HP Spectre x360 13 (2019 5th-Generation) First Impressions

Posted on December 10, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 14 Comments

HP’s newest Spectre x360 13 brings forward its predecessor’s iconic design but in a much smaller package. As important, it appears that HP has fixed a major issue I experienced with the previous generation Spectre x360 13.

Before getting to that, let’s take a look at the most startling change: This 5th-generation Spectre x360 is 13 percent smaller than its predecessor. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you place the new unit on top of the old, you’ll find that the older 4th-generation Spectre x360 13 is almost one inch deeper than the new unit.

Obviously, something had to give. And sure enough, the new Spectre x360 13 sacrifices the stylized speaker grill that sat above the keyboard previously, and the wrist rest is a bit less deep as well. More impressively, HP has finally taken meaningful steps to reduce its previously-ludicrously large bezels on the display lid: The gigantic 25.82 mm bottom bezel on the previous version has been replaced by a much smaller 11.09 mm bottom bezel on the new version, a 57 percent reduction. And the top bezel has shrunk even more impressively, from 17.35 mm to just 5.85 mm, a 66 percent reduction.

Put another way, the previous-generation Spectre x360 13 had an unimpressive 78 percent screen-to-body ratio, but the new version has a 90 percent screen-to-body ratio. It looks great, and it still works as before: The tiny top bezel contains a smaller web camera and IR camera (for Windows Hello) components. HP wasn’t forced to “pull a Dell” and put the cameras below the display.

Beyond this most welcome change, the Spectre x360 13 carries forward with the gem-cut, hard-edged, angular aluminum CNC design of its predecessor. The look is polarizing—you either love it or you don’t, I guess—but it’s also practical. Because of the unusual 45-degree rear corners, HP has found a new and easily discoverable (and memorable) place for the power button, on the left rear corner. And it has placed a USB-C port on the right rear corner; thanks to its angle, an attached power cord won’t get in your way if you wish to use a mouse on the right side of the device. Smart.

For those who are not fans of the angular design, HP has somewhat softened the blow by bringing back a classic silver color option. This is ideal for those who don’t want the flashier color schemes—Nightfall Black with Copper Luxe accents, and Poseidon Blue with Pale Brass accents—that HP also offers. This is a PC that even the most conservative user can embrace.

Like previous HP x360 designs, the new Spectre converts between four usage modes: Traditional laptop, tent, presentation, and tablet. If you’re familiar with my notion of optimizing for the everyday, I feel like this is the right design for most users. Its optimized for the most common usage mode, a laptop, but can easily transform when needed. For example, you can use the included HP Pen to take notes on the display in tablet mode, and its smaller overall size makes it a better fit for that role than previous x360s.

Inside, the new Spectre is powered by 10th-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 quad-core processors with Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, and 256 to 2 TB of SSD storage, with some models offering an Intel Optane option. The smaller new form factor necessitated a new thermal design, which consists of larger air inlets and outlets, more internal graphite sheeting to disperse heat, and new air inlet holes under the top middle of the keyboard.

Connectivity is likewise impressive: The HP features Wi-Fi 6 and gigabit 4G LTE, with 4×4 antennas and a unique ability to use both simultaneously if desired. It includes Bluetooth 5.0 capabilities as well.

External expansion is acceptable given the PC’s small dimensions. There’s a single full-sized USB 3.1 port on the left, complete with a flip-down half cover, and a combo audio jack.

On the right, you’ll find two USB-C ports—one of which, again, is on the angled back right corner—and a microSD card reader.

The keyboards on HP’s premium PCs are typically excellent, and the Spectre x360 13 appears to continue this trend, with ideal key travel and a comfortable typing experience. One possible concern, of course, is the smaller wrist rest area. I have very large hands, and I’m curious if this will remain comfortable over time. But I suspect that those with more normally-sized mitts will do just fine.

I mentioned upfront that I experienced one serious issue with the Spectre’s predecessor. That was with its trackpad, which proved so unreliable that I scuttled my review of the PC. HP heard the complaints—I wasn’t the only one, obviously—and it provides a precision touchpad in the new version. I assume that will fix the problems.

To compensate for the lack of space on the keyboard deck, HP moved the new Spectre x360’s speakers to the bottom, and in my early tests they sound pretty punchy, especially when the PC is on a hard surface. I’ll compare the sound to that of the previous version and to the new HP Elite Dragonfly, which has particularly good audio.

There are three display options, each of which is glossy: A Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS panel, that same Full HD panel with an integrated privacy screen, and a 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS BrightView panel. The review unit—which includes a Core i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of NVMe M.2 SSD storage—is the first of the three, and my personal preference.

On that note, HP rates the battery life at 22 hours, which it says is the longest battery life of any quad-core 13.3-inch consumer convertible PC; web browsing is rated at almost 12 hours, and that’s likely closer to accurate. It can also charge to 50 percent in just 30 minutes.

There are some additional unique touches. Like its predecessor, the new Spectre includes a hardware switch—located on the right side of the device between the microSD card slot and the USB-C port—for toggling the webcam on and off for privacy. But new to the 5th-generation unit is a microphone mute toggle key on the function row of the keyboard.

HP also bundles a few security-oriented software apps on the Spectre—ExpressVPN and LastPass—but I find these additions to be largely superfluous. ExpressVPN is free for one month only, and LastPass is the free version.

