HP Spectre x360 (2016) vs. Surface Book: Could It Be?

Posted on October 23, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Microsoft Surface, Windows 10 with 53 Comments

HP Spectre x360 (2016) vs. Surface Book: Could It Be?

I had what for me passes as a revelation of sorts yesterday: Picking up the stunningly light and well-designed new HP Spectre x360, my mind flashed immediately to Surface Book. Could it be? Does the x360 actually beat a device I just described as “the perfect thing”?

This is a better comparison that many may immediately believe. Neither device is an Ultrabook, though the HP comes closer to realising the thin and light ideal of such devices. Instead, both are premium transforming laptops. And as such, they are absolutely competing for the same customers.

Let’s look at the numbers, starting of course with the physical dimensions.

Physical size

They’re mostly similar unless you take into account that weird Surface Book hinge bulge. Sliding the devices into a bag, you will see that both devices are roughly the same height: the Spectre hits 12.03 inches, whereas the Surface Book lands at 12.3 inches. The Surface is also a wider, this time demonstrably, at 9.14 inches, versus the Spectre’s 8.58 inches. And at its thinnest (0.51 inches), the Surface Book is roughly the same thinness as the Spectre (0.54 inches).

height

But there is that bulge. And at its widest, the Surface Book hits 0.90—almost one full inch—a thickness that is almost double that of the Spectre.

thickness

Put simply, Surface Book will take up more space in a bag, and it will sit more awkwardly. And I’ve learned to position it so that the power button is always pointed up to avoid any “hot bagging.” It’s not clear yet if this will be an issue with the Spectre.

Winner: Spectre x360

Weight

In the long run, weight will have an even bigger impact on the devices’ respective portability. And here, the Spectre wins big. With the Surface Book lumbering in at 3.34 pounds (for the base version, the version with a dedicated GPU is even heavier), the Spectre’s diminutive 2.85-pound curb weight really makes a difference.

thinness

Put simply, when you have to carry something around, weight really matters. And when you can deliver a similar experience at a lower weight, that is a win.

Winner: Spectre x360

Battery life

Here, I will rely solely on the manufacturer’s claims as I’ve not yet had a chance to really test Spectre x360 battery life. In my coming review, I will compare the real-world battery life I experienced with both.

Microsoft claims “up to 12 hours” of battery life in a video playback test. HP claims “15.7 hours” in a similar test. So this one is easy.

Winner: Spectre x360

Screen

This is a tough one because HP is making the right sacrifices for thinness and lightness, but the Surface Book display is nonetheless superior by any reasonable measure.

At 3000 x 2000, the Surface Book display blows HP’s relatively paltry 1920 x 1080 panel out of the water from a quality perspective, though users will need to scale the UI to make it workable. The Surface Book’s 13.5-inch display uses a non-standard 3:2 aspect ratio, and while I’ve come to love it, this ratio combined with the aforementioned display scaling can make docking a trying experience, especially if you prefer to use only the external display at such times.

The HP’s display will offer no such issues and is a more standard 16:9 aspect ratio. Looking at the housing around this panel, I see room for a “better” (or at least different) aspect ratio, and I sort of wish HP had gone with a 3:2 display. But … that’s just me. I suspect few people would consider its display anything less than excellent.

It’s just that the Surface Book display is better.

Winner: Surface Book

Typing and touchpad experience

I’ve not spent enough time with the Spectre x360 to fairly judge its typing and touchpad performance. That said, it appears that both work very well, and this is an area that matters to me quite a bit.

Working in Surface Book’s favor, however, is a simple truth: Surface Book offers the best portable typing experience there is, and the touchpad works wonderfully as well, and is compatible with the Precision Touchpad experiences in Windows 10. The HP is not.

Winner: Surface Book

Specs

Thanks to being a newer device, the Spectre x360 outclasses its older rival from a specs perspective and offers newer-generation “Kaby Lake” processors and chipsets. You can get Core i5 and i7 processors in both devices, 8 GB or 16 GB of RAM, and up to 1 TB of fast SSD storage. But the HP edges out Surface Book by offering newer and faster PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD storage in 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB choices.

