HP Spectre Folio First Impressions

Posted on November 16, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 34 Comments

Yes, it’s made of leather. But there is a much bigger innovation in the HP Spectre Folio, I think, that has nothing to do with the build materials.

That said, the leather is important. It’s central to the character of the device, and it’s emblematic of the type of customer that HP is trying to attract. People who value design and style as much as—if not more than—the underlying technology.

And while I’m not a millennial, I have long lived the work/life balance that that generation is now popularizing. I’ve worked from home for well over 20 years straight, and I travel a lot for work and for pleasure, mixing and matching my personal and work lives on the same devices. The HP Spectre is for this audience. So it’s for me, too.

Details matter

On that note, the Spectre Folio’s design is all about the details. Where Microsoft experimented with gluing an Alcantara carpet on the keyboard lid of its Surface Laptop, HP has gone all-in by integrating a more beloved and durable material, leather, right into the product itself. This isn’t a cover or a sleeve, and it most certainly isn’t glued on.

How HP integrated leather into the aluminum and magnesium that makes up the rest of the Spectre Folio’s form factor is an interesting story in and of itself. (In fact, the exploded diagrams of this device are a kind of art themselves.) But what potential customers will really care about is how well they meld together to form a cohesive whole. And how good it all looks and feels.

The HP Spectre Folio looks and feels great. But it’s not made of the type of leather with which you’re probably familiar.

Many leather products, like belts, wallets, or even a Waterfield Designs laptop bag, develop a patina as they wear, and this change alters their character, favorably, over time. HP looked at using this type of leather in the Folio. But the problem is that this patina develops naturally. So it’s possible that someone might purchase a device that’s been sitting on a store shelf for some time and think it was used or reconditioned because it didn’t seem new as it came out of the box.

So the leather than HP did use is more analogous to the leather you might find in a luxury car seat. It’s designed to stand up to use and abuse. And to not change its character over time. It reminds me a bit of a basketball from a tactile perspective, though the pebbling is smaller. And while I can’t speak to its long-term viability, of course, it seems more durable than, say, Alcantara.

The leather goodness of the Spectre Folio isn’t just for transportation, though I do like how the device seems like a leather portfolio as you carry it around. Instead, you’re treated to this surface during usage, as well. And when you type on the Folio, the material you’re coming into contact with via your wrists is not plastic or metal. It’s leather. As a user base, we’re just not used to this kind of luxury. It’s an interesting differentiator.

Whether you find the Spectre Folio’s design attractive is, of course, up to you. But I’d be surprised if someone told me they didn’t like the feel of it. It does have that something special that HP was clearly hoping to achieve.

But I mentioned innovation beyond the leather.

If you think about how the PC has evolved since the release of Windows 8, we see the biggest advances in the 2-in-1 space. There are actually a lot of different designs here, but they basically boil down to two form factors. Tablets with attachable keyboard covers like Surface Pro. And convertible PCs in which the display lid can swivel around 360 degrees to create a thick tablet-like usage mode.

The success of these PCs is tied to their versatility. Or, as I believe to be the case, the promise of their versatility. Most Surface Pro and HP Spectre x360 users probably just use their PCs as they would any clamshell laptop most of the time. But the reason they’re drawn to these types of PCs is for the occasional usage that can come from their transforming designs. Perhaps to draw or take notes. Or to watch a movie.

The problem with these designs, however, is that each is a huge compromise.

Tablets like Surface Pro are better tablets than laptops because they’re top heavy and their keyboard covers, while workable, still aren’t as good as real laptop keyboards.

Convertible PCs, meanwhile, make for decent laptops, but they often have complex hinges and are thick and heavy tablets. Plus, the keyboard is often underneath the device when it tablet mode, which can be awkward with your fingers when held or dangerous to the keys if it’s on a table.

What’s most interesting to me about the Spectre Folio is that HP appears to have solved these problems by creating a new kind of 2-in-1—or 3-in-1 or 4-in-1 or whatever—that works more efficiently and easily in each of its usage modes. That is, yes, the leather is interesting. But this type of form factor could be bound for greater success in many more PCs in the future.

