It’s impossible to look at the HP Spectre x2 and see anything other than a Surface clone. But let’s give credit where it’s due: With its Spectre x2, HP improves on Surface in a number of ways and comes in at a less expensive price point.
And unlike Microsoft, HP offers a wide range of PC solutions, all at different price points. So the Spectre x2 is really just part of a broader set of offerings, each aimed at hitting a particular customer segment.
More specifically, the Spectre x2 falls into HP’s premium portable stable, which is broken up into three main device types: thin and light notebooks (like the HP Envy notebook, which I also hope to review),the HP Spectre x360 (which is one of the best transformable PCs I’ve ever used) and detachables, like the Spectre x2.
The quality and utility of HP’s PC business has surged in recent years, thanks in large part to the firm delivering products that customers actually want. This has happened across the board, from HP’s inexpensive but high quality Stream PCs and tablets all the way up to its gaming and commercial solutions. And you can see the quality—and the attention to detail—in the Spectre x2.
Physically, it is a stunner, and while it is immediately recognizable as a Surface-like device with its tablet form factor and magnetically-attached keyboard cover, Spectre x2 eclipses Surface in some very important ways.
First, and most important—to me, at least—is the keyboard cover, which is the best I’ve ever used on this class of device. Yes, Microsoft improved its own Surface Pro 4 Type Cover quite a bit, but the HP unit is literally a laptop keyboard, with back-lighting, and is even stiffer than the Microsoft version, with a full 1.5 mm key throw. The integrated trackpad is quite large, and laptop-like. And the keyboard even integrates stereo speakers, complementing the stereo speakers found on the tablet itself.
All that is great, but here’s the real kicker: The Spectre x6 includes the keyboard cover. With Surface 3, and Surface Pro 3 and Pro 4, you pay an additional $130 or more for a Type Cover.
HP provides integrated LTE 4G capabilities—courtesy of Verizon Wireless in the U.S.–a feature Microsoft neglects to offer in its Surface Pro devices.
And unlike Surface, HP is embracing the future: The Spectre x 2 includes two USB-C ports, one on each side, and provides a full-sized USB dongle for those who need to use existing peripherals. The USB-C ports can be used for charging as well, so you can choose which side to attach the power adapter.
Like Surface, the HP is engineered for the premium market, and it features a “sandblasted aluminum CNC design,” meaning that the tablet (again, like Surface) is “carved from a single piece of aluminum.” What this means to you is that the Spectre x2 is rock-solid with no flex or bendy bits. But it also gorgeous to look at, with shiny metal accents, including a gorgeous kickstand that looks more like a design project than a shipping product.
What I like about the Spectre x2 is that this level of quality comes at a less heady cost than does Surface Pro. An entry-level Spectre x2 costs just $800, with two other models (with RAM and processor improvements) coming in at $950 and $1150, respectively. Surface Pro 4 (including the keyboard cover) starts at $1030 and goes up from there. What gives?
The trick here is that HP is positioning the Spectre x2 between Surface 3 and Surface Pro from a specs perspective. And with that —and Surface 3’s $630 to $830 price tag—in mind, let’s put Spectre x2 in perspective. Because it does fall short of Surface Pro in a few ways too.
HP correctly notes that the Spectre x2 is a tad thinner than Surface Pro, but looking at the devices side-by-side, I can’t tell the difference. What I can differentiate is the respective weights, with the HP being a bit denser and heavier. The tablet itself is 1.85 pounds (compared to 1.69 to 1.73 pounds for Surface Pro 4) while the weight combined with the typing cover is 2.69 pounds (compared to 2.37 to 2.41 pounds for Surface Pro).
HP has elected to use the controversial Core M processor for Spectre x2. For Surface Pro 4, Microsoft offers only one low-end Core M mode, with the rest using more powerful Core i5 and i7 chips, and of course Surface 3 comes saddled with low-end Atom CPUs. So the HP hits right in the middle, which makes sense.
More to the point, Core M is fact the right choice for this type of device, as it will be used as a tablet more often than a transformable/convertible PC like the Spectre x360. The Core M provides ample performance for daily productivity tasks—meeting or even in some cases beating Core i5, by the way–and it delivers silence (there are no fans) and much better battery life.
The Spectre x2 ships with a Windows Hello camera, but it’s on the back, so you can’t use it to sign-in to the PC. HP says that it designed this (and other) device before Microsoft revealed Windows Hello to them, and that Intel pushed a vision for immersive RealSense camera activities that are just now starting to arrive. So this one is an open book, but the lack of Windows Hello is a bit disappointing.
The Spectre x2 has a hardware switch for engaging the kickstand, which can be hard to work.
And when it’s available, it offers only 150 degrees of movement, a bit less than Surface Pro 4. What this means practically is that you can’t stand it up as straight as with Surface Pro 4; it’s shortest position is further back than with the Microsoft device.
HP includes they keyboard cover with the Spectre x2, but it doesn’t include the compatible Active Pen. Microsoft does the reverse, but I think HP made the right choice: Everyone needs the keyboard, but only some people will ever need the pen.
Finally, the HP Spectre x2 display is “only” 1080p, compared to the crazy high resolution we see on Surface Pro 4 (2736 x 1824). (Surface 3 is 1920 x 1280.) (UPDATE: Actually, the screen is 1920 x 1280, and it is 3:2 like Surface devices. But it appears to be 16:9 for some reason, maybe the bezel. –Paul) Here, again, I think HP made the right choice, as high DPI screen suck battery life and are unnecessary—even undesirable—for day to day productivity tasks.
The long and the short of it is that HP has created a device that neatly sits directly between the Surface 3 and Surface Pro, both from a pricing and specifications perspective. But where I feel the Spectre x2 overcomes Surface is in value: By hitting directly between the Microsoft devices, HP more clearly understands the target market, which is mostly productivity workers.
So where Surface 3 is constrained by processor (Atom), RAM—a meager 2 GB to 4 GB—and storage (64 GB to 128 GB, eMMC), the Spectre delivers a more reasonable working set: Core M, 4 GB to 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB to 256 GB of real mSATA SSD. And where Surface Pro 4 is saddled by fan noise and expense, the Spectre x2 is silent and much less expensive. It’s a happy medium.
In theory, anyways. I’ll need to use the Spectre x2 in the real world before I can be sure that this thinking holds up. But for now, it appears that HP’s detachable isn’t so much derivative as it is a thoughtful advance of the form factor.