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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Comments (26)

26 responses to “HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) Review”

  1. Avatar

    mjw149

    The other thing about the folding screen is that even if you never use it as a tablet, you know the hinge is high quality and durable. That's a great thing in any laptop.

    • Avatar

      ecumenical

      In reply to mjw149:

      Agreed. And the tablet mode receives the most attention from reviewers, but actually presentation mode is by far the most useful. I dock my Yoga every day in my office to an external keyboard, monitor, and mouse, and presentation mode allows me to use the laptop screen as a second monitor. A 15 inch laptop would be perfect for this usage. It's also good on airplanes or for setting up a portable Netflix unit around the house.

    • Avatar

      jkosborn4

      In reply to mjw149:

      My wife uses presentation mode on her Yoga all the time to watch movies and play solitaire games. She never uses it as a tablet, but wouldn't want to give up those hinges.

    • Avatar

      Ugur

      In reply to mjw149:

      Yeah, i very rarely use those devices i have which allow things like tent mode in actual tent mode, but i love it that the hinge allows to bend it backwards way more.

      For example my Macbook Pro (the last good version they put out, so the end of 2015 version) does not have any such fancy hinge stuff and the screen can't be tilted back very far which i already find annoying when just using it propped up while laying on the couch.


      With all these convertible stand/full twist hinge/touchscreen with pen support etc type of stuff it's really not about using all those features constantly or how often one uses it, but rather that it's extremely handy to have when one wants to use it to some extend in between.

  2. Avatar

    Ugur

    I think this device looks neat but i still find it weird that meanwhile there was a push for smaller and smaller laptops so long that now suddenly a 15 inch is categorized as "big".

    I find that quite sad, i already have my small devices, and basically feel like i have enough small and medium sized devices for a good long while.

    Bigger and bigger getting phones and tablets fill that niche pretty well for me. I also have several 15 inch laptops/convertibles already.

    What i'd like to see more of again would be bigger screen laptops.

    I mean if they made 17 inch or even 19 inch ones one could make such nice thin and sleek looking and super powerful laptops with a 17 inch or even bigger screen now, it could totally replace quite a powerful desktop.

    As soon as it has to be 15 inch or smaller, it in most cases either doesn't have enough room for large battery for going long or it doesn't have a dgpu or if it has it's not exactly on nice gamer/3d work etc levels.

    (There are a few exceptions to this rule, but yeah, i still would prefer an almost bezel less 17 inch screen for them over a 15 inch, too)

  3. Avatar

    bsd107

    What is the actual point of the GeForce 940MX in this laptop? With such a weak GPU, I'd prefer just sticking with integrated graphics, such as i7 Iris Plus (an option on the 13" x360 models) which is essentially just as powerful. Would save power and possibly allow some size reduction, too.

    • Avatar

      dstrauss

      reply to bsd107: (1) Because everyone would complain if there were no discrete GPU, even if it is lackluster; and (2) even the lowly 940 does some things better than Iris Plus. Its also only paired with a dual core CPU, so I would assume that adds a second bottleneck. However, unlike the Dell, it offers a full four channel Thunderbolt 3, giving you better access to a dGPU external dock, which could be the ace in the hole for HP.


  4. Avatar

    Irfurious W

    I spent the better part of yesterday reading up about this version of the Spectre x360 before I decided to purchase it. My only other options at the moment really were XPS 15 with 4k monitor (which would have cost me almost 1k EUR more in my country and that camera placement...) and Yoga 720 (which does not yet sell globally). The only thing that bothers me about this machine is that lackluster 940MX, which will eventually mean that this will not last me quite as long as it otherwise would. I will mostly use this for web development, presentations, video conferencing and data analysis and balancing the specs of the various machines, this just seemed to tick the most boxes.

  5. Avatar

    jflucas

    Purchased the Spectra as a gift and has worked beautifully.

  6. Avatar

    Armysniper89

    I got one of these to replace an Lenovo 910 that was defective not once but twice on delivery. Broken keys, broken trackpad. Horrible service. Anyways, I got the HP Spectre x360 15t and I love it. BUT I have one bone to pick with it. The screen seems to shake a lot when typing on a knee or on a solid surface. Has anyone else seen this? Paul did you notice the screen shake? Want to make sure I don't need to get it replaced. I had seen other reviews say they had some but this seems rather wobbly.

  7. Avatar

    Josh Durston

    Nice machine.  I'm surprised that there isn't more complaining about 16:9 being a compromised aspect ratio for laptops, especially with the MS Surface machines doing it better. Lots of bezel top and bottom that could be pixels, especially in a world of web pages and documents that almost always require vertical scrolling.


    On bigger desktop screens I think 16:9 or wider makes sense as it matches the human field of view, but on any screen 24" and smaller 16:10 is the way to go IMHO.

    • Avatar

      RobertJasiek

      In reply to Josh Durston:

      The problem is not that there are 16:9 devices for those wishing them. The problem is that too many manufacturers offer many of their products only as 16:9 and not also as 4:3 or 5:4 or at the very least 3:2.

      For desktop monitors, I use 5:4 now and this is even better than 4:3. Since 2000, I almost exclusively use portrait positition. And matte, of course.

      This means that notebooks or convertibles are not for me; no portrait position. However, all those many 16:9 (or 16:10) notebooks have the most unfortunate side effect that too many manufacturers also produce too many 16:9 tablets and 2-in-1s (which can be used as tablets), which are useless for 99.9% of my use. I need 4:3 or 5:4 or at the very least 3:2 or 1:1.

