HP Elite Dragonfly vs. Spectre x360 13: A Quick Comparison

Posted on December 16, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 21 Comments

HP’s incredible Elite Dragonfly and Spectre x360 13 have a lot in common, but they also differ in some very important ways. Here’s a quick comparison if you’re considering buying either, which is certainly understandable.

First, the basics. Both are thin and light 13-inch premium x360 PCs, meaning that they each feature a 360-degree hinge that supports four usage modes. Both have been radically made smaller through a reduction in their depth, from front to back, resulting in shorter wrist rests (and smaller touchpads) and, in the display lid, much smaller top and bottom display bezels.

In fact, the form factors are so similar, I’d assumed they were essentially identical internally, at least at some level. But HP tells me that’s not the case. They do share a few components, most notably the display hinges, but they are different platforms.

The Dragonfly owes its design to the EliteBook lineup of premium business notebooks. Its most obvious influence, of course, is the similarly-sized EliteBook 1030. But where that system weighed in at 2.76 pounds, the Dragonfly weights just 2.18 or 2.4 pounds, depending on battery configuration. The resulting weight difference(s) are due to the Dragonfly’s smaller size and, more notably, its use of magnesium rather than aluminum.

The Spectre, meanwhile, soldiers on with aluminum, which is heavier. How much heavier? It weighs in at 2.88 pounds, even more than the EliteBook 1030. Now, to be fair, any PC with a 13.3-inch display that weighs under 3 pounds is, by definition, lightweight. But this difference is part of the magic of the Dragonfly. When you pick up the lighter 2.18-pound version, in particular, it’s so light that it feels like an empty shell.

Visually, the two PCs differ quite a bit as well. The Dragonfly comes in what HP calls an “iridescent dragonfly blue finish” that I happen to find attractive. But it’s also the only color option, and if you’re not as taken with it as I am, that could be a negative. By comparison, the Spectre is available in three color options: Nightfall Black with Copper luxe accents, Poseidon Blue with Pale Brass accents, and Natural Silver. That latter option is back this year thanks to popular demand, HP says.

But the color choices, curiously, are not the biggest visual difference between the two. Where the Dragonfly provides a handsome if traditional look and feel with “diamond-cut” accents, the Spectre has a more controversial, hard-edged and very angular “gem-cut” design. Some will hate it—it’s grown on me over time—but the angular design also has a pragmatic rationale, too: Thanks to the 45-degree angle found on the back corners of the keyboard deck, HP has been able to provide unique places for both a power button (on the left) and a USB-C port (on the right), the latter of which ensures that the power cable (or any other cable) is angled to ensure it’s out of the way.

By comparison, the Dragonfly’s rear-most USB-C port shares a problem with other EliteBooks: Its position ensures that the power (or other) cable will always be in the way if you need to use a mouse on the right side of the PC. It’s a rare ding for an otherwise stellar design.

Speaking of ports, HP went in very different directions on each of these PCs.

Like other EliteBooks, the Dragonfly provides a useful combination of new and legacy ports, keeping dongles to a minimum. You get a full-sized USB 3.1 port, a full-sized HDMI port, a nano-SIM card tray for 4G LTE capabilities, and two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, both of which are on the right. I’d prefer to see one of those latter ports on each side of the PC, and as far back as possible.

The Spectre also ships with two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, one of which, again, is nicely angled out at a 45-degree angle from the right rear of the PC. It also has a single full-sized USB 3.1 port, which requires a “garage door”-type cover because of the thinness of the PC, and a microSD card slot.

The keyboards on each PC are completely different internally and externally, but they both provide a very similar key feel and identical 1.3 mm key throws. The Dragonfly uses a completely new design that is quieter and lighter. But the Spectre keyboard is also excellent and quiet.

The layouts are surprisingly quite different, with the Dragonfly adopting an EliteBook-like layout with collaboration keys and a new Fn lock function built-in to the left Shift key, which I like. But its arrow keys, like those on other EliteBooks, are smaller and harder to use as well.

The Spectre has the preferred layout overall, however. The Home, Pg Up, Pg Down, and End keys get a dedicated column on the right, which I prefer, rather than buried under Fn key/arrow key pairings. The Spectre also offers a microphone mute key, a first, and a dedicated hardware switch on the right side of the PC for toggling the webcam shade for privacy. Those functions are not available on the Dragonfly.

