HP Spectre x2 (2017) First Impressions: More Pro Than Surface Pro

Posted on July 11, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 52 Comments

HP Spectre x2 (2017) First Impressions: More Pro Than Surface Pro

HP’s new Spectre x2 is everything Microsoft’s Surface Pro is not: A gorgeous 2-in-1 with a truly premium design, modern components, and affordable pricing. That’s right. The x2 is more pro than Surface Pro.

I’ve been testing the Spectre x2 on and off for about two weeks, and it was secretly my main PC on last week’s trip to Pennsylvania. But since I’ve not had time to run my usual battery life and performance tests, a full review will have to wait. So I’ll provide some initial impressions today that are based on more experience than is usually the case.

And it’s all good news. Especially if you held off on the new Surface Pro or have been put off by recent news that Microsoft’s latest tablet—sorry, “laptop”—seems to suffer from some reliability issues.

I was impressed with the first generation Spectre x2, which arrived about 18 months ago right on the heels of the Surface Pro 4. That device suffered from a few issues, however, and HP has solved all of them with this year’s makeover.

The most obvious issue with the original x2 is that its industrial design was on the tepid side. Sure, it was made of high-quality materials, and, yes, its keyboard cover was the among the best ever seen on a 2-in-1 tablet. But it was bland.

So HP did the obvious: It turned to the premium dark ash silver and copper design that has proven so successful elsewhere in the Spectre lineup. And the result is, as always, stunning. Suddenly, the Spectre x2 has gone from milquetoast to best-in-class. This PC is gorgeous, and get ready for the questions from strangers. Everyone wants to know what it is.

HP also somehow managed to make the new x2 a bit smaller and thinner than its already-svelte predecessor.

While I thought the design of the kickstand on the original x2 was pretty, it also didn’t allow as wide a range of viewing angles as the solid kickstand on Microsoft’s Surface Pro. So for this version, HP made several improvements: The new x2’s kickstand tilts back to 165 degrees, just as far as that of the new Surface Pro, enabling better pen usage. It tilts further towards you than before, too, an issue I had with the previous model. And it no longer requires a hard-to-use unlocking mechanism. And you still get the real benefit of this design: Because the kickstand doesn’t eat into the body space of the tablet, like Microsoft’s design, HP can utilize a bigger battery.

The original x2 was also dogged by poorly-performing Core M processors. So for the new device, HP has turned to Core i5 and i7 processors with Iris graphics for dramatically better performance. You can also outfit the new x2 with up to 16 GB of RAM and 1 TB of fast PCIe-based SSD storage.

The original x2 had fairly quiet speakers, thanks to the side-firing orientation. HP tried to fix this by putting stereo speakers in the keyboard cover, but the overall effect was muted. So with the new version, HP utilizes front-firing speakers, and it drops the cover-based speakers, and it adds a discrete amplifier for louder, clear sound.

The original x2 shipped with a 12-inch Full HD display, which put it closer to the Surface 3 than a Surface Pro. But this time around, HP is really amping up the display quality, and we get a stunning 12.3 inch, 3000 x 2000 (yes, 3:2) display, housed in smaller bezels and utilizing both multi-touch and active pen technologies. (Yes, a pen is included, unlike with Surface Pro.)

The improvements just keep on coming.

The keyboard cover on the previous generation x2 was great, but the new version is perhaps the best I’ve ever used on any 2-in-1 tablet, with a rock-steady typing experience that rivals anything found on traditional laptops.

Battery life and battery charging are both significantly better. HP upped the longevity of its premium tablet from 7.8 to 9 hours, which is impressive when you consider the CPU and display upgrades. But the fast charging capabilities are perhaps even more impressive: You can now charge to 50 percent in just 30 minutes. So you should never have an issue getting through a ful day with this PC.

The front-facing camera features a 5 MP wide-angle lens and is now Windows Hello compatible. The rear-facing—“world-facing” in HP’s words—camera is now 12 MP.

HP went modern on the original x2, unlike, say, Microsoft. But this year it’s even better: The new x2 features two USB-C ports (and utilizes a USB-C charger) and a microSD card slot. And the firm throws a USB-C to USB-A dongle in the box so you don’t have to worry about being stranded with your legacy peripherals.

Only two issues have emerged so far.

