HP Spectre x360 (2016) First Impressions

Posted on October 22, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 34 Comments

HP Spectre x360 (2016) First Impressions

For the past couple of years, HP’s Spectre x360 has reigned over the premium portable PC market, a near-perfect combination of design and versatility. But now HP has confronted the daunting task of improving on that PC.

Here’s what they came up with: A PC that retains everything that was special about the original Spectre x360, but is thinner, lighter, and more powerful, while offering better battery life, better sound, better and more modern technology, and enhanced functionality.

I know. It doesn’t seem possible. So let’s step through it.

front

First, a recap of its near-perfect predecessor. HP launched the original Spectre x36 in early 2015, offering premium materials and build quality, a Signature PC-like software pre-load, a superior typing and touchpad experience, excellent real-world battery life, and a versatile screen that transforms the device into other form factors. HP followed up this wonder with a Special Edition version in late 2015 and then a 15-inch version in early 2016, which I described as a “productivity monster.”

Almost two years later, HP has completely redesigned the Spectre x360. Like the original model and its Special Edition follow-up, it’s a 13-inch transforming premium laptop. But it is different—and better—than the original in so many ways.

Here’s a quick rundown.

Body. Taking its cue from the Dell XPS 13, the new Spectre x360 retains the screen size of its predecessor but does so in a smaller body. HP doesn’t describe it this way, but the new Spectre x360 is basically a 13-inch laptop wedged into a 12-inch body. And the result is a device that is 20 mm less narrow, while being thinner, lighter, and more portable. That’s important for obvious reasons, but it also eliminates the few ways in which one could criticise the previous models.

New Spectre x360 (top) and the original (bottom)

New Spectre x360 (top) and the original (bottom)

Bezel. Like the Dell XPS 13, the new Spectre x360 has a tiny bezel, though only on the left and right sides of the screen. The top has a normal 1-inch high bezel, unlike the XPS, but for a good reason: It houses a webcam in the right place, whereas the XPS offers an “under the chin” view that is both unflattering and borderline useless. The x360’s webcam is also Windows Hello-compatible, a feature that is missing on the XPS 13, and was missing on previous x360s too.

Display. Housed in that small bezel is a gorgeous 13-inch 1080p IPS display. That may seem relatively low-res in this age of 1440p and even 4K displays, but I think it reaches the right balance between visual quality, screen size, and battery life. More to the point, the new x360 is so thin that HP couldn’t source higher-resolution displays. I suspect that will change in the future if you feel like you need such a thing.

Thinner and lighter. As you might expect, the new Spectre x360 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor. It comes in at 13.8 mm in thickness, compared to 15.9 mm for the previous versions. And the weight, at 2.85 pounds, is noticeably lighter than its 3.2 pound predecessor. This should be one bag-friendly device.

New Spectre x360 (top) and old (bottom)

New Spectre x360 (top) and old (bottom)

Better battery. Adding to the advantages, the new Spectre 360 delivers 33 percent better battery life than its predecessor, and it delivers a rated 15.7 hours on a charge. (The original model came in at 12 hours.) Naturally, real world battery will be lower than that, and I’m eager to see where it lands.

Keyboard. Where the original Spectre x360 keyboard offered ideal key travel of 1.5 mm, the new version comes in at just 1.3 mm, thanks in part to the thinner chassis. But HP tells me that the new keyboard is more precise and responsive than the old one. And in light testing this morning, I found it to have a crisp feel, and would never have suspected they changed the travel. It appears to be the same size, overall, as its predecessor, though it of course extends almost to the edges of the device because of the smaller form factor.

kb

Touchad. While the new Spectre x360 offers a wide glass touchpad, it iacks the weird panoramic feel of previous models and seems to be more right-sized. I’m not sure about the wrist rest area yet, as it seems smaller than on the previous models. But it appears t accommodate my large hands just fine.

touchpad

Audio. Where previous Spectre x360s offered dual, down-firing speakers, the new version has a vastly improved audio system with four speakers, two of which are now upward facing and hidden below the cool-looking grill under the display. (That grill doubles as a place for heat to release, which should result in a quieter device too. Ironic?)

grill

Specs. As you should expect in late 2016, the new Spectre x360 is driven by Intel’s 7th generation Kaby Lake processors. There are Core i5 and i7 models available, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB to 1 TB of fast PCIe SSD storage.

Ports. Here, things get interesting, and I think HP made the right choices. The original Spectre x360 offered three USB 3.0 ports, miniDisplayPort and full-sized HDMI for video-out, and a full-sized SD card slot. The new version is more modern, with one USB 3.0 port and two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports. Those USB-C ports are “full function,” meaning they can be used to power the device, drive displays, access storage and other peripherals, and so on.

ports

Power. The original Spectre x360 shipped with what appeared to be an 18-foot-long power cable, while the 15-inch version offered a much shorter cable with the power brick right on the plug. The new version splits the difference, meaning you can choose between the long cable and a shorter version. Nicely done, HP.

power

Pricing. Despite being premium devices, HP Spectre x360 pricing is reasonable. A base model with a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of SSD storage will set you back just $1049. But you can bump up the processor to a Core i7 at $1299. Or bump it all up—Core i7, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of SSD—for $1299. The full meal deal, with a 1 TB SSD, is $1499. That, I will remind you, is the starting price of a Surface Book which offers a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and a lowly 128 GB of SSD storage.