When the Folio is closed, it looks and works like a closed portfolio. You open the display lid to get back to work and the PC is in a traditional clamshell usage mode.

To place the Folio into a consumption mode, perhaps to watch a movie on a cramped airline seat or in bed, you simply detach the bottom of the display from the base—it’s held on by magnets—and move it forward.

You then prop the bottom of the display between the bottom of the keyboard and the top of the touchpad, creating a natural consumption usage mode in which you can still access the touchpad for navigation and media playback. It’s very stable in this mode, and the keyboard doesn’t have to be twisted below the device so that it’s sitting on a table or other surface.

To use the Folio in tablet mode, you again detach the bottom of the display and pull it forward to the front of the device as you push down on the top of the display.

Again, the keyboard is protected, underneath the display. And thanks to the elegant design, the display you will not be writing on or touching has a comfortable tilt to it.

HP’s on to something here, folks. This thing just works.

The Folio’s internals were a source of confusion and possible disappointment when the device was first announced back in early October. It’s powered by a dual-core 8th-generation Intel Core Y-series chipset, which is the successor to a sad line of Core M and Y-series chips that many of us still lament.

But that’s also the same processor family that powers Apple’s new MacBook Air. And as my performance testing has shown, this chip is absolutely adequate for what I’ll call everyday productivity tasks. HP tells me that Intel’s Y-series chips have come a long way, and it has benchmarks showing this performing almost as well as quad-core, U-series-based PCs in common productivity tasks. And unlike with Apple, it has created a design that is both fan-free and silent.

That chipset is also able to achieve north of 20 hours of battery life—depending on the display you configure; there are Full HD and 4K options—so it’s possible that HP has achieved yet another innovation here: A computer that delivers on the longevity benefits of Windows 10 on ARM with none of the performance and compatibility issues. We’ll see.

You can outfit the Folio with 8 or 16 GB of RAM and up to a whopping 2 TB of SSD storage. It comes with optional gigabit LTE cellular networking, with dual SIMs (one an eSIM) so it’s an Always-Connected PC. And it ships with HP smartpen right in the box. This thing is ready for whatever you want it to do.

It even comes with a leather pen loop! Be still my heart

I’ve only done some light testing so far. The keyboard is up to HP’s usual level of quality and it supports two levels of backlighting. The touchpad is small and made of glass, which I like.

The web camera is where it belongs, on the top of the display. And that display is of course 16:9 because HP hasn’t gotten the memo on 3:2 yet. There’s certainly room for it. And it has quad Bang & Olufsen speakers, though I’ve not yet really tested them.

Connectivity is excellent for this class of device. The Folio features two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, one USB-C port, and a headphone jack.

It also ships with a USB-C-to-USB-A adapter in the box. Just like Apple doesn’t. Cough.

Everything that comes in the box

Pricing is, well, premium: A base HP Spectre Folio with a 13.3-inch FHD display, a Core i7-8500Y processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage will set you back about $1400, or $100 more with LTE. The review model, with 16 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage (and LTE), is $1608. That, incidentally, is the same price as the MacBook Air I purchased (also with 16 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage). But I’ll remind you that the MacBook Air lacks multitouch, smartpen, and LTE support, and cannot be used in multiple usages modes like the HP. Also, it’s rated at half the battery life of the HP.

Did HP just reinvent the 2-in-1/convertible PC? I think they may have. And that they did so in a device that’s made of leather is particularly interesting too.

More soon.


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Comments (34)

34 responses to “HP Spectre Folio First Impressions”

  1. RobertJasiek

    What does the nomenclature Core i7-8500Y tell us? i7 sounds like hot and fan but Y sounds like silent. As confusing as ever but if this CPU does what it promises, we shall bear the name... Can't await real battery life testing.

  2. Jorge Garcia

    Bravo HP. You are so close to making what I REALLY want

    If it was...