The glass touchpads are of similar quality, but the Dragonfly’s is bigger/taller thanks to this PC’s slightly larger wrist rest area. I don’t mind the shorter Spectre touchpad, but the size difference is striking. The fingerprint reader on each is, if not literally identical, then identical in use, performance, and reliability.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect this in a business laptop, but the Dragonfly offers surprisingly solid sound thanks to its four speakers (two are top-firing, two are bottom-firing) and four discrete smart amplifiers. The environmentally-conscious will also like that the Dragonfly’s speakers are made largely from recycled plastic, including some ocean-bound plastic material.

The Spectre, by comparison, offers decent sound as well, but because of the form factor size reduction with this generation, its two speakers are only bottom-firing. As a result, the Spectre sounds notably better if it is sitting on a hard surface.

Internally, the two PCs offer surprisingly different components. The Dragonfly provides 8th-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, whereas the Spectre uses newer 10th-generation parts. But these U-series processor options aren’t as different as they sound; both are quad-core designs and the performance and battery differences are minimal. That said, the Spectre does provide Intel Iris Plus graphics vs. Intel UHD integrated graphics on the Dragonfly, and while that won’t magically transform the PC into a gaming rig, you could see some minor graphical performance improvements.

Both can be had with 8 to 16 GB of RAM, which is typical for these classes of devices. Both likewise can be configured with a wide range of mostly M.2 NVMe-based SSD storage. But HP is also offering Intel Optane configurations on both, which I believe pair slower SSD storage with fast cache to achieve similar performance at lower prices.

Both offer very modern connectivity, including both Wi-Fi 6 and gigabit-class 4G LTE, and you can use both connectivity options simultaneously if desired.

The display options for both PCs appear to be identical. HP offers three choices: A 400 nit Full HD (1920 x 1080) panel that emits just 1-watt of power for optimal battery life, a 550 nit 4K/UHD (3840 x 2160) HDR 400 panel, and an HP Sure View Gen 3 option that is basically a 1000 nit version of the Full HD panel but with integrated (and excellent) privacy filter functionality. They are all multi-touch and smartpen-enabled (and the Spectre comes with the basic HP Pen).

Battery life appears to be impressive on both PCs, but note you can make choices that dramatically alter your experience. The Dragonfly is particularly interesting because it offers two different battery choices, a 38 Wh dual-cell version that is ultra-light and a 56.2 Wh quad-cell version that, to me, is still quite light and dramatically improves longevity. Both PCs can be configured with a low-power 1-watt Full HD display that will also improve the battery life, or with 4K/UHD HDR or HP Sure View Gen 3 option that will cause battery life to take a hit.

It’s nice to have choices, but here’s how it boils down on paper (which we’ll have to go with until I can test battery life in the real-world). Note that the results are sometimes not directly comparable.

The lighter weight Dragonfly delivers up to 16.5 hours of battery life, HP says, while the one with the bigger battery can last up to 24.5 hours (using the MobileMark 2014 benchmark, which mimics real-world usage). HP also reports that the Dragonfly (presumably the one with the better battery and the 1-watt display) can survive for over 15 hours in video playback tests.

HP says that the Spectre x360 13 offers “the world’s longest battery life in a 13-inch quad-core consumer convertible.” It delivers up to 22 hours of battery life, or over 20 hours in video playback tests using headphones. (It delivers 14.3 hours in video playback tests using the speakers.) It apparently delivers 11.8 hours of battery life in web browsing-based tests.

Both PCs also support fast charging, of course. The Dragonfly can gain over 7 hours of battery life with 30 minutes of charging, HP says. The Spectre can charge to 50 percent in just 30 minutes.

From a software perspective, both PCs come with a surprisingly long list of additional applications. Some of this is clearly crapware, but the business-focused Dragonfly provides several system management utilities that go above and beyond the capabilities in Windows, and many businesses will find those useful. (It’s likely that most individuals would find them superfluous and even annoying.) Still, neither provides what I’d call a minimalist software loadout.

The Dragonfly’s management and system utilities include HP Client Security, HP Power Manager, HP Privacy Settings, HP Smart, HP Support Assistant, HP Sure Click, HP Sure Sense, HP System Information, HP WorkWell, and others. There are also several Intel utilities, for some reason, like Intel Management and Security Status, Intel Graphics Control Panel, and Intel Optane Memory and Storage Management.

The Spectre comes with an HP Command Center utility that lets the user configure system performance, fan noise, and temperature using three easily-understood presets: Performance mode, Comfort mode, and Quiet mode. It also provides a Network Booster function that lets you prioritize certain apps or configure the Wi-Fi and LTE for simultaneous use. And there are numerous other HP utilities, like HP Audio Switch, HP Impreza Pen, HP Pen Control, HP Support Assistant, and many more. Even less usefully, the Spectre ships with a 30-day time-limited version of ExpressVPN and the free version of LastPass.