I’ll be taking this laptop with my on the road this coming week, and I expect to have my review complete within the next two weeks at most. But I like what I see here, and if my initial hands-on experience is any guide, HP would very well have another winner on its hands. No surprise there: HP makes some of the best PCs in the market, and its premium designs, in particular, are almost always quite desirable.

More soon.

 

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20 Comments
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  1. 5 | Reply
    Chris_Kez Alpha Member #320 - 1 month ago

    This looks fantastic. I do wish they'd drop the 16:9 panels in favor of 16:10 or 3:2, but I guess a 1920x1080 display helps keep costs down. It would have been nice to also keep an SD card slot, but I applaud the forward-leaning port selection.

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      Totally. And if you look at the bezel, you can see how they could do it on the current design. I would also like to see that, but at least the aspect ratio matches most external displays, so it works well if you dock it.

       

    2. 0 | Reply
      Narg Alpha Member #420 - 1 month ago
  2. 2 | Reply
    Billzeal Alpha Member #191 - 1 month ago

    HP is doing a fabulous job. At this moment in time ,I would have to rank them #1 with one great product after another.Great time for PC fans.

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
  3. 0 | Reply
    PhilipVasta Alpha Member #1662 - 1 month ago

    Wow. I've been considering trading up from the Surface Pro 4  to a Surface Book 2 for its laptop form factor... but this looks awesome for the price. But I would be disappointed to give up the pen. Not that it's at all critical to my work... but its great for taking notes in certain situations. Inking feels like its part of the future of computing, and should be standard on every mid- to high-end machine. Besides that, I frequently use my SP4 as a tablet, so the detachable screen of the Surface Book is nice. Still, HP is knocking it out of the park lately. I'm glad at least a couple OEMs are giving people high-quality PC alternatives to Apple's line.

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
      In reply to PhilipVasta:

      I haven't looked into this, but I bet there is an HP pen that works with this device. That said, if true, I bet it's not as nice as Surface Pen.

       

  4. 0 | Reply
    John Magill Alpha Member #2239 - 1 month ago
  5. 0 | Reply
    robincapper Alpha Member #2080 - 1 month ago

    Nice but touch without pen would annoy me. Don't often use a pen but (having had since Win 8 Samsung ATIV days) when you do need it could not do without. Mostly use for review & markup rather than 'art'. For that the pen, esp with graphic docs, is mightier than the keyboard

  6. 0 | Reply
    mesposito2 Alpha Member #2320 - 1 month ago

    Mine arrives today. This is exciting tech at a great value. Been using my v1 on a stand with a 4k Dell monitor for a year. That was a signature edition. Bought this one direct from Hp. Paul says they are pretty clean from Hp, so hopefully no big diff.

    When you think about it, this thing costs a bit more than an iPhone.! That's sick! (take that anyway you like)

  7. 0 | Reply
    ChristopherCollins Alpha Member #2122 - 1 month ago

    This is a really nice looking machine.  Paul, I'll be interested to see where you stand between it and the Surface Book.  I know on one of the podcasts you mentioned you always go back to that one.  Can't wait for a review.

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
      In reply to ChristopherCollins:

      Yeah, I literally just picked this up and thought, this could be it. It's the same basic package, but thinner and lighter, and without that silly hole/shape. Or the unreliability of having a detachable screen.

  8. 0 | Reply
    TheJoeFin Alpha Member #227 - 1 month ago

    I appreciate that they spent some attention on the power cord. The last gen was sloppily done. This new power adaptor looks great. Does this device let you use other USB-C power cables (unlike the ultra thin spectre)?

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
      In reply to TheJoeFin:

      Will test this. My suspicion is that it will work fine.

  9. 0 | Reply
    Jeff_S Alpha Member #2441 - 1 month ago

    Why does the new device have such a large gap between the screen panel and the body, when closed?

    Minor nit, for sure; but it doesn't look good when viewed side by side (or top and bottom in this case).

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
      In reply to Jeff_S:

      I noticed this as well and at first thought it was warped or something. But it's on purpose: There are small rubbery nubbins that separate the screen panel from the base when closed---you can see them at the corners of the keyboard, basically---and I believe it's to keep the keyboard from imprinting on the screen. I am guessing this is all tied to thinness: If this thing was any thinner, or let the screen close completely, the keyboard wouldn't work. That is, they wouldn't' have been able to add an acceptable key throw.

  10. -1 | Reply
    barry505 Alpha Member #122 - 1 month ago

    You neeed a prufreder. Hire me!

    1. 0 | Reply
      awright18 Alpha Member #405 - 1 month ago
      In reply to barry505:

      I especialy liked the Touchad  and " it appears t accommodate my large hands just fine."

  11. -1 | Reply
    bbold Alpha Member #669 - 1 month ago

    Looks and sounds great. Did you say this is touchscreen or no?

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 1 month ago
      In reply to bbold:

      Sorry, yes, it it is multi-touch.