First Look: HP Spectre x360

HP’s stunning new Spectre x360 gives Windows fans reason to cheer: It’s a premium transforming, multi-touch Ultrabook that doesn’t ape the MacBook Air’s styling but does deliver stellar performance and battery life. Best of all, perhaps, the Spectre x360 won’t set you back the $2000+ that other premium Windows Ultrabooks currently demand: it starts at less than half that heady sum.


I’ve been using an HP Spectre x360 since last week, and it appears that HP has successfully done for the high-end of the market what Stream did for the low-end: Revitalize HP’s PC reputation by delivering an awesome combination of power, style, and value. Readers know I’m always looking for the best values in technology. And this Spectre delivers.

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Let’s start with the industrial. The Spectre x360 is precision milled and machine polished from aluminum and immediately presents the kind of understated elegance one might associate with Mercedes. It’s not a head-turner: indeed, on a recent trip I’m not sure that anyone even noticed I was using it. But the x360 is very clearly well-made, with a premium look and feel.


What’s most magical about the Spectre x360, however, is that it is very clearly a high-end Windows Ultrabook … until it isn’t. Thanks to its unique hinge design, you can rotate the screen all the way back and use it, Yoga-like, in tent, presentation or tablet modes too.


It’s not the capability that’s unique—many modern PCs can transform like this—it’s that the hinges don’t protrude in any way and that the device is no thicker in tablet mode than it is when closed.


So with the Spectre x360, HP is getting right what Microsoft got wrong with Surface Pro 3. Microsoft’s device is “the tablet that can replace your laptop,” so it’s oriented as a tablet first, laptop second. HP’s Spectre x360 is a laptop that can also be a tablet, or other form factors. It is true to the primary use cases of PCs, and is the more efficient—better—PC.


In keeping with this PC focus, the HP Spectre x360 is outfitted with modern, mainstream Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, and not the somewhat compromised Core M processors we see on newer hybrid devices. It can be had with 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM. 128 to 512 GB SSD storage. There are three full-sized USB 3.0 ports—no strange mix of USB 2.0 and 3.0 here—and full-sized HDMI and miniDisplayPort (so the device can drive two external displays simultaneously), plus an SD card reader.


The display is gorgeous. HP provides two panels, Full HD (1920 x 1080 and Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440), both of which are 13.3-inches and provide 10 points of multi-touch.

The keyboard is sublime. This is an area in which I had pretty much drifted off, given how much island-style keyboards are so similar. But the HP’s keyboard has a rock-solid feel to it that has re-awoken my need for a great keyboard. It doesn’t look special, but when you start typing the difference is immediately obvious.


The trackpad had me worried: it is the weirdest, widest trackpad I’d ever seen, and as someone with big hands, I’m very leery of errant palm swipes ruining my typing. So far, so good though: Despite the curiously wide trackpad, this is one of the most reliable trackpad experiences I’ve had. I still prefer a mouse, personally, but as trackpads go this is one of the best.


I’m not testing this, but HP’s Pro Tablet Active Pen is also compatible with the Spectre x360.

But here’s where things get truly interesting. HP claims that the Spectre x360 can obtain 10 to 12.5 hours of battery life in real world conditions—not with the display dimmed down to non-viewability, and not in special lab conditions—a claim I am well on my way to verifying. On a recent flight, I used the Spectre x360 for three hours and as I closed the lid, I noted about 70 percent of battery life left.

As HP noted, the MacBook Air also delivers about 12 hours of battery life. But the Apple device has a much lower-resolution panel and does not support multi-touch nor provide any transforming capabilities. These are fair points, but I would counter that the MacBook Air is also a bit lighter (2.96 pounds vs. 3.3 pounds) and thinner, as you can see below.

Apple MacBook Air (top) and HP Spectre x360 (bottom)
Apple MacBook Air (top) and HP Spectre x360 (bottom)

And then there’s the pricing.


I’ve been shopping recently for a high-end Ultrabook to replace my aging 2012-era 15-inch Samsung Series 9, and I’ve had a few interesting possibilities—the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro and ThinkPad X1 Carbon among them—come across my desk. But where these and other similar machines cost $1500 to $2200 as I’d configure them, the HP is quite reasonably priced.

The Spectre x360 will start shipping on March 15 with a starting price of $899 for a version with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD, and a Full HD display. Step up to 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD—the model I’m reviewing and the one I would spend my own money on—and you’re looking at just $999. This is literally half the price of the machines I’d been considering.

You can step up from there as well. For $1149, you can add a Core i7 processor. And then in early April, you’ll be able to step up to that Quad HD screen for $1399.

I’ll keep testing and will post my final review in a few weeks. But my initial response is over the moon. This could very well be the premium Ultrabook I’ve been looking for.

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