Speaking of software, the crapware-laden load-out that HP supplies is not ideal. The taskbar comes with icons for ExpressVPN, a Dropbox promotion, and HP JumpStarts, and the Start menu is cluttered with even more, including two McAfee apps, and a surprisingly long list of HP and Intel applications and utilities. And that’s on top of the nonsense that Microsoft dumps on us all in Windows 10. I thought we had moved past this phase, but I guess not.

Pricing is reasonable for a premium PC of this type: The HP Spectre x360 13 starts at $1099 for a model with a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of SSD storage. The review unit retails for $1299, and it includes a Core i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage. Upgrade to the 4K UHD AMOLED display, 16 GB of RAM, and 1 TB SSD + 32 GB of Intel Optane, and you’re looking at $1699.

More soon.

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Comments (16)

16 responses to “HP Spectre x360 13 (2019 5th-Generation) First Impressions”

  1. James Hancock

    Still waiting for a 13" devices with 32 GB of memory so that I can do some basic coding if needed while on the road. 15" is too big, and 16 GB is way too small. Web Browser, docker, VS.net and one vs code instance and you're already over.

  2. bassoprofundo

    So... I love the looks, but I'm not sure I would voluntarily go back to a 16x9 screen after moving to 3:2 on my current Surface Laptop. 16x9 feels especially tight to me on a 13" screen, too. I don't think I've seen a single reviewer who didn't agree that 3:2 is a superior aspect ratio for productivity, so I'm kind of surprised we don't have more PC makers moving to it. Must be a glut of less expensive 16x9 panels on the market still... The Spectres check every box for me except that, though.

    • Richardsona39

      In reply to bassoprofundo:

      16:9 is only thing that gives me real pause (and it doesn't seem like the speakers are great). Other than that, extremely solid. An alternative would be the Dragonfly, which Paul also has, so hopefully he does a comparison. Very different pricepoints, and the Dragonfly doesn't have latest spec CPU and graphics, but I'd be using it for a business productivity machine not gaming or video, so that's probably OK.

      • Paul Thurrott

        Yeah, I was just thinking about doing a comparison. There are many similarities, and important differences. The price will kill the Dragonfly for many, however.
  3. jblank46

    I saw the new Spectre in person at Best Buy yesterday and found it to be much smaller than I expected. I want something super light and have really enjoyed the aspect ratio of Surfaces at work so I’m torn about these non 3:2 laptops. I’ve been debating the Spectre vs XPS 13 vs Lenovo C940 vs Surface Pro X.

  4. wright_is

    It looks great, but my first generation X360 is still going strong...

  5. adam.mt

    Slight mistake there Paul, when you talk about the display options you say the 4K is IPS BrightView which is wrong. You get it right at the end, it's OLED (AMOLED) - the first 13" laptop out there.


    Personally the Synaptics touchpad on my gem cut early 2019 model seems fine and others agree. I could (unofficially) switch to Precision drivers but not found the need yet. Many do prefer Microsoft driven touchpads though.

  6. SenorGravy

    So happy to hear of the move away from Synaptic drivers. I have a 2019 Spectre 15" and the experience is so bad I no longer want to use it. Coupled with HP's notoriously bad quality (speakers crapped out 2 months into ownership) and I may not ever have another HP laptop again. Which is a shame, because it certainly is a good looking laptop.

  7. adam.mt

    SenorGravy: If you check Reddit there's quite a few threads on how to install the Microsoft Precision drivers on earlier Spectres (in short, applying a Lenovo or HP Elitebook driver).

  8. farinasjr

    Very nice looking laptop, but the exterior material is a fingerprint magnet, and a pain to clean. The touchpad on my early 2019 gem cut 13" isn't to bad, but the wifi disconnects every time the computer is put to sleep and wakes up, it needs a reboot in order to get the wifi up and running again. This is something that HP should have addressed a long time ago since my 2008 HP HDX 18 always did the same. On the other hand, the only true upgrades i see on this newer model is the option of the wifi 6 and the AMOLED screen, because the 10th gen intel core processor included with it is weaker than the 9th gen 97XX on some other older laptops. I would rather wait to get a laptop with a AMOLED screen since this might be the standard in just a few more months and it will be much cheaper. In fact, there are other HP models which are tho the spectre, which can be ordered with a AMOLED screen , and they cost much less (hundreds less) than the spectre. Another thing to note on the newer HP configurable models, is that HP is charging a lot of money for a simple SSD upgrade from 512gb to 1tb. It seems they're trying to copy Apple's ridiculous expensive upgrade scheme.

  9. ikjadoon

    A few things I'm really curious about:


    1) This is "Project Athena certified", which means it should have very fast and reliable wake-up times. Is that true? When you open the lid, how long until you're at the desktop?


    I mean, is it just the same as every other Windows laptop, marginally faster, a lot slower, more/less consistent?


    2) And as another "big fingers" person, how quickly are you getting used to the offset layout, i.e., the center of the QWERTY keyboard is not at center of the laptop because of HP's extra row at the right; look where the raised lines on F & J are vs the touchpad middle? I tried it in Best Buy, absolutely abhorred it, but found it in a sale, so it's in the mail...


    3) How's the screen brightness of the IPS display? It's been rated 400 nits, but most reviewers have put it closer to 360 nits. If you add in the glossy screen, how workable is it in "harsh" lighting?


    4) Battery life. Of course subjective, but having one more anecdotal experience is worth adding to the pile.

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