You’ve probably run out of fingers by now, but the bigger comparison point, perhaps, is price, and it is here that the two HPs are as far apart as can be. The Dragonfly starts at about $1550 and you could easily spend over $2000 on a version with a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a big SSD. The Spectre costs $1100 and up, and the upper-level models top out below $2000. If money was no object, the Dragonfly would be my clear choice. But you could save several hundred dollars by going with the premium consumer product.

More soon.

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Comments (21)

21 responses to “HP Elite Dragonfly vs. Spectre x360 13: A Quick Comparison”

  1. RobertJasiek

    Choice is good so why is there no choice for full sized arrow keys and 4:3 display?

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to RobertJasiek:

      Honestly, probably because there is little demand for either. I did talk to HP was display aspect ratio, and they seemed to acknowledge that 16:10, at least could make some sense.

      • bluvg

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        I think HP confuses customer lack of awareness with lack of demand. If they asked folks "would you like to be able to fit more of your application content on the screen?" or demo'd a Word doc or web page at 16:9 vs 16:10 or 3:2, I think they'd find out quickly customers want something they may not have known they wanted (or even had a choice beyond simply a "bigger" screen).

        • Paul Thurrott

          To be fair to HP, the non-availability of anything but 16:9 displays in quantity is an industry-wide issue. And since I get briefings on their new hardware regularly, I can say every product rev they do is about answering customer feedback: Keep what's working and fix what isn't.
          • RobertJasiek

            In reply to paul-thurrott:

            We believe that HP improves its hardware and thinks that 16:9 meets some demand for devices easily stored in bags. We also see 3:2 detachables by HP, Microsoft etc. In the 90s and early 2000s, there were many 4:3 devices.

            So it is a combination of industry supply (currently too many 16:9), industry demand (for mobile displays, demand for 3:2 works so there could be, e.g., more 3:2 displays), industry-set fashion (then 4:3 now 16;9 for TV, notebooks and its related device categories but also medium resolution 5:4 for desktop monitors) and endconsumer demand (mostly measured by the industry by "what sells represents demand").

            I do not buy a simplistic "industry-wide issue" reason because changes occurred easily, such as Microsoft's invention of 3:2 tablet displays. It also cannot be "a new display costs $5 more in production" because we see all sort of fancy new hardware everywhere.

            Answering customer feedback? Uh, I have often tried to contact manufacturers: without already having bought a device, they do not listen. They refuse potential new customers. I guess you are right with "Keep what's working and fix what isn't". However, for me (and every frequent user of such keys), narrow arrow keys do not work at all so we never become their customer for such products and they never learn that what they think is working isn't.

            I admire HP's mobile products to some extent but never buy them because of such stupid design decisions that inhibit usefulness for me.

            Thanks for your background information on briefings!

    • dstrauss

      In reply to RobertJasiek:

      In all honesty there are very few 3:2, 4:3, or even 16:10 devices out there. I would MUCH PREFER any of those to 16:9, but I keep hearing most vendors extolling 16:9 for video consumption - a crock, but I know a good number of people who detest bars above and below their precious movie they are watching...

  2. bluvg

    "The Home, Pg Up, Pg Down, and End keys get a dedicated column on the right"

    Ugh... I'm sure one would get used to it, but these feel like an assault to muscle memory whenever I've used this layout.

  3. JanesJr1

    A contrarian view on screen height/width ratios for productivity: bear with me. I love 3:2 on my Surface Pro for a small personal convertible that I use primarily as a single screen device But for productive work,on my Thinkpad, the advent of high-res 3k and 4k screens makes the use of snap/split-screen much more desirable, thus favoring a wide screen. Hi-res doesn't show up in on-line content all that much yet, but alphanumeric characters are immediately rendered very sharply with 3k or 4k screens, making side-by-side windows much more comfortable. And for the written and financial projects that I do, having two windows instead of one is CONSTANTLY useful. For productive work, LONG LIVE wider screen ratios!

    • bluvg

      In reply to JanesJr1:

      I think that works if you're talking beyond 1080 vertical pixels (real, not scaled). I've longed for the day of really high-res displays, and now that they've come, my eyes aren't what they used to be (even though still technically 20-20). If most folks had strong enough eyesight, I think higher-res, non-scaled displays would be fine at 16:9.

      However, the UI of most apps still favors greater vertical space. If 16:9 is going to be the standard, putting the UI on the side might help, though I think most folks would have a negative reaction to that (at least initially).