First, the system’s fans kick in far more than is the case on the new Surface Pro, which remains a miracle of silence. It’s not objectionable, and not unlike other portable PCs. But the new Surface Pro has reset my expectations here.

Second, HP’s active pen hasn’t gotten the same attention as the rest of the ensemble. Yes, I appreciate that the firm bundles its active pen with the x2 as before, but it still supports 1024 pressure sensitivity levels at a time when Microsoft has gone to 4096. And the pen doesn’t support tilt like Surface Pen does now, nor is there any specialized hardware to improve the performance. The Spectre x2 offers a great pen experience, but the new Surface Pro is still best-in-class. (Kudos to HP for continuing to include a pen loop right on its keyboard cover though.)

Pricing remains a strong point, especially when you consider that HP includes the keyboard cover and pen with the device, accessories that would $230 to $260 to the price of a new Surface Pro. The base model offers a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of SSD storage for just $1150. And you can choose from various models up to a Core i7, 16 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of SSD storage for a bit under $2000. The sweet spot? For $1230, you can grab a version with a Core i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of SSD storage. That’s the one I’d be looking at.

I’ll issue my full review of the new HP Spectre x2 by the end of July.

HP’s new Spectre x2 is everything Microsoft’s Surface Pro is not: A gorgeous 2-in-1 with a truly premium design, modern components, and affordable

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Comments (52)

52 responses to “HP Spectre x2 (2017) First Impressions: More Pro Than Surface Pro”

  1. wright_is

    Is the difference between 1024 and 4096 pressure sensitivity levels really noticeable in day-to-day use? Can you even regulate, for example, between pressure 3 and 4 on the 1024 version, let alone the 4096?

    I get more is better, at least on paper; but with my hands, I doubt I'd be able to reliably get the same pressure repeatedly on the 1024 scale, let alone the 4096, or am I missing something?

    It certainly sounds like a nice piece of kit...

    • lvthunder

      In reply to wright_is:

      I think that depends on what you are using the pen for. I'm sure some people can, but most probably won't,

    • jgraebner

      In reply to wright_is:

      If you are using the pen for note-taking, annotations, signatures, crossword puzzles, and things like that (basically how I use mine), I suspect the difference in pressure levels won't matter much. For artists, I expect it could make a big difference.

    • chrisrut

      In reply to wright_is: The question is not whether I need to tell the difference between a pressure 3 and 4, but rather, whether the pen can accurately record the subtle and unconscious pressure changes we make while drawing or writing. Does 10 versus 12 bit resolution matter? MS seems to be betting yes.

      I suspect the goal is to make the experience of using the pen as natural and intuitive as possible - aiming to be "as good as" a pencil and paper. Include micro-haptic controllers in the tip of the pen to simulate the feel of dragging various pen types (pencil, ball-point, felt tip, etc.) across various surface types (bond paper, glass, whatever) and these devices could come perishingly close indeed.

      Is there a need? Well, I for one still prefer taking notes by hand...doodles and all.

  2. Alex Taylor

    Looks very promising.

    Paul, it would be great if your full review could include some Docking testing.

    I get that you love its USB-C ports, but I'd like to know if I can use a third party dock? - will it drive 2 monitors and other peripherals through 1 of the ports? What alternate modes for graphics are used?

  3. pachi

    I had one of the original ones. Nice device... Until it had random hardware issues a month in. Go read customer reviews of the first device. The issues are rampant, and it's just the biggest problem with getting these sort of "high-end" 2-in-1's from so many manufacturers these days.

    This thing looks and sounds amazing, but the real test will be in 6-12 months and you see what the actual customers say about their devices. That's not a practical way to gauge or review these things, but the precedent was set by HP & other companies who've made such iffy hardware too many times.

    • TOK2000

      In reply to pachi:Yeah I have the original and I loved it till a couple of months ago when random issues started showing up, wouldn't restart only a shutdown, then random lockups and stuff. Makes me wary of the new one.

      • pachi

        In reply to TOK2000:

        Yeah, it's stuff like this... Samsung also makes a cool looking W10 tablet, but it also has all sorts of reviews just like this.

        My X2's keyboard cover totally went kaput after about three weeks, did a total PC reset and everything.... Everything was non-responsive. Thankfully store let me return it all.

