HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) First Impressions

Posted on February 18, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 21 Comments

HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) First Impressions

This is the one I’ve been waiting for. And in my early testing, the 15-inch HP Spectre x360 nicely improves on its predecessor, a PC I described as a portable productivity monster, in virtually every important way imaginable.

Indeed, I’m struck by how well HP is handling the transformations that are driving new PC design, especially compared to Apple, the premium PC market leader, which seems stuck in a form over function rut.

As I’d describe it, every portable PC is a compromise of some kind. If you go too far towards thin and light, you arrive at an Ultrabook, with resultant trade-offs in performance and perhaps battery life. But if you skew too far towards bigger and thicker the devices, they’re not as easily portable.

HP doesn’t see it this way. The company has now repeatedly used the term “optimize for customers” as a replacement for compromise. So instead of having a single device that is a compromise on every level, it offers multiple devices in this segment—the HP Spectre x360, EliteBook x360, and the ENVY 13, among others—each of which addresses different needs. You don’t get stuck with a single Pro device, as Apple names them, which seeks to answer all needs but does so poorly.

As a bigger, larger hybrid PC, the 2017 Spectre x360 15 has been crafted based in part on customer feedback. Customers of the firm’s premium PCs told HP that they prefer 15-inch displays over 13-inch displays, for example, and have an even bigger preference for high-resolution (Quad HD or 4K) displays. They overwhelmingly prefer thin bezels for a more modern look, and prioritize graphics capabilities on hybrids in particular.

Looking at the first-generation Spectre x360 15, it’s not hard to see areas where HP might improve the device: It could ship QHD and 4K display options, offer discrete graphics, and offer smaller bezels, as it did previously with the 2016 13-inch model. And since we’ve always modernizing, HP could also move to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 for power and future-proofing, while offering the right legacy ports—full-sized HDMI and USB 3—in a body that, frankly, has plenty of room for such things.

HP Spectre x360 15 (2017 model) on the top, 2016 on the bottom.

HP did all that. But there is so much more to this refresh.

First, it has moved entirely to the Ash Silver and Copper color scheme that most customers perceive to be more appropriate on a premium offering than silver, which is a bit dull and boring. This was a wonderful decision, and as a result, the 2017 Spectre x360 15 is a striking, beautiful machine. This change also has practical advantages: Keyboard backlighting is much better when the keys are a dark color, obviating the issues I’ve had with the gray keys on previous Spectre x360s.

Regardless of the color, the look is more modern everywhere too. The “micro edge” display has tiny bezels on the left and right, just 4.65 mm, meaning they are thinner than the same bezels on any Dell XPS. But HP, optimizing again, has larger bezels on the top and bottom than the XPS, meaning, among other things, that the webcam is in the right place. And not below the screen, offering that up-the-nose view that so many dislike.

You also see this more modern style on the keyboard keys and touchpad, both of which lose the rounded rectangle shapes of the past for more modern, squared off corners. The layout is the same as before, but it looks better. And in my early tests, works just as well: The keyboard, for example, offers a full 1.5 mm of key throw, which is the ideal, magic number any touch typist should look for.

HP Spectre x360 15 (2017 model) on the left, 2016 on the right.

Bucking industry trends, HP has again made some interesting compromises—sorry, optimizations—when it comes to the Spectre x360 15’s footprint. It does offer a smaller overall footprint than its predecessor, but the difference isn’t as dramatic as it was with the 2016 HP Spectre x360 (13-inch). Looking at the devices from above, you can see that the new version is less than an inch less wide than its predecessor. The difference is due almost entirely to those smaller new bezels.

But in every other dimension, the 2017 Spectre x360 15 is about the same size, or a bit bigger, than its predecessor. HP tells me that this is due to the other improvements it made to this device based on customer feedback. That is, the body couldn’t be shrunk further because HP needed to cram so much more stuff—like QHD/4K touch displays with active pen support, discrete graphics, and the additional batteries and thermals required to power those first two items—into the box.

HP Spectre x360 15 (2017 model) on the top, 2016 on the bottom.

The results are worth it, I think. This new version of the Spectre x360 15 delivers almost the same reported battery life—about 12.25 hours—with a 4K display as the previous unit did driving just Full HD (13 hours). But it is so much more powerful, and so much better looking, with a 340 nit IPS display, louder, fuller stereo speakers, and other advantages.

Granted, the Spectre x360 15 is heavy, weighing in at about 4.4 pounds, and it comes with a gigantic 90 W power supply that adds to the bulk. (But also performs fast charging duties.) That’s heavier than its predecessor, which weighed 4 pounds, and is even—I can’t believe I’m writing this—much heavier than Microsoft’s Surface Book with Performance Base, which weighs in at 3.7 pounds.

Gigantic Spectre x360 15 (2017 model) power supply on the left, smaller 2016 version on the right.

Again, I feel the compromises were well-conceived. Though no thin-and-light PC, the Spectre x360 15 is just small enough to actually fit in my carry-on bag, the Ricks Steves Civita Shoulder Bag. The previous version would not fit in this bag, necessitating a change when I wanted to travel with it. (The Surface Book with Performance Base fits easily in this bag.)

And the addition power is appreciated. As you might expect of a 2017 device, the new Spectre x360 15 is powered by 7th generation Intel Core i7 (Kaby Lake) microprocessors, and my review unit is nicely decked out in high-end trim: A dual-core Intel Core i7-7500U processor, Radeon RX-460 graphics, 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB NVMe SSD, and a 4K (3840 x 2160) display. It comes with an HP active pen.

Ports are likewise optimized. On the left, we find a full-sized USB 3 port, a headphone jack, and the power button, which is now in a more expected location. There’s also a full-sized SD port towards the front in a “suck it, Apple” move.

On the right, we see a USB-C/Thunderbolt port with charging capabilities, a USB-C port, and a full-sized HDMI video-out port, plus a volume toggle.

For my review, HP also threw in a few dongles so I could test the full experience. And even though this isn’t a gaming rig—HP makes OMEN PCs for that purpose—I’m wondering if these specs aren’t in fact good enough for a decent gaming experience too.

The review unit is the mid-tier model, and costs $1499. If you want to save a bit of money, you can choose a Core i7 model with a 4K display, NVIDIA 940MX graphics, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB SSD and pay just $1279. Or you could go for gold and choose a 1 TB model for $1699. Yes, these are premium PC prices. But this machine appears to warrant its cost.

More soon. But my initial reaction is very positive, and if you prefer large screens and more power than what you’ll find on a typical Ultrabook, this looks to be an incredible option.

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