    • RobertJasiek

      In reply to JanesJr1:

      High resolution is good for the display of characters but currently disadvantageous for battery life.

      Large screen ratios support your productive two displayed windows usage while small screen ratios support my productive single displayed window usage.

      My typical productive work in vertical display position is a) edit the current book page or b) edit the current diagram or c) copy &paste a diagram to the book page. For (c) or recalling the contents of the other window, I use ALT TAB or taskbar clicks for switching windows. I very much prefer this so that, most of the time, I can concentrate on either the book page or the diagram in full screen views.

      I also understand your preference, and it is good that there some choice among display ratios in the overall market. However, it is too limited by far for specific mobile product categories and worse for specific operating systems. In particular, currently the product categories notebooks, (keyboard-fixed) convertibles and flagship smartphones drop out entirely for me because of (almost) only offering large screen ratios. For detachables and tablets, the situation is slightly better but not good enough so I still need a desktop to use my preferred display ratio (5:4), size, orientation and display surface (matte).

  4. dstrauss

    I am a six week owner of the Best Buy HP Spectre x360. I got a great deal at $1699, but it also was on sale two weeks ago for $1499 - what did that bring - 4k OLED, 16gb RAM, 1tb SSD, and mSDXC card slot (along with all of the standard features Paul pointed out). Online it is hard to get above $1700 for the most loaded 13" Spectre configuration. An equally configured Dragonfly, which includes LTE, is $2522 with their latest 10% off sale on Elites. That is a HUGE price differential for the value. The Dragonfly is lighter at 2.4# vs 2.7# (per our postage scale), but I think there is much more upside to 10th Gen Ice Lake with Iris Graphics Pro over the 8th Gen part, and personally I prefer the OLED screen to IPS at 4k. All in all an excellent value proposition for features vs. performance.

  5. BizTechSherpa

    I have an HP Spectre 13, purchased in April with 16Gb RAM, 521 GB SSD, etc. and the battery life is NOWHERE NEAR ADVERTISED. I could get about 5 hours maybe 6 tops of normal usage.

  6. StevenLayton

    Another thing they have in common is that I can't afford either.

  7. jeffpr

    I have an older Spectre which has held up well, and still performs. Besides the screen aspect ratio (I'd prefer a 3:2) the other design aspect that HP should address on the Spectre models is to move to dark keys (as in the Elite series). Back-lighting on silver keys only works to *reduce* contrast and readability unless ambient lighting is very low.

  8. wright_is

    My 2016 X360 is still going strong and still feels very responsive.

    The only problem I've had with it is the rubber pad for keeping the screen from touching the keyboard/wrist rest.

    3 of them are still there, the 4th is actually inserted above the SD-Card reader and it somehow got pushed down into the reader and is trapped behind the pins, making the reader useless! :-(

    Apart from that little faux pas, I wouldn't think twice about buying another one to replace it, when the time comes.

  9. djross95

    Between the MS bloatware and the HP bloatware, that's a LOT of crap. Surprised that HP allows a very fine laptop to be (at least partially) ruined in this manner.

    • wright_is

      In reply to djross95:

      Quality seems to be slipping.

      Read an interesting article this morning in c't, Germany's premiere IT magazine, they have a consumer help section.

      Somebody bought the 15" OLED x360 this year and had quality problems, the first laptop had a cross-threaded screw that stuck out and blocked the "0" key from being used. The replacement had a faulty holder for the "P" key.

      He got HP to repair the second laptop. It came back with a scratched and dented lid. Sent back off and came back with a new lid - and screen, only it was IPS. He complained and HP told him that they don't sell an OLED version in Germany. He went back several dealers selling OLED versions in Germany, but even with that evidence, and showing the HP support person that, yes, HP were selling OLED versions in Germany, they still refused to change the display or admit that they were selling OLED versions!

      In the end, c't got involved, bought a sample 15" x360 with OLED display and confronted HP.

      Turns out that they did introduce the OLED version a couple of weeks after the IPS version was launched, but failed to update their internal documentation, according to their press speaker.

      A real shame, I've not had any problems with my 2016 x360 - although one of the screws on the base was also cross-threaded and sticks out a bit, but doesn't get in the way.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to djross95:

      Yeah. They were heading in the right direction for a while there. Not sure what happened.

  10. wright_is

    FN Luck key? Does it randomly choose what the function key does? :-D

    I think that should be FN Lock.

    And a missing closing bracket in the paragraph about the battery life testing with MobileMark 2014.

  11. huynh995

    A beautiful design. Seems very convenient.