  4. chaad_losan

    The pen loops does it. It's the best 2 in 1 ever!

  5. c4995z

    Sir, might I possibly interest you today in a similarly well built HP Phone?

  6. dstrauss

    So close - but why didn't they outfit it with one Thunderbolt 3 port for future proofing?

  7. Waethorn

    The gold looks tacky, like it belongs in some Saudi palace.

  8. MacLiam

    Nice enough unit, but not enough better or more attractive to make me regret putting down the plastic for a Surface Pro (i7/8/256 -- your sweet spot configuration) within a few days of its release. The price? For as long as I own my devices, the cost differential will be down to way less than a deflated dollar a day, maybe about half that.

    I have had concerns about HP quality in the past, but their machines have seemed more reliable as well as much more visually appealing in the last few years. I will need to replace a machine or two within the next three years, and I'll be happy to look at HP offerings at the same time I check out the most recent similar Surface models.

    Not that my curiosity will ever be satisfied -- who would track it? -- but I would be interested in learning through time if any buyers of this device come to wish they had picked up a Surface Pro instead.

  9. SDreamer

    It would be awesome if these keyboards were all interchangeable. If you were to get more features through using HP would be a differentiation. I'd like to use that keyboard maybe on a Surface Pro or something else (doesn't Lenovo have something similar?).

  10. jwpear

    Paul, if you have detail, will you please comment on battery quality in your full review?  I'm curious if one can expect the battery to last five years before seeing significant degradation in capacity.

    I've never been a huge fan of HP, but this is tempting.

  11. JudaZuk

    Looks hideous I must say, specially the hinge, what is that.

    I do agree that is every thing the Surface Pro is not ..

    Surface Pro is stylish with minimalist design, clean lines, discreet and built to last. ...the HP Spectre is definitely not stylish and minimalist , and it shouts look at me with its faux/copper hinge that is just a finger print magnet , all shiny surfaces are.

    It is starting too look a bit like the horrible HP designs of the past , I really hope they are not going back to that era ever again.

    It might be decent hardware, for a good price, but I would definitely not want to bring that out in public. The "lets make it look like carbon fiber" look of the keyboard makes it ever worse then the copper/faux gold thing)

    I would prefer a Lenovo Thinkpad in that case ...they are not designed to be pretty, but they are built to function and work with a neutral functional design.. that is it..

    This HP looks like some Liberace design reject

  12. Bats

    In addition to what I said earlier, I don't believe that this computer (Spectre X2) is "affordable" at all. I know that Paul stated that the performance on the Intel Core M edition of the prior model was so great. The fact is, it wasn't great, but it was very good. I know, because I have the prior model, as I bought it for $299 at Amazon, this past February. Any computer selling at a starting point of $1,000 is not affordable at all. For a person working $15-$17 per hour/40 hours per week...that's about 1 bi-weekly paycheck.

    To go off-topic a bit, I went to a local Best Buy and handled the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop for the very first time. You know what? I have absolutely no understanding as to why the new Alcantara keyboard is controversial. Overall, I think it's ok. I don't understand this cleaning issue Leo Laporte was trying to make, with his "cheetos" comment. LOL...do people actually use their laptop keyboards as plates and coasters? The Alcantara feels nice, but if someone is into those things, then by all means....by the Surface Pro or Surface Laptop. Again, it feels nice and definitely different, just like my old Samsung Galaxy Note 4, that had a feaux leather (or was it vinyl) back. I just don't see the big deal about that. 

    • Steve Russell

      In reply to Bats:

      I mean.....okay? Yeah, things are less affordable for people that make less money. Duh. But the 2015 median household income in the US (latest I could find) was $56.5k/annually which works out to a little over $27/hr at 40 hours a week.

  13. MutualCore

    Now in rich Corinthian leather.

  14. fraXis


    How is the lapability with this? Is it comparable to the Surface 4/Pro?

  15. Chris Blair

    For alternative viewpoints check out Lisa's smackdown at MobileTechReview, and Laptop Mag's comparison, of the new Surface Pro and HP Spectre X2. To summarize, both sites praise both units, so you can't really go wrong with either, but when push comes to shove, both find that the Surface Pro comes out on top (overall) while the HP is a better value. (EDIT: Or to be more precise, the Surface Pro is several hundred dollars more expensive than the equivalent Spectre X2, but may be worth this premium depending on your use case and priorities.)

