HP Spectre x360 14 Review

Posted on May 13, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 14 Comments

Sometimes, you just know. And that’s certainly the case with the HP Spectre x360 14, which combines a versatile convertible PC form factor with modern Intel Evo hardware and a stunning 3:2 display. I had a feeling of inevitability when I first caught wind that HP was creating a “Goldilocks” version of the Spectre x360 that would sit between the just-a-bit-too-small 13-inch variants and the too-hefty 15-inch versions. It just seemed too perfect.

Well, perfect is a strong word. But now that I have about five months of experience under my belt, I can say that the Spectre x360 14 is reasonably close to perfect, at least as far as my own needs are concerned. This is a PC I never dared to hope for. And yet here it is.

Let’s dive in.

Design

The Spectre x360 14 presents a striking and colorful face to the world, with its Poseidon Blue and Pale Brass color scheme, but you can also choose Nightfall Black with Copper Luxe accents or even a plain ol’ Natural Silver for you introverts.

As with other recent Spectre x360s, it offers an angular CNC aluminum design, with chiseled and sharp corners and edges. This may not be ideal for all people, but I think it’s quite attractive, and in a market full of bland-looking PCs, the design is both daring and distinctive.

The use of bright accent colors on the Poseidon Blue review unit is particularly attractive, I think. You can find the Pale Brass color on the device edges, of course, but also on the hinges and, more subtly, around the touchpad. It looks and feels great.

As a convertible PC, the Spectre x360 14 design is also quite versatile. So in addition to the normal clamshell usage mode, you can use it in a tent mode that’s good for presentations or content consumption or, when completely twisted around, as a thick tablet. It supports both multitouch and a smartpen, so that latter mode can actually be quite useful.

Display

Despite its name, the Spectre x360 14 has a 13.5-inch display panel and not a 14-inch panel. But I will give HP a pass on this because its 3:2 aspect ratio provides a nice pixel bump in the vertical, which is ideal for productivity work and makes more sense when the machine is used in tablet mode.

The review unit comes with a WUXGA+ (1920 x 1280) IPS panel with multitouch and smartpen compatibility, an anti-reflection coating, and Corning Gorilla Glass NBT protection that emits 400 nits of brightness. But you can upgrade to a 3000 x 2000 ultra-wide-view-angle (UWVA) display, also at 400 nits. And there’s a 1000-nit option with HP Sure View Reflect technology too. But I think the review configuration is ideal, and it will certainly provide the best battery life.

Regardless of the display configuration, the panel surrounded by some of the smallest bezels I’ve ever seen on a PC, with an incredible 90.33 screen-to-body ratio. And thanks to the taller display, the wrist rest area and touchpad are bigger than is the case with the 13-inch Spectre x360, which my huge mitts appreciate. Where the smaller Spectre is perhaps too small, the 14 is just right.

As nice, HP has finally adopted a hardware-based blue light reduction solution, similar to what Dell did previously with its XPS lineup. In this case, the OLED display has a TUV Rheinland Eyesafe certification for low blue light emissions. Put simply, you can protect your eyes in low-light situations without needing to resort to a software-based solution that tints the display orange.

In the bad news department, you can’t open the display lid with a single finger. Indeed, the lid is so heavy that the thud it makes when I shut it is a bit disconcerting.

Internal components

There are no surprises when you review the Spectre x360 14’s specifications sheet: As with any modern Ultrabook-based PC these days, it can be had with 11th-generation Core i5 or i7 processors, Intel Iris Xe graphics, 8 or 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB to 2 TB NVMe SSD storage, with some configurations also offering 16 GB or 32 GB of Intel Optane cache. This is exactly what one should expect.

As denoted by a hard-to-remove sticker on the PC’s wrist rest, the Spectre x360 14 is certified as being Intel Evo compliant. So, among other things, it provides instant wake from sleep, excellent real-world battery life, modern and fast connectivity, and superior performance, at least for standard productivity tasks. In general, the Spectre upholds the Evo promise, though as has been the case with other Evo portable PCs I’ve reviewed, the battery life, described below, falls a bit short of the claims, at least in my real-world use.

The Spectre x360 14 won’t let you down from a performance perspective, assuming you stick with productivity and basic creative workloads. This is no gaming PC, however, despite the improvements to the integrated graphics chipset.

Because it’s based on an Intel CPU, yes, there’s a bit of fan noise from time to time. But I never found this particularly annoying, and it doesn’t come on all that often. It’s mostly noticeable during long software installs, but it came on sometimes while playing video content. And sometimes even when the PC wasn’t been actively used (but was on). HP uses the speaker grill above the keyboard to help vent heat, which seems smart, and the PC never got overly hot.

Connectivity

The Spectre x360 14 ships with Intel Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 combo, which is great, but there’s no cellular connectivity, even as an option. That’s a bit surprising given the premium nature of this PC.

Ports and expansion

From an expansion perspective, the Spectre x360 14 offers an interesting compromise between modern thin and light Ultrabooks and the somewhat bulkier business-class notebooks that offer some legacy ports. Whether it lands in the right place will depend, of course, on your needs.