    A. 3:2 display instead of 16:9

    B. Capable of accepting at least a MicroSD slot for external storage

    C. Running ChromeOS

    D. Available in black

    Then I would be really mad as I would ---HAVE TO--- pony up the money and get myself one.

    (No sarcasm here, I actually feel this way)

  3. chrisrs

    This is very interesting. I hope to see it in a non-leather version.

    Since the "flat" mode is not completely flat, how well does this work in a portraite or hand held mode?

    The "innovative" folding display looks very similar to a design from a several years ago. I believe that it was the original Lenovo flip series.

  4. Boris Zakharin

    I see it inherits the horrible arrow key design HP has invented. It kills any attempt at gaming without a joystick or other accessory. I'm still struggling with this on my otherwise great Envy from 2 years ago.

    • Jorge Garcia

      In reply to bzakharin:

      I think you're going to have to give up that battle man, at least for these ultrabooks. Touch by itself has eliminated a lot for the need for the arrow keys, so it makes a lot of sense for them to shrink. Whenever they do keep the large arrow keys around...the touch typists get very upset as the right shift key becomes smaller or moves altogether. I hate to say it, man but for ultra portable PC's like this, the touch-typists are more of the target demographic than you are.

  5. Mike Widrick

    I think I like the idea of this device more than the device. It's like a concept car that way, only usable. It's $1400 but all the pieces are there, really, smartpen, OneNote, ports, intel, decent storage. So I don't know, I really need to try it in person. BUT if they release a basketball version, that would be very hard to say no to.

  6. Daekar

    I showed this article to my wife, and this device immediately jumped to the top of the short list for her next PC. She doesn't get gadget lust as easily as I do, but this really appealed to her immediately.

  7. John Craig

    Hi Paul, I'm a heavy onenote user. Is this device any good for extensive note taking? It doesn't look like it lies flat, at 180 degrees.

  8. akshay77

    Hi Sir, thanks for this informative article, this will definitely help me in the future. Thanks Once again.

  9. ruusterc

    I love this device i want to own this device my only question for hp is why is it only available in the US its not available in canada it all

    • Daishi

      In reply to ruusterc:

      My question is why they have jacked up the price by a third in Australia. US$1400 after currency conversion and adding GST should come to about AU$2100, but checking HPs website the starting price is $2800.

      Apparently anyone who dares not to live in the US just deserves to get screwed

  10. mmcpher

    "And thanks to the elegant design, the display you will not be writing on or touching has a comfortable tilt to it."

    I would be writing on and touching that screen (assuming that it is, in fact, compatible with an active pen/stylus, as HP has been known to fudge on such details). I saw and was intrigued by a Folio recently and if it had been available in 15.6 or even 17.3 I would have given it a longer look. The one thing that didn't feel immediately right to me was the screen angle while in full laptop mode (open).

  11. wp7mango

    You might be right Paul, HP could be onto something.

    I'm still using a Surface Pro 3 and was considering upgrading to a Surface Pro 6. If this new HP was available with a 3:2 screen, it would be my next device.

    Why? Because I'm one of those occasional use types. Normally my SP3 is docked and used as a desktop PC. This probably accounts for 70% of it's usage. 20% of the time is used in tablet mode, either for consumption or for professional design tasks. 10% is laptop use, and only when I have a desk available, because I don't like using it on my lap. And because I don't want to scratch it and can't be sure it won't run out of battery for the tasks I use, I always carry it in a mini laptop bag.

    So this HP would, I think, make an ideal hybrid for me because it would function well as a docked desktop, tablet, and laptop, and I wouldn't need to carry it around in a laptop bag. Perfect!

    Dear HP - please make this in 3:2 :-)

  12. jwpear

    Very nice! Bravo HP! Now let's see if Microsoft and the other OEMs will respond.

  13. mrdrwest

    Sweet! This device would be on my must-have list if I were an exec.

  14. jaredthegeek

    This device really intrigued me as I would use it more often as a laptop but the pen and how it folds would be great for diagrams.

