new design, I was eager to see what they might do with the 15-inch version.

And boy, am I not disappointed.

At a high level, the new 15-inch HP Spectre x360 addresses the same needs as its predecessor, of course: It’s a 15-inch premium convertible PC with a gorgeous and professional design and modern componentry. And the changes HP made for the 2017 model were crafted largely by feedback: 93 percent of the customers who buy such devices prefer high-DPI displays. 97 percent prefer a thin or no bezel display. And almost 80 percent value dedicated graphics capabilities for use in productivity scenarios (as opposed to, say, gaming). For the Spectre x360 specifically, customers were overwhelming in favor of HP’s unique Ash Silver and Copper color scheme, which was optional on the previous generation version.

You can see the impact of this feedback on the new HP Spectre x360 15 immediately.

Design

This is a handsome computer. And silver isn’t even an option: Instead, that darker Ash Silver and Copper color scheme is now standard, really differentiating it from other PCs. Some may find the color scheme polarizing, I suppose. But to my eyes, it is both professional and attractive. And it radiates “premium” in ways that a bland silver color simply cannot.

Helping matters nicely is the sculpted, CNC-machined aluminum construction body, and the fact that the copper color neatly accents the edges of the device whether it’s open or closed. Even the hinges—themselves tiny works of art—are highlighted, delicately, in copper.

The color scheme is an obvious improvement, but there are smaller design touches that further elevate the 2017 Spectre x360 15 above its predecessor. Curved areas like the keyboard surround and touchpad are more sculpted and well-defined, emphasizing the premium look. And the new, more aggressive and modern HP logo adorns the back of the display lid, adding character and even a sense of masculinity.

But there’s no getting around the fact that this 15-inch Spectre is a big, and heavy, computer. If you’re familiar with the latest generation of the 13-inch Spectre x360, you know that HP was able to trim off lots of size and weight compared to its predecessor. But that is not the case with the 15-inch version. It’s a bit smaller than its predecessor overall, about an inch less wide, but it is slightly thicker and just as bulky. It’s a laptop, and is in no way thin or light.

2017 Spectre x360 15 (top) and 2016 Spectre x360 15 (bottom)

According to HP, that is by design: Because the 4K/UHD display, described below, consumes so much more power than the Full HD panel on the previous generation Spectre x360 that I reviewed, it needed to pack more battery inside to help compensate.

That effort was successful, as my battery life testing indicates. But where the 13-inch Spectre x360 is a marvel of portability, the 15-inch version is big. And that will take it out of the running for many, I know.

Display

Aside from the design, the display is the other outwardly obvious change from last year: As with the 13-inch Spectre x360, the 15-inch models provide what HP calls a micro-edge display, which in this case results in a minimal 4.65 mm of bezel on the left and right. (That’s less than one-fifth of an inch.)

The net effect of those small bezels is attractive for sure, but it doesn’t have the same impact here as it does on the smaller x360 for the reasons noted above. The display, however, is stunning: It’s a 15.6-inch touch- and pen-enabled 4K/UHD panel running at 3840 x 2160 pixels. A similar display was optional on last year’s version, but this time around it’s standard, and HP doesn’t even offer Full HD or Quad HD options.

A year ago, I might have questioned this decision: I actually requested the Full HD panel for last year’s Spectre x360 15 review unit. But I’ve come full circle on this one, thanks to more experience with 4K displays and ongoing improvements to Windows 10’s support for high-DPI.

As a convertible PC, the Spectre x360 is somewhat ludicrous on the face of things, and very few people will actually use this machine as a very large and heavy tablet. But I’m not sure that’s the point. The versatility of the x360 form factor means that it can be used in a variety of configurations, including tent and presentation modes, plus it can lay completely flat. These uses put it over the top compared to traditional laptops.

Components and ports

Internally, the 15-inch HP Spectre x360 very closely resembles its 13-inch sibling, with one exception, a dedicated graphics processing unit, or dGPU. This makes sense given its productivity focus. But the Dell XPS 15 offers a quad-core CPU, more RAM, and even beefier dGPU options, and is in effect a portable workstation. The Spectre is more akin to Surface Book with Performance Base, with standard laptop parts plus a fairly middling dGPU.

More specifically, what we’re looking at here is a dual-core Intel Core i7-7500U microprocessor, Intel HD Graphics 620 and NVIDIA GeForce 940X (2 GB) graphics, 16 GB of RAM, and a speedy 512 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD. You can configure the device with up to 1 TB of SSD, but 16 GB is the max on RAM.

In day-to-day productivity work, the Spectre x360 excels, as one should expect. But I was curious about the performance of this system compared to such entries as the Surface Book with Performance Base and the more powerful Dell XPS 15 (which I’ll be reviewing soon). And I think I have two measurements that may be of interest.

The first is a video encoding test in which I take the 4K/UHD version of the video Tears of Steel and convert it to a high-quality 1080p format using Handbrake. The Dell XPS 15 is able to complete this test in 54:29, which is pretty close to gaming PC performance. But the HP Spectre x360 15 trailed all of the PCs I’ve tested so far, requiring 1:39:33 to complete this work. The Surface Book with Performance Base, by comparison, took a similar 1:34:05.