On the left, you’ll find a single full-sized USB-A port with 5 Gbps of data throughput. And that’s it: The angled rear left corner is empty because HP moved the power button into the keyboard.

There’s a bit more going on if you look at the right side of the Spectre. Here, you will find two USB-C ports that provide USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 capabilities, and one of them is on the angled back right corner. There’s also a headphone jack and an SD card reader.

A few issues come to mind here. There’s no HDMI port, so you’ll need a dongle if this is a need. On PCs configured with two USB-C ports, I prefer to see one on each side of the device. (That said, the angled right rear port is a somewhat acceptable alternative.) And I’m curious why HP didn’t put one a USB-C port of some kind on the angled left rear corner. As just a design element, those corners don’t make any sense.

Audio and video

The audio/video experience is very good: With its tall, 3:2 display, the Spectre is designed for productivity work and viewing movies and other widescreen videos. But HP’s Display Control utility automatically optimizes the display for photos and videos when using apps like Movies & TV and YouTube Music, and the Bang & Olufsen quad-speaker system—which provides stereo sound in any usage mode—provides bright, clean, and loud sound.

HP provides a 720p webcam that’s properly positioned at the top of the display lid and the quality is decent. More impressive is its Windows Hello facial recognition capabilities; you can use this in tandem with, or instead of, the fingerprint reader for more secure sign-ins. There’s also handy camera shutter button in the keyboard for the privacy-minded.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

HP makes what I think are the best portable keyboards in the market, and the Spectre x360 14 doesn’t disappoint. Its backlit, island-style keyboard offers quiet, snappy performance with short key throws and a great typing feel. And I really like the all-caps letters on the keys.

The Spectre x360 14 keyboard also provides camera shutter, microphone mute, and power keys in its topmost row, plus a dedicated key for the HP Command Center, all of which are hugely appreciated.

The keyboard also provides a rightmost column of keys—Home, PgUp, PgDn, and End—that I find much easier than the more typical layout in which you must use Function key shortcuts to access. Put simply, this is one of the best portable keyboards I’ve ever used.

HP says that the glass precision touchpad on the Spectre x360 14 is 16.6 percent larger than that on the Spectre x360 13, but it seems even bigger. I think it’s just right: It’s taller than the tiny unit found on the Spectre x360 13 and is, again, exactly the right size.

I’m also a big fan of HP’s fingerprint reader, which replaces the right CTRL key and is both fast and accurate. This is a much better position than on the wrist rest.

Finally, HP bundles a Rechargeable MPP2.0 Tilt Pen with every Spectre x360 14, and while there’s no internal garage—the PC is just too thin for that—you can at least magnetically attach it on the right side when moving around. As with other similar solutions, this connection isn’t particularly strong, and it is very easy to lose the pen in a bag or elsewhere if you’re not careful.

Portability

At 2.95 pounds, the Spectre x360 14 skews a bit to the heavy side, but this can be excused by its larger display and the quality of the build materials. And it will still disappear into a laptop bag, thanks to its relatively diminutive 11.75 x 8.67 x 0.67 inch dimensions. This PC isn’t much bigger than the most svelte 13-inch Ultrabooks.

As an Evo-based PC, the Spectre also promises long real-world battery life, though HP’s claim of up to 22 hours for local video playback with headphones is hardly real-world. What I saw over months of usage was an average of 8 hours and 21 minutes of battery life using a mix of productivity work and entertainment, mostly the former. One could probably get closer to 10 hours with a bit of optimization.

Part of the reason for this longevity is the Spectre’s 4-cell, 66 watt-hour battery, and the bundled 65-watt USB-C power supply provides fast-charging capabilities that can charge to 50 percent of capacity in 45 minutes.

Software optimizations play a role here, too. HP provides in-bag detection to prevent the Spectre from coming on while transporting it and a Smart Sense feature, via its Command Center software, that automatically moves the PC into balanced, performance, cool, quiet, or Power Saver modes as needed; yes, you can disable this if you prefer. I assume HP is using Intel Dynamic Tuning Technology (DTT) as the basis for these features.

Software

In addition to the crapware that comes with Windows 10, HP bundles an embarrassing number of applications and utilities that run the gamut from truly useful to truly terrible. There are over one dozen HP-branded utilities, a handful of Intel utilities, and the Bang & Olufsen Audio Control utility, plus ExpressVPN, Adobe software trials, LastPass, McAfee Personal Security, and more. Ugh.

As noted, not all of this is crap.

HP Audio Switch can be used, among other things, to configure the microphone noise cancelation functionality, and there are some annoyingly manual controls for configuring the PC for music, movies, or voice.

HP Command Center lets you configure the Smart Sense power management functionality, which can impact performance, battery longevity, fan noise, and heat, plus the Network Booster feature for prioritizing network access for specific apps like Teams, Skype, and the like.

HP Display Control can be used to override the default Auto Color functionality and optimize the display for photos and videos, color vibrancy, or not at all.

And while there’s some redundancy with Windows 10’s Your Phone app, HP QuickDrop is a platform-agnostic way to share files, photos, videos, notes, websites, and more between your Android handset or iPhone and your PC.