But it’s not just the raw specs. Kaby Lake is more reliable than the Skylake chipsets used in Surface Book, and Microsoft’s reliability issues are now legendary. Whereas I still don’t feel totally safe recommending Surface Book because of these issues, I have no issues with the Spectre x360. In fact, it’s Skylake-based predecessors never had any major issues either.

That said, Surface Book can be had in very expensive configurations with a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GPU with 1GB of its own RAM (not suitable for gaming). And Surface Pen is included with Surface Book. There’s no pen with the Spectre, and I’m not yet sure if HP’s existing pens work with the device.

Winner: Spectre x360

Expandability

Surface Book offers two full-sized USB 3.0 ports, a full-sized SD card slot, a miniDisplayPort port, and its proprietary (but USB-based) Surface Connect slot, all on the keyboard base. A headphone jack is awkwardly placed high on the screen/Clipboard.

The HP Spectre x360, meanwhile, provides one full-sized USB 3.0 port, two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a headphone jack. Those USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports are *far* more versatile than the ports on the Surface Book, and can be used for power, for video-out, for storage and other peripherals, and more. Yes, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 is a bit forward-leaning. But this is a huge win for the x360.

Winner:  Spectre x360

Cost

This is where things swing firmly into the Spectre x360 camp. As I noted in HP Spectre x360 (2016) First Impressions, a totally specced-out high-end Spectre x360 costs $1499, which is the starting point for Surface Book. Looking at the available options, were I spending my own money, I’d opt for the base model Spectre x360, with a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage. That device costs just $1049, whereas a comparable Surface Book would cost almost $500 more. This is “no contest” territory.

That said, one should always weigh the actual costs of a thing vs. the costs of not having special functionality—or durability—that may come from choosing the more expensive option. The Surface Book comes with a pen, which may matter very much to some people, and its unique detaching screen means that it is thinner and lighter (and has much less battery life) when used as a tablet. You’ll need to—ahem—weigh the pros and cons based on your own needs.

But for me—and, I know, for most people—the Spectre x360’s low cost adds up to the obvious win.

Winner: Spectre x360

Overall winner

This one is pretty clear-cut, at least on paper: The Spectre x360 blows the Surface Book out of the water. In a magical place where money and Surface Book’s reliability issues don’t matter, the score might have been closer. But HP seems to be delivering on the promise of Surface Book with none of the downsides. And when you look at the relative prices of these devices, the decision becomes very clear.

To be fair to Microsoft, Surface Book is an aspirational device, and it’s possible if not likely that many of its shortcomings will be addressed in a future upgrade. Kaby Lake is a given, and that could fix the reliability issues, though I wonder if some of that is the complex and unnecessary mechanics of the screen release mechanism. And Microsoft could fix the hinge and remove that terrible opening. But I don’t expect Microsoft to close the price gap. Surface Book is, after all, aimed squarely at MacBook Pro.

Right now, the Spectre x360 is still too new to arbitrarily declare it superior to Surface Book. But then, that’s why I’m reviewing it. So the early signs point to a blow-out victory, yes, but we’ll see what happens.

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Comments (53)

53 responses to “HP Spectre x360 (2016) vs. Surface Book: Could It Be?”

  1. Avatar

    5548

    I actually really like the hinge. I'm not sure why everyone hates on it so much. So what if its a little thicker?

  2. Avatar

    6115

    I wish I could find a way to be shocked that Paul prefers technology that is not Microsoft.  He knows the Kaby Lake CPU is more reliable because Surface Book doesn't use it.  He prefers the "traditional" 16:9 screen ratio because Surface Book's 3:2 screen is less like a Macbook.  He give big props to the HP's USB-C ports because nothing uses them yet.  He gives the HP a big win in battery life because it's not been tested yet, so a potential win over Microsoft is a definite win.  And on and on.

