HP Spectre x2 (2017) Review

Posted on July 28, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 28 Comments

HP Spectre x2 (2017) Review

HP’s new Spectre x2 is like Surface Pro, but better: It offers a superior and more modern design, and is a better value, thanks to lower pricing and the inclusion of a type cover and active pen.

What’s not to love?

Design

If you’ve been paying attention to HP’s premium PCs in recent years, you know that the firm has moved to a gorgeous new dark ash silver and copper color scheme that really differentiates its products. Design is, of course, subjective. But I find these devices to be the prettiest in the business. They scream premium in ways that corporate-looking ThinkPads and bland Dell XPS laptops do not.

The x2’s body is CNC-machined, which means that it has been milled from a single piece of aluminum for rigidity and stability. The color, on both the body and the kickstand, is actually a coating, which in the case of the chassis is anodized. But I’ve not experienced any obvious scratches or marks as I saw on the Surface Laptop.

As important, the application of HP’s premium color scheme has reached a new apex on the x2, with the copper accent found basically only on the elegant new kickstand, providing just the right amount of visual oomph. Some early versions of this scheme, like the Spectre laptop, were a bit too gaudy for many. But the Spectre x2 gets it just right.

That kickstand has been improved immeasurably over the original design, and it no longer requires a hard-to-use slider switch to release it. Too, the U-shaped design, which initially seems a bit too thin to work well, allows HP to cram more battery into the body since it takes up so little space when closed. It even helps the device stand up a little straighter vertically, an issue I had with the previous device.

The kickstand also allows the x2 to tilt back to 165 degrees, a huge improvement over the previous version that matches the new Surface Pro’s so-called Studio mode. Pushed back this far, the x2 provides an ideal surface (ahem) for writing or drawing with the bundled active pen.

Put simply, this is a beautiful device, and it is arguably the best-looking 2-in-1 in the market. But the design is also more practical now, and the device is easier to use than before.

Display

While HP has improved the 2017 Spectre x2 in a variety of ways compared to its predecessor, its new display is perhaps the biggest single improvement. It is certainly the most noticeable.

The previous generation x2 provided a 12-inch 1080p-ish display with a strange 1920 x 1280 resolution and that 3:2 aspect ratio that is perfect for 2-in-1s. For 2017, HP has significantly improved this display. It’s a bit bigger, at 12.3 inches, but thanks to the smaller bezels, it sits in an even smaller body. And the resolution is now 3000 x 2000, or what HP calls 3K2K. And in case it’s not obvious, yes, it’s still 3:2.

And it is gorgeous, and not only because of the dramatically improved pixel density. The new display is also significantly brighter than the version it replaces and it delivers much richer colors.

Components and ports

Speaking of yesteryear, you may recall that the original x2 was dogged by poorly-performing Intel Core M processors. For this generation, HP has wisely pushed upward to 7th generation Core i5 and Core i7 processors with Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics. The device also offers up to 16 GB of fast LPDDR3 RAM and up to 1 TB of fast PCIe-based SSD storage.

Externally, the x2 presents some interesting compromises. It offers two USB-C ports, one on each side, and of course, it utilizes USB-C charging.

But those ports aren’t Thunderbolt 3-capable, so they are limited to just 5 Gbs of bandwidth. So that’s something to consider if you intend to dock it or use external displays. Likewise, the x2 is so thin that HP doesn’t include even a single full-sized USB 3 port. But it at least includes a dongle for compatibility with existing peripherals. The x2 also includes a microSD slot for storage expansion.

So how does this all come together?

On paper, the Spectre x2 falls short of the 2017 Ultrabook norm from a performance perspective. It required 2 hours and 14 minutes to encode the 4K video Tears of Steel to 1080p using the Handbrake utility. This is the longest time I’ve measured this year: The ThinkPad X1 Carbon and HP Spectre x360 15 (2017), for example, both required about 1 hour and 40 minutes.

But that’s a fairly grueling and test, and an esoteric need. In real world use, the Spectre x2 delivers fantastic performance for the productivity tasks that it was designed to handle. And I never noticed any slowdowns, stutters, or glitches while using my standard suite of tools, which includes Microsoft Office, Google Chrome, and Adobe Photoshop Elements.

The x2 does exhibit a fairly regular fan hiss, which wouldn’t normally be notable in a device this thin. But given the magic of the nearly silent Surface Pro (2017), the hiss is worth mentioning, and is a downside. Likewise, the back of the x2 can get hot, though the tablet form factor means that the heat will be exposed to the air, and not muffled (or exacerbated) by whatever surface the device is resting on.

I’m surprised to report that audio playback, normally a tinny and lackluster experience on tablets and 2-in-1s, is surprisingly solid. HP says it has improved the audio compared to the previous model by utilizing front-firing speakers, and via its collaboration with Bang & Olufsen. Whatever the reason, audio is crisp, clear, and bright. And surprisingly loud.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

As with other 2-in-1 PCs, the HP Spectre x2 utilizes a cover that magnetically connects to the device’s tablet body and provides both a keyboard and a touchpad. But there are differences between the HP solution and those of its rivals, especially the new Surface Pro.