    I have not tried either unit, yet, but am leaning towards buying the i5 Surface Pro for three reasons: It's fanless. It has significantly better battery life. And it has the latest pen tech, which matters a lot to me -- but not so much to Paul :)

    PS - I did purchase the i5/8G/256B model of the Surface Pro (2017 edition). As advertised it's cool and totally silent (other than keyboard clicking). Amazing. Otherwise it just works. The new "Signature" / Alcantara keyboard is not much different from my Surface Pro 4 keyboard. In other words, it works and feels great, but is a bit expensive at $160. I also like the fact that the F1 and F3 keys are now used for display brightness control. The new keyboard "smell" issue seems to have been overblown. My keyboard did not smell too badly when I opened the box, and any noticeable smell had totally dissipated after an hour or two. I've not yet bought the new high-tech pen, but am really looking forward to trying one soon since that was one of the main reasons I upgraded from my SP3!

  16. Chris Payne

    Oh wow, this is soooo close. Does anyone know if this also has magnetic attachment for the pen? I hate pen loops.

  17. drbohner

    Have you had a chance to compare with the Samsung Galaxy Book 12?  I have the VZW LTE Version - and am loving it (aside from diminished memory).  Since All my developer machines are VMs, memory 'usually' isn't an issue on a daily driver (how much memory do you need to remote, right??)

    I was just curious if you had a chance to play with the SGB-12, and how it compared.

    ALSO - with the Spectre(s), there are often issues with connected monitors.  Does it have the same issue - if you connect a monitor and close the tablet, do you get a flashing taskbar on the connected monitor?

    Thanks for the review


  18. MerlinE.

    Cant wait to test that Pen! I use the Pen 70% of the time with my Surface Pro (1) for taking Notes and have been waiting for a replacement.

    I am surprised tough that the HP comes with W10 Home I was hoping for either Pro or S, this should be taken into account when comparing the two especially the price.

  19. JanesJr1

    Paul, if you think this unit is "more Pro than the Surface Pro", I personally believe you've missed what Surface has become over the last year or two.  I applaud other OEM's trying to catch up, and improving the value equation. I've seen this HP unit but not used it.   But everything I've read by those who've tested it is that battery life, fan noise and thermals are a problem. The significant development with Surface, by contrast, is that the Surface team is finally mastering the art of being state of the art in a balanced way, across the board: battery life, maxing the cpu through control of thermals and throttling, aesthetics, best in class display, keyboard/touchpad ergonomics, weight, performance. MS helped HP do that with the Spectre, as you reported well, and they also did it with the Surface Laptop and with the Book. Made mistakes, but getting pretty good. Putting the whole package together in a balanced way.

    HP and Dell have done well in this regard with a few laptops ... but not yet with the Surface Pro clones, which are still a year or two behind. I am a long time Thinkpad user, but Lenovo's designs are too often sub-par on display, battery life and maxing cpu's (thermals and throttling) . Surface is doing really well at this now.

    The HP aesthetics are terrible to me, the worst of bling, with all that gold colored chrome plate. But I use pen and tablet features a lot, and the battery life is the diff between carrying around a cord and charger to me, or not. Deal breaker. Maybe next year for HP.

    (And the USB C port thing is overblown to me. I can think of several reasons why I'd prefer a dongle. But you won't agree, and that's a dead-horse for another day.)

  20. Narg

    Look too gawdy to me. Bling in the 2010's? Really? Otherwise, the specs at least shine nicely. Hate those proped up keyboard covers, they bounce, yuck! Seems lots of computer makers are showing Microsoft up on specs these days for similar designs. I'm still vying for an Eve though.

  21. bbold

    Personally, I think the gold and black color combo is tacky. That's just me. I actually prefer the subdued, utilitarian, refined and modern look of the Surface Pro over this. (Don't get me wrong, it looks like a pretty slick device, and it def stands out, perhaps stands out a little too much for my tastes.) Performance wise? The new Core M base model Surface Pro is perfect for me for what I use it for (writing, drawing, listening to Groove or videos), no performance issues for me at all. And super affordable with student discount. Nice review, though!