  3. Avatar

    3275

    I like everything I see about the HP. I already use a Surface Pro 4 and love the lightweight profile, touch screen and pen. I am looking to replace a MacBook Pro and this Spectre x360 might just be the one. I am hoping a pen appears as I have become addicted to having it for Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. I would also like the next machine I get to be fully in the USB-C camp.Lookig at available specs and configurations, the 16GB seems to be a nice sweet spot given the price. 

  4. Avatar

    7093

    What are these inches and pounds you talk of?

    Regards, The Rest of the World.

  5. Avatar

    6281

    Can you please test (or tell us if you already know) if it is possible to use the new spectre x360 with external Graphics, like Razer Core or Acer Graphics dock? I have been waiting for the "perfect" (for me) laptop for more than a year and this may finally be it.

    If this turns out to be compatible with eGPU I will likely buy it on release day (when it arrives in Sweden) and if it is not, well then I won't buy it at all. So this is an important feature for me, and I know many others with me. I have heard that the thunderbolt 3-ports on the HP Spectre (not HP Spectre x360) was crippled and didnt support eGPUs.

    Thanks in advance and thank you for thurrot.com, it is really awesome!  :)

  6. Avatar

    4610

    For me the aspect ratio is huge - I REALLY like the 2:3. It just works way better for me when using a portable screen (i still like 16:9 for the big desktop monitor).

  7. Avatar

    7046

    Not surprising that a device a year newer is going to be superior in the spec department. 

  8. Avatar

    5553

    what Paul uses...Android/iOS ?

  9. Avatar

    6062

    Have really enjoyed my SB.  One of my favorite pieces of technology I've ever owned.  Bought it after hotbag and firmware issues were fixed and have had no issues.  Detach screen and turn it around all the time.  Great for watching movies, surfing the internet while in bed or on the couch, and teaching my kids how to write.  Personally, I don't mind the form factor, easy to carry, looks futuristic (to me at least), screen is great.

  10. Avatar

    6190

    "Surface Book is, after all, aimed squarely at MacBook Pro."

    This is what Microsoft says, especially when their OEMs are listening, but I wonder who's suffering more, Apple, or OEMs high margin ultrabooks.  Surface book issues not withstanding, if I was buying a high end windows device, I would probably choose a device that has a single entity controlling the hardware and software as they should be able to, eventually, solve all its issues.

  11. Avatar

    670

    "Kaby Lake is more reliable than the Skylake chipsets used in Surface Book, and Microsoft’s reliability issues are now legendary."

    Just how do we know that? Sky Lake was supposed to be more reliable and better performance than Broadwell, and look how that worked out.

    • Avatar

      2

      In reply to dstrauss:

      Multiple highly-placed sources at Microsoft, who all confirmed to me that Skylake is the buggiest mainstream chipset Intel ever released. It's why the modern Surface devices have such issues, and why Microsoft initially refused to support it with Windows 7 and 8.1. I've written about this a lot.

  12. Avatar

    5496

    The Surface Book has a detathcable screen. All the internals are in the tablet, so of couse it's going to be thicker.

    HP doesn't have a detatchable screen. So You cannot compare these 2.

    You can compare the Surface Book to another detchable screen laptop. Or compare HP to another laptop.

    • Avatar

      7079

      In reply to lordbaal1:

      I think you can compare them, but most reviews don't really apply the significance of the tablet section.

      as someone that came from carrying an ultrabook and a light tablet (and I've seen many macbook users with ipads at work) this single unit reduced my weight and was a wash in terms of cost. most reviews ignore this use case. when users ask me about the sbook, I generally tell them it's for someone that wants a great laptop with an occasional tablet.