      Currently, there are zero non-ruggedised Windows tablets and 2-in-1s with a matte 5:4, 4:3, 3:2, 12:10 (see Sony DPT-RP1 with eInk, for PDF only, unspecified OS) or 1:1 display. Zero! Not to mention such with sufficient battery life.

      Why, o, why, don't manufacturers fill this huge, long-term market gap?! While there are reasons why mainly 16:9 is useful for smartphones and TVs, this is different for desktop monitors, all-in-ones, notebooks, convertibles, 2-in-1s and tablets: these device types have roughly equal demand for narrow displays (at least 16:10) and broad displays (at most 3:2). However, the supply market meets this demand for desktop monitors and partially for notebooks but not for convertibles, 2-in-1s and tablets, especially with matte displays and stylus. Dear manufacturers, you want to increase income? Fill this market gap!

      Instead, they force nerds to produce their own devices, such as Thinkpad X62 or Windows 10 installed on a 10 years old tablet with 4:3 matte display (see http://www.windowscentral.com/windows-10-on-microsoft-surface-coffee-table ). Nice cries at the manufacturers about what they should be doing but such studies do not result in useful devices for ordinary people because old chassis or CPUs are hardly useful any longer.

      For me, 16:9 (or 16:10) and productive work are mutually exclusive. Also consumption of everything else than my rare 16:9 video stream watching is very bad with these aspect ratios. I have nothing against 16:9 for those needing it but I criticise all manufacturers for maintaining the mentioned market gap.

      4:3 is offered for iOS (for me, totally useless for productive work; paper and pen are much more efficient...), Amazon fire (totally useless and tiny), by cheap China or Lenovo devices (only glare and never sufficient battery duration). The current 3:2 fashion for Windows 2-in-1s would offer at least a compromise but with zero matte displays the manufacturers refuse to take my money and force me to stay at the PC.

      PCs even have a great advantage: they often work for 10 years like on day 1 and, if really needed, replacement components are still available then. So at least the disadvantage of immobility is compensated by very low cost for very high quality with perfect configuration according to the endconsumer's needs. In comparison, mobile devices are still like PCs in the early 1990s: selective offer, short lifespan, frequent security risks. Yes, I know, the top HP mobile devices are better than that (except for the glare displays and tiny arrow keys) but not with respect to a variety of offer. 4:3 remains missing.

  8. Avatar

    krisarthur

    Now I'm waiting for the Dell XPS 15" review! Both seem like solid models I think Dell's touchpad is a bit better I think... but I'm only using laptops in-store and they are demo units..... even though I do tweak them. I like the video card on the Dell XPS better but the battery life does concern me on the Dell.


  9. Avatar

    jkosborn4

    I don't need a 4k monitor on my laptop. I still use software that won't use the scaling, so it would be itty bitty on this screen.

  10. Avatar

    Deryk Lister (LakesGeek)

    Thanks for the review. Depending on some things a nice "premium" laptop may be on my radar soon. It's a shame it's always a compromise, though the Lenovo Yoga 720 is looking like it may be less of one as it uses a quad core CPU (but we'll see how high the price is when it comes to the UK). I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who does use a 15" laptop in tablet mode - I think it'd have uses for drawing or photo editing, either laying flat on a desk (like a very heavy sheet of paper), or how I often use a laptop which is sat on a bed with it actually on my lap (so would raise my knees a bit to operate it like that). I wouldn't use it as a "hold it in the air with one hand" kind of tablet ;) But maybe this is less practical than I'm imagining.

  11. Avatar

    John Quirke

    "Hmmmm,.........;" - Really Gr8 review Paul & enjoyed very much: One, maybe two quibbles. In a $2800 NZD Device, I expect bells & whistles & don't spare the horses, James. So I expect a top-flight, flagship beasty to be VR/ AR-Capable (Out of the box - Am I being unreasonable?) & This device needs a min spec, Nvidia GTX 1050ti (4GB Card, Jest like it's major competitor, The Dell XPS 15) to meet "VR-Readiness".

    Secondly, I want M.2 NVMe "PLUS' "OPTANE" (32GB will do; I'm NOT a greedy person). So those are my demands & If'n they aren't met, I will defect to the "convertible opposition", whoever they may be & as they identify themselves - & so adieu & Caio 4 now, QMAMBO13. ?

  12. Avatar

    Wild_B

    Like many new PCs there is no CD/DVD player. This makes it difficult to set up as a dual boot (Windows/Linux) computer or to try various other combinations.

  13. Avatar

    zvonimirm

    Thank you Paul for review, I was waiting for it.

  14. Avatar

    chrisrut

    A bit of clarification please: how big? How heavy?

    • Avatar

      dstrauss

      In reply to chrisrut: 4.4 lbs, same as Dell XPS 15 and 0.4 lbs heavier than MacBook Pro 15. It is slightly taller (front to back) than either of those two (0.5" more or less), and a little thicker. It's basically a wash if you are willing to carry the Dell or MBP. For about 60% of the price, compared to the Dell you get full Thunderbolt 3, convertibility, pen support, and better keyboard; compared to MBP you get USB-A, HDMI 2.0, SD Card, convertibility, pen support, and better keyboard. You give up higher-end graphics and quad-core performance, but unless you are a gamer or graphics artist, I think it is an excellent trade-off for the $1,000 savings.


    • Avatar

      phytio

      In reply to chrisrut:

      Big enough that it won't fit in most "laptop" bags; heavy enough that you are not holding it in one hand for long and switching it to tablet mode is cumbersome, due to having to switch the weight of the computer between hands. Tricky to explain.

  15. Avatar

    EugB

    Is the weight listed in here and I'm just missing it?

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