HP Spectre 13 (2017) First Impressions

Posted on November 1, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 16 Comments

The design of the original Spectre 13 laptop was a bit controversial, but there will be no debate this time around: The new Spectre 13 is a stunner. Period.

I mean, seriously. Are you kidding me?

HP announced the first generation Spectre 13 in April 2016, and I reviewed it a few months later, noting that it was a stunning, premium device that didn’t sacrifice performance for a stellar if somewhat controversial design.

That last bit concerns the color treatment, which HP has since shipped in modified form on its other premium PCs. But on the original Spectre 13, the copper accents were far too big and shiny, and it was too easily smudged.

For 2017, HP is setting that right, and then some. Even better, it has managed to fix a number of other concerns that some may have had with the first generation device.

So let’s talk design first.

For 2017, HP is offering two color schemes, a more muted and matte version of the original dark ash and copper and a gorgeous new ceramic white version with pale gold accents. Both are stunning in their own right, and if you were put off by the garishness of the original, either of these new versions should be more pleasing. But there is just something special about the latter color scheme. It’s really going to stand out, and you can expect to get random comments and questions from jealous onlookers.

And to be clear, it’s not just a set of colors. HP applied the white color to the CNC aluminum case using an Advanced Electron Deposition (AED) process that it says will resist both discoloration and scratching. And while I certainly can’t speak to its effectiveness quite yet, I will tell you that the surface of this device feels wonderfully durable and has a—yes, ceramic-like—hardness to it that does a lot to sell the premium nature of this device. It’s just excellent.

Beyond the new colors, HP has taken last year’s world’s thinnest laptop and transformed it into what is now the world’s thinnest touch laptop. That is, it’s the same thinness as before—10.4 mm, about the same thinness as an AAA battery—but it’s also smaller, by volume, meaning that it is narrower, left to right, and less deep.

The key to this change—and again, the original was already magically thin, small, and portable—is two-fold. On the top, the 13.3-inch display is surrounded by tiny micro-bezels (though HP should be credited for keeping the webcam at the top where it belongs, unlike—cough—the Dell XPS). And on the bottom, the full-sized keyboard is an edge-to-edge design that I find quite attractive.

HP also moved around some components, resulting in a visual—and, potentially, a usability—change. Thanks to the edge-to-edge keyboard, the speakers have been moved to the top of the keyboard deck (they were previously on the sides). But now they sound better, and sound deeper too.

Also, the keyboard has been moved a tad closer to the front of the device, resulting in a smaller wrist rest. On the good news front, the touchpad is wider and should be more usable.

If there’s one downside to the new design—and this one is a stretch—it’s that it is the tiniest bit heavier than the previous model, at 2.45 pounds. But the previous version was 2.43 pounds, and that weight difference is equivalent to the weight of a number two pencil. Surely, you can handle that burden.

There is also some minimal flex, on both the display panel and on the keyboard deck. But that’s to be expected on a device this thin. I don’t find it objectionable, and the updated hinge—another great design point—keeps the display from wobbling nicely in my early tests.

Internally, HP has made some changes that could have similar positive effects. The 2017 Spectre 13 only provides 8th-generation quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, so there’s no stripper dual-core model as you see from some of the competition. The total amount of RAM has been boosted to an optional 16 GB, and the total storage to an optional 1 TB. (Both were half that a year ago.) There’s no discrete graphics, because of the thinness.

As with the previous version, the Spectre 13 offers two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and one USB-C port.

The charger—which is white to match the device—is, of course, USB-C-based.

And HP provided several dongles, for USB 3, HDMI, and Ethernet.

HP offers two display types—the Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS panel on the review unit and a UHD version—and both offer touch support. You’ll recall that the 2016 version did not offer touch capabilities.

Battery life has improved fairly dramatically. For the 2016 version, HP claimed 9:45 of battery life, but that’s been bumped to over 11 hours. I will, of course, test that.

The review unit—with an Intel Core i7-8550U processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, and Full HD panel—will set you back about $1400. That’s about $200 less than an equivalent Surface Laptop, and about $100 more than a similar Dell XPS 13, though it’s worth noting that both are dual-core systems and the Dell doesn’t offer touch. Both the Surface and the Dell are much heavier and thicker as well.

If first impressions matter, this one made a hell of a first impression. The 2017 HP Spectre 13 is one gorgeous PC. Now I’ll find out whether it can match those looks in real-world usage. But I have a good feeling about this one.


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