  15. BigM72

    For me personally, it’s a shame it’s real leather and not a leather-like material. I appreciate it’s not a concern for most people but I prefer to avoid animal products if I can do so easily.

    In addition, from an aesthetic and tactile perspective, I’m not sure this leather style appeals to me. Both the colour and the pebbly feel versus “smooth” leather. A hard-wearing fabric closer to perhaps would be more my bag and it would be truly great if they could offer some choice in this area in the future.

    Also not sure of the “lip” with the material going beyond the edges of the device.

    I do appreciate what they are trying to do overall with the concept however.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to BigM72:

      HP would not commit to this, but if you look at the type cover on the Envy x2, which is basically a kind of plastic, I'd be surprised to not see devices like that using this design. Including a future Envy, actually.

  16. Eric Alpern

    First off, this is the first time I am posting/contributing (long time follower). This is exactly the type of device I have been looking for. As a sales person the ability to take notes in a meeting is imperative. This form factor is a much more elegant approach.

  17. coreyp

    Is the touchpad a Precision one?

  18. feedtheshark

    I think the design on this is brilliant, as Paul says HP have nailed the 2-in-1, or 3-in-1. Usability wise you've got a great laptop, something comfortable to watch movies when travelling and a magazine like tablet for reading. My concern (typing this on an HP Spectre) is HPs trackpad, it ruins this machine and I keep seeing the same when reading reviews of newer HPs, they need to adopt Microsofts standard as Dell and others have. The other great flaw is the battery life, it doesn't life up to the promises at all, 3 or 4 hours and it's done and leave it off charge overnight and the battery is drained. So I will wait for someone to copy this design and do it in an environmentally sustainable product, as a vegetarian and mostly vegan, I could never buy leather as a "luxury" product. It's not right to think a living creatures skin is appropriate to be turned into a product. So HP, thanks for solving the 2-in-1, thank you Microsoft for pushing OEMs to beat the Surface, now everyone copy this.

  19. locust infested orchard inc

    This gorgeous leather-clad HP Spectre Folio 13 is unique in that it is the only device that currently makes use of Intel's <5W TDP eighth generation Amber Lake-Y SoC that was released in August 2018.

    The Amber Lake-Y is more SoC than CPU as it has gigabit Wi-Fi and 4G/LTE, courtesy of Intel's XMM 7560 LTE Advanced Pro, embedded within the multi-chip module, akin to the ARM SoCs.

    It is also notable that the Amber Lake-Y was designed in conjunction with HP (as was the 64-bit Itanium CPU – let's hope there's no disastrous repetitions of the past).

    So this is not any just any old chip update from Intel, but a serious chip that may be used in a future foldable device that possesses cellular telephony capabilities.

    The successor to this 14++nm Amber Lake-Y chip will be the ninth generation 10nm Cannon Lake-Y chip, expected in Q4 2019 / Q1 2020.

    Sources (to attest to the veracity of my comment, because the internet is the ultimate source of disinformation):

    (1) https://www.pcworld.com/article/3309411/laptop-computers/how-intel-engineers-helped-create-hp-spectre-folio-motherboard.html

    (2) https://www.anandtech.com/show/13434/intel-custom-amber-lake-y-with-lte-modem

    (3) https://www.anandtech.com/show/13275/intel-launches-whiskey-lake-amber-lake

  20. Alexander Rothacker

    Every time I want to sign a document, or some other use for the pen on my SP4 and I have to pick the whole device up and either fold the keyboard underneath, or remove it. This HP design is genius.

  21. brettscoast

    Good write up Paul

    wow this really looks a sweet classy machine with all sorts of goodness in it. You have I think dispelled any lingering doubts about the intel core Y chipset I had, if these dual core Y chips can perform as well or on par with some quad core chips then that is a big improvement. The display options are excellent despite the 16.9 aspect ratio. This machine really does have some real world advantages of the recently released macbook air. Just wondering how long do the PC manufacturers allow you to use the review units for? I look forward to your full review of this beautiful machine.

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