Next is the HP’s gaming performance, which likewise bears out the notion that the dGPU it includes is aimed more at standard productivity work than workstation or gaming scenarios.

Gears of War 4 is a good example: The game optimizes for very low resolution—960 x 720—and tunes most of the visual settings to Low or Off in order to maintain something close to 60 fps. It plays fine. And it even looks OK, I guess, but offers nothing like the visual splendor this game produces on the HP OMEN 17 (a gaming laptop) or the Dell XPS 15.

Put simply, the HP Spectre x360 15 provides enough oomph for productivity work, and for light gaming at best.

HP has chosen well from a ports and expansion perspective. The Spectre x360 15 sports a full-sized USB 3 port and SD card slot on the left, plus two USB-C ports (one with Thunderbolt 3) and full-sized HDMI-out on the right. The power supply is enormous, and it includes a long cable, but it is at least USB-C-based and not a proprietary plug.

The Spectre includes dual Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers with discrete amplifiers that border the keyboard on the left and right. This may seem like a step down from the 13.3-inch Spectre x360, which features four speakers. But these are considerably bigger than the speakers found in that smaller sibling, and they drive deeper, fuller sound, especially when the system is used normally, in laptop mode. This is an excellent system for movies and other videos, and for music. And like the HP ENVY Curved All-in-One PC that I recently reviewed, you can use a simple utility to configure the sound to your liking if needed.

The webcam is nothing special, but it supports Windows Hello and, unlike with the Dell XPS 15, it’s in the right place, at the top of the screen.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

The 15-inch Spectre x360 features one of the very best portable keyboards I’ve ever used, with an ideal key travel of 1.5 mm and a mechanical-style feel that I find delightful. I’ve gone back and forth between this PC and the Surface Book, and have finally decided it’s a toss-up: Each is slightly different, but both offer excellent typing experiences.

The etched glass touchpad has proven less successful. Despite enjoying recent HP entries, this one gave me troubling palm rejection errors despite many attempts at configuring a fix. HP tells me that this was possibly due to me receiving an early production unit. I’m not sure. But given how happy I am with the touchpad on other Spectre x360s, it’s possible that this is an edge case.

The Spectre x360 also includes an Active Pen, which is admirable. But given the bulkiness of the device, I’d be surprised if it attracted much usage. You pretty much need to use the PC in tablet mode, and this makes for a big tablet. Kudos to HP for color matching the pen, though.

Battery

With the move to 4K/UHD as the only display option, one might reasonably assume that the 2017 Spectre x360 would deliver much lower battery life than its 1080p-based predecessor. But it’s not as bad as expected: HP claims that the PC delivers battery life of up to 12.75 hours where it rated last year’s 1080p models at 13 hours. (The previous-gen Spectre x360 15 with a 4K display was rated at just 9.5 hours.)

In my battery life tests, the HP delivered about 7.5 hours of battery life, compared to an observed 7 hours for its (1080p) predecessor. But this is a bigger advantage for HP than is immediately obvious: The Dell XPS 15, which I’ve not yet reviewed, only provides about 5 hours of battery life in my tests so far. That said, Surface Book with Performance Base delivered an impressive 11.5 hours.

As important as the battery life, HP Fast Charge technology will get you back up and running quickly: You can obtain a 50 percent charge in just 30 minutes. I guess that explains the giant power supply.

Software

The Spectre x360 15 ships with Windows 10 Home, but Windows 10 Pro is available if you customize a system at HP.com. The software preload is a strange mix of crapware and truly useful utilities, and something I’d like to see HP get under control again. Some of this is Microsoft’s fault of course, as Windows 10 comes with its own non-sensical crapware. And to be fair, some of HP’s utilities, like HP Support Assistant, HP Recovery Manager, and Orbit, are useful and worth exploring.

Pricing and configurations

HP offers several basic configurations for its Spectre x360 15, but they all provide an Intel Core i7 processor, NVIDIA 940MX graphics, and a 15.6-inch 4K/UHD display. The base model provides 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, and costs $1279, and is what I would buy if I were spending my own money. But you can upgrade to 16 GB/512 GB for $1500—that’s the retail configuration, too–or 16 GB/1 TB for $1700.

Recommendations and conclusions

If you prefer a larger screen and don’t mind a bit of heft, the HP Spectre x360 15 is a great choice. Thanks to its stunning Ash Silver and Copper color scheme and premium build quality, the HP is more professional-looking than the Dell XPS 15, and it provides better battery life and versatility, thanks to its convertible design. But if you need more than basic productivity tasks—gaming, of course, but also video work—the Dell will be the better option. Assuming you don’t want a convertible, that is.

I’m comfortably in HP’s target market for this device, however, and I really appreciate the huge, vivid screen, the incredible typing experience, and the nicely balanced set of expansion ports. The Spectre x360 15 is highly recommended.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Superior typing experience
  • Gorgeous 4K screen
  • Excellent battery life
  • Premium style and materials

Cons

  • Big, heavy
  • Glitchy touchpad
  • Dedicated graphics are lackluster

 

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