As usual, I wish there was a better approach than loading down a premium PC with all these utilities. Spectre x360 14 customers could spend hours, if not days, examining them all and determining which utilities to keep and which to uninstall.

Pricing and configurations

The HP Spectre x360 14 starts at $1299; that configuration includes an 11th-generation Core i5-1135G7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of SSD storage with 16 GB of Intel Optane memory, and a 13.5-inch Full HD+ (1920 x 1280) display. The review configuration, with a Core i7-1165G7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of SSD storage, costs $1589. And you could spend about $2000 on a Spectre x360 14 if you need 2 TB of storage.

Recommendations and conclusions

The HP Spectre x360 14 is one of the best premium convertible PCs I’ve ever tested, with a superior 3:2 form factor, a stunning design, and excellent performance for standard productivity tasks. Those who have need for this kind of versatility will appreciate its transforming form factor and multitouch and smartpen capabilities. And the battery life helps put it over the top too.

There are some minor nits, of course. I’m not a fan of HP’s proliferation of utilities, some of which are crapware. And the lack of LTE or 5G compatibility seems like a missed opportunity, as does the empty rear left corner of the keyboard deck, which is the ideal place for an extra USB-C port.

But overall, the HP shines. This is a computer I could imagine using going forward, and I’m going to have a hard time moving on to the next review laptop. Put simply, the Spectre x360 14 is highly recommended. You’re going to love it.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Terrific 3:2 OLED display
  • Great design, near-perfect “Goldilocks” form factor
  • Excellent performance
  • Great battery life
  • Includes a smartpen

Cons

  • Chiseled rear left corner should have a USB-C port
  • No cellular data option
  • You’ll lose the pen if you rely on the magnets
  • Crapware

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Comments (14)

14 responses to “HP Spectre x360 14 Review”

  1. lightbody

    Sounds perfect for me! Which means I'll buy one used on eBay in a couple of years when i can afford it!

  2. paull90

    I got one of these for my daughters birthday as an upgrade from a previous 5 year old Spectre (the i5 with 8GB of Ram version with 3 year carepack for £1100). She looked at various other 13" models and from her perspective, the 3:2 resolution is much better and she tells me it has been great. She has just finished her final degree work which included her final dissertation so has been used for lots of typing. All in all my daughter agrees with this review and if you have the money it's definitely a very good option.

  3. jaredthegeek

    I have this laptop, the OLED screen is amazing. Its a great notebook thus far. Its fairly fast but the fans do run a lot.

  4. Belralph

    Really happy to see the power button moved. I have had a couple of the older Spectre's with the button on the side and they failed and no repair center would touch them.

    I'm on a 13 inch Envy right now, might be time to take a look at the Spectre again.

  5. CRoebuck

    Paul,

    The review text states an IPS display but list of Pros states 3:2 OLED display. Given the resolution, I would think it's IPS. Could you confirm either way?


    Awesome review. I've been sitting on the fence with this versus the Envy 14 which now has a 16:10 display but 3:2 is just wonderful.


    So nice to see a laptop on an airplane tray table once again!


  6. James Hancock

    No right CTRL = Left Handers need not apply. Exactly like Apple's arrogance on the topic. Removing it means CTRL+Click is virtually impossible for a lefty.

  7. digiguy

    Paul, it would be great if Lenovo sends you the new Thinkpad Titanium X1 yoga, which is another 3.2 competitor to this laptop.

  8. Matthew Hair

    I'm on my third Spectre x360, a current gen 15 inch model with maxed out specs. I definitely wish it was lighter like my 4 year old 13 inch machine. And I wish HP would still put a dedicated volume button on the edge for use in any of the non-laptop modes. Looks like they made the same aggravating omission on the 14 inch model.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yeah, the move away from side-based volume and power on convertibles has to be because customers didn't use them or couldn't find them easily enough. It's one of those things you grow to expect and it's weird when it's gone.
  9. dstrauss

    Great review. I've been using mine since November (a $1299 BestBuy flash sale model with 4k OLED, i7, 16gb RAM, 1tb SSD) and is far and away the best laptop I've owned since my first (1986 Toshiba 1100 Plus) decades ago. The performance is outstanding; solid 8 hours on battery (even with the 4k OLED screen); paired with a Kensington TB4 dock it is a powerhouse desktop replacement. I've not tried it myself, but have read other user reviews of connecting it to a TB4 external graphics card for first class gaming as well. Two regrets/issues: (1) the included pen is too hard and slippery on the glass to be a good note taking solution - my Surface Pen (v2) is far better and much less slippery on glass experience; and (2) they really needed to offer an LTE or 5g SKU for this computer.


    PS - BestBuy still runs sales between $1399-$1499 on this high end SKU, especially during holidays - check on it for father's day and the fourth. ( I am not employed by, affiliated with, nor invest in Best Buy or HP)

  10. mhuhn

    Brought a Spectre on your recommendation a few years ago and have been very happy with it.

  11. spiderman2

    I have the previous 13 and it's amazing, this 3:2 display will make it even better, the only thing that it miss is 1 or 2 extra thunderbolt or at least usb-c ports

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