For years, I’ve railed against the openly hostile attitudes that most PC makers have towards Microsoft, and in recent months I’ve been pushing a Clean PC agenda to get them to clean up their act. Well, Lenovo isn’t the only one paying attention: HP collaborated with Microsoft on the Spectre x360, and the result is something that all Windows fans should rally behind.
What made this happen, I think, is that the person who oversaw the development of the Spectre x360—Mike Nash, the same person responsible for the stunning Stream laptops and tablets—was previously a Microsoft executive who worked on Windows. Indeed, Nash and Microsoft’s Gabe Aul—who is running the Windows 10 beta right now for the software giant—last worked together trying to—wait for it—convince PC makers to create cleaner PC images through the Velocity program (which turned into the Signature PC program). So Mr. Nash—full disclosure: he’s a friend of mine—has been beating the drums for clean PCs for decades, both inside and outside of Microsoft.
So now Nash and Aul are back, attacking the same problem from their two different companies. On the one hand, we have Gabe Aul and the rest of the Windows team, which wants PC makers to ship the cleanest—and thus best—possible PCs. And on the other, we have an executive at the biggest PC maker in the United States who I’m sure is sometimes bucking the traditional way of doing things to, yes, ship the cleanest—and thus best—possible PCs.
You got your peanut butter in my chocolate.
According to the two—Mr. Aul surprised me with an appearance at an HP reviewers workshop in New York City last week—Microsoft and HP closely collaborated on the Spectre x360 for over a year. They worked to ensure that they could create integrated experiences across Windows, the hardware, and the software in the image, which of course includes HP drivers and first party apps and firmware, drivers, and third party apps as well.
“We’ve offered this collaboration to all of the [PC makers],” Aul told us. “But Mike [Nash] and HP went after it much more than others. The engineers at Microsoft were committed, and everyone just wanted the best possible result.”
Arriving at the best experience required a lot of tuning, the two said, with HP working with Intel and other driver providers to discover which drivers—interestingly not always the newest versions—worked best on the machine’s unique blend of components, offering not just the best performance but also the best reliability. Microsoft, for its part, would test the ever-evolving images HP provided and be able to provide measurable feedback on what worked and what didn’t.
Over the course of the development of the Spectre x360, HP was able to get idle battery life from 11 hours to 16 hours and battery life for video playback (Xbox Video, locally stored videos) from 9 hours to 11. And through some subtle UEFI firmware tuning, boot times jumped from 13 seconds down to just 8, and resume time improved from 6 seconds to 3.3 seconds.
HP and Microsoft worked to make the wireless networking as rock-solid and reliable as possible. The Wi-Fi adapter doesn’t drop off in speed as quickly as do other comparable devices (no names were given in a move that I assume was designed to help Aul and Microsoft avoid the uncomfortable possibility of publicly calling out HP competitors) across both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
The firms also worked together to whittle down things in small ways that collectively added up to a lot. For example, the fan is throttled a unique way, components are shut down when not in use, and there are sensors in the hinge that instantly report to the OS which mode it’s in. That latter feature will help the x360 work seamlessly with Continuum when Windows 10 ships later this year.
And then there’s this one, clean PC fans: HP claims that the Spectre x360 includes “one of the cleanest images HP has ever produced.” It’s not quite Signature PC level—there are of course some HP apps on there, and an anti-virus package I immediately removed from my review unit—but I still applaud the restraint shown here. It’s what premium PC buyers expect. Hopefully, one day it’s what all PC buyers will get.
And here’s an odd bit of trivia: With HP effectively creating its own Signature Edition PC here, I was curious whether we’d see a Signature version of the x360 in Microsoft Stores and, if so, how it might differ from the stock models. As it turns out, there won’t be any Signature Edition x360s, but that has nothing to do with any pushback between the HP and Microsoft Signature teams. Instead, Best Buy has an exclusive retail distribution agreement with HP for the x360. This means that the Microsoft Store can’t carry the device, so there won’t be a Signature Edition. (You will be able to buy it at hp.com as well, of course.) And for whatever it’s worth, if you were looking for a “Surface Ultrabook,” it’s here now: and it’s called the HP Spectre x360.
Mr. Nash said—and Aul emphatically agreed—that while there won’t be a Signature version of this machine, the stock HP Spectre x360 “significantly exceeded” the criteria of Microsoft’s Windows Experience review. “This is about hitting key metrics,” Nash said. “It’s different than Signature in that there is more software in the stock image than you’d see in a Signature PC.”
Isn’t that a refreshing bit of candor? As I’ve noted in my reviews and other articles about HP’s newest tablets and laptops, the PC maker is really turning a new leaf. And the HP Spectre x360 shows that it can do so in the premium end of the market as well.