      I usually don't see a lot of people with the tablet disconnected from the screen either, but that's also the case with the surface pro. I think that has a lot to do with what apps you use. if you use older non-touch friendly apps, it's painful. when in tablet mode, I pretty much stick to just store apps, the lack there of I think still keeps many users from using these just as tablets more frequently

      the addition of the discrete gpu (not something you find in most units at this size and weight) for light image or video editing was a big bonus too, and I love the higher resolution... so I zoom things in when I want to see better but it makes videos look fantastic. though the author is right, win 10 still sucks at scaling and I too have issues with docking to monitor with different resolutions, though I'm not sure that's as much a surface book issue as it is a windows issues, as I've seen that on other laptops.

      as someone else mentioned, the hinge is nice to give a little angle when writing ont he screen, but I've also found it makes for a more secure hold when carrying around the unit, as it more closely matches the arch of your hand when you're holding it. I frankly hope people get over it and MS leaves it.

      while I've not seen this particular unit yet, it doesn't seem that far and above other ultrabooks from dell and lenovo. and against everything I've seen or played with , I'd still take the sbook without hesitation.

    • Avatar

      5539

      In reply to lordbaal1: Of course you can compare them. You ultimately have to inject the needs of the user into that comparison. That personal aspect is difficult to interject into a review (impression) such as this. The detachability of the Book screen can be seen as an additional feature which may or may not be relevant to any particular consumer. Even if all other things were equal, trading thin-ness for a detatchable screen would be a personal decision, not a definitive plus or minus. There's nothing wrong with comparing Apples and Oranges. There is something wrong with declaring one the winner. ;)

       

    • Avatar

      5623

      In reply to lordbaal1:

      Paul never detaches the SB screen, but many of us do.

  13. Avatar

    834

    As an owner of the previous model of the x360 (which I LOVE), this is an even better version. This will definitely go on the upgrade list for me. Would love to login with Windows Hello and I believe this model has that too.

  14. Avatar

    6551

    Paul, how is the keyboard in terms of visibility? I've read some other reviews that mention the light gray key lettering on gray key caps makes the letters poor to see, and worse with the backlighting turned on... When HP released the special edition copper X360s last year, they came with a black keyboard that seemed much better in that regard.... Does that seem like an issue to you?

  15. Avatar

    848

    I will be curious to see how the longterm reliability is.  I have several surface devices including a surface book and other than a few driver issues early on, I have had NO major issues at all with surface products.  I consider them top notch.  However, as a break/fix shop owner, I cringe at the though of another HP laptop.  Last time I pulled the numbers, I repair HP laptops 7 to 1 more than all other brands combined, and while they do sell a lot of units, it isn't 7 to 1 more units...  HP is going to have to up thier game MASSIVELY to get me to ever recommend them again.

  16. Avatar

    1753

    I switched from a Surface Pro 3 to the Spectre x360 (high dpi screen version, Skylake i5).

    The fact that the power switch is flush with the case should stop hot bag syndrome.

    I bought the SP3 because I wanted a tablet experience, but never saw the point of iPad and Android tablets, because they were so limited - you couldn't use desktop software when you need it. But I found out, that I only really used it in tablet mode for meetings. So when I had to give back the company SP3, I bought the Spectre. It was a great move. The SurfaceBook came into consideration, but after the battery problems with the SP3, I decided against the SB - when the battery died, I couldn't even use it on mains power!

    I find the Spectre x360 to be excellent.

  17. Avatar

    7095

    I just looked at the MS store and it has the HP Spectre x360 13-4196ms Signature Edition 2 in 1 PC with a WQHD screen.

    Display
    13.3 in WQHD IPS touchscreen (2560 x 1440), 10-finger multi-touch support
    Processor
    Intel Core i7-6500U 2.50 GHz with Turbo Boost Technology up to 3.10 GHz
    Memory
    16GB DDR3L 1600 MHz
    Hard drive size
    512GB SSD

  18. Avatar

    2394

    If it's still Intel graphics on the motherboard, I'm sure I won't be able to play Civilization. Same as it is on my Lenovo t450s.

