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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