    I don't think declaring a 'winner' over Surface Pro is necessary, there are different devices for different people, both are great in their own right.

    BigM72.. Yes, the Surface Laptop screen is very sweet! It's my favorite laptop of the year :D

  22. BigM72

    This might just be my next!

    Main thing attracting to me Surface Laptop is getting a decently large screen (13.5" 3:2) in a decently small body. This and Surface Pro are just a little small for full-time use.

  23. richfrantz

    My father got the first gen x2, and returned 3 pens because they never worked right. then he gave up.

    Hopefully they're better now.

  24. RobertJasiek

    I would buy this immediately if the display was matte and the device silent.

    If I needed the keyboard, the tiny arrow keys also prevented a purchase. Otherwise, design and specifications are impressive, although I prefer silver to ash / copper, which I could tolerate though. For HP's reference, 4:3 would be even much better than 3:2.

    Battery and pen tests will be interesting.

  25. Simard57

    how well does that stand work? I often carry my SP3 with the kickstand out and use it as a holding point. This seems not to offer that. perhaps worries about things that may not happen - but is there any chance that the bar could get bent? That would be a disaster.

  26. ChristopherCollins

    I want to see your battery thoughts. Two common points brought up is that the NTrig isn't as accurate and this thing has 1/2 battery life of the new Surface Pro. One review was less than kind to the touchpad.

    I had hoped you would review this.

    Looking forward to your full thoughts. Especially battery under real workloads.

  27. Bats

    I have always been wanting to buy a Surface Pro for years, mainly because I like going into meetings, conferences, and seminars with a virtual notebook. However, what always made me NOT buy the Surface Pro was there design. For me style, makes a lot of my professional persona. I buy custom tailored suits and shoes. Though I do own very expensive watches (Rolex and Omega), I opt to wear my Huawei watch so I can change the band and the watch face to match my overall look. With that said, style matters alot to me and the Surface Pro has absolutely NONE. The only reason I ever consider wanting to buy the Surface Pro was because it was a Microsoft product. 

    Even though the style was boring, I was still planning to buy the new 2017 Surface Pro anyway, until HP released this HP Spectre X2. THAT computer, fits my style and my needs. THAT computer out-styles, the Surface Pro in every way. I mean, the Surface Pro, can't even show it's face to the Spectre X2. So, I bought it. I am proud owner of this computer and I love it. Professionally, it's awesome and at work, I get so many compliments with it. It sucks because, alot of my colleagues are planning to buy the same thing. I transformed it into a super-powerful Chromebook for personal use.

    The Spectre X2 will obviously be compared to the Surface Pro. When differences will be pointed out by the professional eye...for the normal eye, the two computers are exactly identical.

    As for pen functionality...no one really cares for the touchpoint sensitivity, except for the very few people in this world. Other than that, the pen is great for taking notes and making PDF annotations.

    Overall, I see what Microsoft is doing with their Surface line. They are simply trying to copy Apple's simplistic and somewhat elegant nature. To me, they have failed because no way are the Surface line of computers elegant.The internals and functionality are great, but the overall design is plain and uninspiring. HP has always been a "style" tech company in terms of computers. Not only did I buy the HP Spectre X2, but I also bought the 27" Envy AiO with another monitor, not only because of it's specs, but because of how it looks.

    FYI, I customized my machine with top of the line specs, except for HD size. There i just went with 512GB.

    • Stooks

      In reply to Bats:

      " For me style, makes a lot of my professional persona. I buy custom tailored suits and shoes. Though I do own very expensive watches (Rolex and Omega), I opt to wear my Huawei watch so I can change the band and the watch face to match my overall look."

      Do you get callouses on your hands from patting your self on the back so much?

    • lvthunder

      In reply to Bats:

      We have a couple HP's at my office and I have a Surface Book and I've got to say I really like the Surface Pen better than the HP one. I like that there is only one button on the Surface Pen and the other is the eraser at the top (which would make it a pencil that looks like a pen though). Also the Surface Pen seems more balanced in my hand. I think it's because it's a little taller. It also has a flat edge kind of like a pencil that makes it easier to hold in the same position so the button is always in the same spot.

    • t1618

      In reply to Bats:

      Thank you for the information about you're purchases and possessions, important to know.

      You're grammar checker, its switched off dude.

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