  19. Avatar

    3202

    Paul (or anyone else with experience), I know you always say you have big hands and need a big laptop, I'm the same. How do you find the HP in that regard? I know you'll probably go into detail in your comming review, but I've gotta pull the trigger on a new laptop soon, so I'm after any and all feedback I can get.

     

  20. Avatar

    6946

    For me, the active pen with pressure sensitivity is my whole reason for going with the Surface Book. The HP doesn't have this feature, so I don't see how you can even compare the two. From my point of view, they're two different classes of device.

    • Avatar

      4278

      In reply to rmanjoney:

      The Spectre does support this feature. Granted, the pen is sold separately, and HP's Active pen is not the best. Dell's Synaptics pen for the Venues works wonderfully with it, though, and i use it every day.

  21. Avatar

    1139

    See, for me, I was sad when the Surface line switched from 16:9 to 3:2. Sure, 3:2 is "more like a sheet of paper." But I have a computer, not a paper. Plus I do a lot of media consumption on my Surface. But that's all personal preference. There's no denying the Surface devices have amazing displays.

    Thanks for outlining the pros and cons of these devices. I'm excited to see how Microsoft responds to criticism with the Surface Book 2 early next year.

  22. Avatar

    180

    Ah, but will there be a signature version of the 360? This is the other place Surface Book wins: it isn't loaded down with HP's garbageware. And that, actually, is a huge deal.

  23. Avatar

    4370

    For me higher resolution doen't mean better screen. as even my SP3 has a resolution which is too high for some professional software. And at this size it matters very little unless you do professional photo editing. Full HD is the sweet spot.
    So one more win for HP for me. Still I find the touchpad way too large.

  24. Avatar

    2410

    I agree! You may not ever detach the screen Paul... but others do and it's a great feature that the Spectre does not offer.  I love the fact that I can detach my screen and use the feature all the time. Cannot compare the two. Also, if it's meant to be an aspirational device, as you say, then why not make that your main point? Hasnt the product essentially acheived its primary goal? I get it, the product has had its fair share of problems.....but....  Isn't this what was hoped would happen....others inspired to build something better? When the Spectre has a detachable screen then make your comparison.  Just another opportunity for Thurrott to bag on anything Microsoft...... Which seems to be the norm anymore.

  25. Avatar

    6525

    How do we already know that Kaby Lake is reliable? By all means, this we wish - but is it true?

  26. Avatar

    5554

    Look at all the angry, defensive Surface owners mashing their keyboards they swear they don't use.  

    Yes you can compare it to the HP,  because everyone just uses the Surface as a laptop.  Nobody's using the tablet mode and  awful touch interface since it's dreadful on 10.  You'll never see a Surface out in public without the keyboard attached - if you see one at all (they're like unicorns) . 

    And Microsoft's marketing always shows the Surface with a keyboard attached to convey an ultra book and sell it as such, otherwise nobody would care.  Sorry, you can't have it both ways. Paul's comparison is right on point. 

  27. Avatar

    777

    This sounds great, but everytime I go to look at HP I can't find what you are talking about.  What is the exact model number of this device and where do I buy it?  Is this model even available yet?  The high resolution screens on the Microsoft devices just cause problems when docking to multiple monitors.  The 1920 x 1080 screen is a relief to me.  Do you know if HP sells a USB-C dock that supports multiple monitors?

     

  28. Avatar

    5553

    *declares SB KB and trackpad winner without testing X360* LOL

  29. Avatar

    7080

    Does the HP have pen support?

  30. Avatar

    1321

    I think there is a small mistake in the storage section "But the HP edges out Surface Book by offering newer and faster PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD storage in 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB choices.", the Surafce Book has PCIe NVMe M.2 drives as well, are you saying that they are alot faster in the x360?

  31. Avatar

    2685

    This is a strange comparison... specs vs hands-on, not really sure i see the point.  Feels more like a paid endorsement of the HP spectre than an actual product review.  Seems a bit ooc.

  32. Avatar

    5554

    Surface has what is quite possibly the ugliest hinge ever seen on any device. 

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