For starters, this keyboard cover is included in the price of the x2, whereas Microsoft charges $160 for its most comparable keyboard cover, the Signature Type Cover.

But it’s not just the price: The x2 keyboard cover offers the best typing experience I’ve ever had with a 2-in-1 PC. And it more closely emulates the key feel and feedback that one expects from a traditional Ultrabook or laptop keyboard. Yes, there’s a bit of flex if you look for it—just press down on the center of the keyboard—but in normal use, it’s nearly flawless with aluminum-coated keys and an ideal 1.5 mm of key travel.

Thanks to the 3:2 aspect ratio of the display and device itself, the wrist rest area is a bit shorter than with 16:9 or 16:10 PCs, but I never found that to be an issue over two trips with the device. And the cover supports two typing angles, thanks to the magic of magnets, just like Surface Pro.

The touchpad is wide, like those on other HP portable PCs, but I didn’t experience many unwelcome mis-clicks.

Finally, the keyboard cover has a nice, grippy exterior surface for a more secure grip while moving the device around. It’s just a great accessory all around.

HP also bundles an active pen with the Spectre x2, which is a nice touch. (That’s a $100 extra with the new Surface Pro.) And the pen experience is pretty great, thanks in part to the x2’s new found ability to tilt back to 165 degrees. The pen itself hasn’t improved this year, however, so it offers 1024 pressure sensitivity levels, not 4096 like Surface Pen, and it doesn’t support tilt. Long story short, the pen performance is excellent, but it is out-classed by the silky smooth new Surface Pen, especially when paired with the new Surface Pro.

But here’s a final win for HP: The Spectre x2 includes an integrated pen loop so you can securely carry your pen with you. Can I get a hallelujah?

Battery

The HP Spectre x2 delivered 8 hours and 18 minutes of life on my 1080p video streaming tests over Wi-Fi. So it came in roughly identical to Lenovo’s 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which delivered 8:14 and utilizes very similar components, aside from the displays: The HP features a 12.3-inch display at 3000 x 2000 pixels, whereas the X1 utilizes a larger 14-display, albeit at a much lower 1080p resolution.

Software

After making some big gains towards cleaner PC images in past years, HP has reverted to its old ways. Like all HPs, the x2 includes the reviled and time-limited McAfee security software, which I recommend removing immediately. But it also ships with a strange assortment of utilities and outright crapware that goes above and beyond the crap that Microsoft already includes in Windows 10.

There is, for example, a superfluous password manager called Keeper, some games, and a strangely huge assortment of HP software like Bang & Olufsen Audio Control, HP Audio Switch, HP ePrint SW, HP Support Assistant, HO Documentation, HP Recovery Manager, HP Recovery Media Creation, HP JumpStart, HP Orbit, HP Pen Control, and probably others. Much of this is redundant, and surely there is a way to clean it all up.

The one utility you’ll want to become familiar with is the HP Support Assistant: It will help you download x2-specific drivers and other software updates. But it’s not as clean and easy to use as, say, the Lenovo Companion app that comes with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

The Spectre x2 ships with Windows 10 Home.

Pricing and configurations

The Spectre x2 can be had for as little as $1150 for a model with a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a smallish 128 GB of SSD storage. But remember that this includes that stunning 3000 x 2000 3:2 display, the excellent keyboard cover, and the active pen. With the new Surface Pro, you pay extra for the keyboard cover and pen, and a similarly configured Microsoft device would cost $1259; and that Surface only includes 4 GB of RAM, not 8.

But wait.The savings increase as you move up the model chart.

For example, a reasonably-configured Spectre x2, with a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of SSD storage, will cost $1170. By comparison, a similarly configured Surface Pro (2017) would set you back over $1550. So that’s an incredible savings if you choose the HP.

The review unit includes a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 360 GB SSD (an odd amount, I know). This model costs $1670, but it still represents a significant value over Surface, where a similarly configured model (with 512 GB of SSD storage) costs an incredible $2460 with the full accessory set. That’s almost $800 in savings for the HP.

There are a few other models, too, and you should be able to find one that matches your needs between HP.com and retailers like Best Buy. The most expensive Spectre x2 includes a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of SSD storage for $1970.

Recommendations and conclusions

The HP Spectre x2 is the best overall 2-in-1 PC in the market today and is, by far, the best value. It falls short of the new Surface Pro in only two areas, fan noise and pen capabilities. But neither is likely to sway those customers who can save several hundred dollars by choosing the HP. And in doing so, they will get a more elegant and forward-leaning PC as well.

The HP Spectre x2 is an excellent combination of capability and value, and it is highly recommended.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Stunning, elegant design
  • Modern components
  • Superior 2-in-1 keyboard cover
  • Reasonable pricing
  • Includes keyboard cover and active pen

Cons

  • Fan noise makes it louder than the new Surface Pro
  • Active pen falls short of new Surface Pen
  • McAfee security software, other crapware
  • Dongles required

 

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