HP Spectre Notebook Preview: The World’s Thinnest Notebook

Posted on April 5, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 0

HP Spectre Notebook Preview: The World's Thinnest Notebook

HP today announced the new Spectre Notebook, which it bills as the world’s thinnest notebook PC. Here’s a quick peek at this gorgeous new device, which HP will start shipping to customers in May.

“We are bringing meaningful innovation to the premium notebook space,” HP vice president of customer experience Mike Nash told me during a recent briefing. “At 10 mm thin, the Spectre Notebook is the thinnest notebook in the world, but it comes with no compromises in performance, battery, or design.”


Based on my preview, that’s an understatement: The Spectre Notebook is an attractive, almost radical machine, with a stunning dark gray and copper exterior that was inspired by jewelry. As HP attests, it has an almost artisanal look to it, as if the copper parts, in particular, were hand-made and not manufactured.

This quality is particularly obvious in the Spectre Notebook’s unique new recessed piston hinge. “This is critical,” Mr. Nash said, noting that it was designed to work like a hinge in high-end furniture, where it recesses into the device like cabinetry. A new piston design ensures a consistent feel and friction, Nash told me.


Pretty is fine. Apple’s new Macbook is arguably pretty, but it provides lackluster performance because of its Core-m processor, little in the way of expansion, with just one USB-C port, a terrible keyboard and touchpad, and a relatively small screen. HP solves all of these issues with the Spectre Notebook, which still manages to be thinner than Apple’s underpowered product, at just 10.4 mm.

In tech terms that means real Core i5 and i7 processors, three USB-C ports–all of which provide power, high-speed data, video out, and sleep and charge capabilities, and two of which are Thunderbolt—full-sized and high-quality keyboard and touchpad, and a 13.3-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display.


Let’s dig a little deeper.

If you’re familiar with Intel’s flagship processors, you know that heat is a problem, even with the U-series processors HP is using here. (You have a choice of Core i5-6200U and i7-6500U processors, depending on the configuration.) To meet the needs of this premium but thin design, HP created a new hyperbaric cooling system that eliminated the need for a heat sink on the processor. Basically, it pulls cold air from outside the machine over the processor from two directions and then passes the warmed air over a thin heat pipe before it is directed back outside.

“We believe in the Intel Core-m,” Nash said. “But only where it makes sense. For clamshell designs like this one, customers want a Core i5 or i7 processor, and that became a centerpiece of the design.”


The processor is mated to PCIe-based SSD flash storage. In fact, that’s the only option. “Apps load more quickly, and performance is general is much better,” Nash said. “There is no other choice.”

As for expansion, HP wanted to go all modern, but noted the complaints about Apple’s new MacBook and its single USB-C port. So they tripled it up. Each USB-C port–they are all on the back of the unit, in the copper end piece—can be used to power the device using the included power adapter.


Each USB-C port supports high-speed data, video out, and sleep and charge capabilities. And two of the ports are Thunderbolt. “You can drive two external 4K displays with this thing,” Nash told me. (One nit: HP doesn’t supply any USB-C to USB-A dongles with the Spectre, which is a curious omission for a premium device.)


The keyboard and touchpad appear to be about as close to perfect as is possible with such a thin design. Consider, again, the MacBook, where Apple went with a controversial new .6 mm key pitch, resulting in a lackluster typing experience. The Spectre Notebook achieves a 1.3 mm key pitch, which is very close to the ideal key pitch of 1.5 mm. “We really optimized the key travel,” Nash said. “I don’t think most people will notice its not 1.5 mm.”


Apple’s touchpad is likewise the source of complaints because of its near zero travel. But HP ensured that its battery—which is divided into four pieces so that more of it can fit in the thin form factor—doesn’t sit under the Spectre’s touchpad. So it has full travel and is made of etched glass, just like the touchpads on the firm’s other high-end PCs. No compromise.

And then there’s that display. It’s a 13.3-inch IPS design running at 1920 x 1080, Full HD. It’s rated at 300 nits, meaning it’s incredibly bright, and because its 2 mm thin and is bonded directly to a 0.4 mm Gorilla Glass 4 panel, it is both thin and durable.


Nash said that battery life was rated at 9:45. There are a handful of accessories available, and HP has worked with two top designers—Tord Boontje and Jesse Hannah—to create super-limited edition fashion versions of the device that will be sold at high prices with the proceeds being donated to the Nelson Mandella foundation.

One of the limited special edition models features real 14 carat gold accents.

One of the limited special edition models features real 14 carat gold accents, custom fonts on the keys, and backlit diamond power indicator. Yes, really.

As for us mere mortals, the Spectre Notebook is reasonably priced, despite its premium designation. The machine starts at just $1169 for a version with a Core-i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage. For $1249, you can step up to a Core-i7 processor. (Curiously, 8 GB is the only RAM option, but you can also choose 512 GB of SSD storage.)


Note the new stylized HP logo that will adorn the firm’s premium PCs going forward.

HP previously pushed the design boundaries with its Spectre x360 convertible, and of course even more so with the ash silver and copper Special Edition version of that product. With the Spectre Notebook, HP is pushing even further, and the fact that there are no more muted color choices perhaps suggests that the firm is growing more comfortable with its design prowess. This doesn’t appear to be a misguided: The Spectre Notebook is both bold and beautiful. And it looks unlike anything else on the market.

I hope to review the HP Spectre Notebook as soon as possible. It arrives in the U.S. at HP.com and Best Buy in May, and will be sold worldwide.


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