HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) First Impressions

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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Conversation 21 comments

  • wiley

    Premium Member
    18 February, 2017 - 3:17 pm

    <p>Have you checked that the active pen works? There are some bizarre reviews on the new models on the Best Buy website claiming that in the 13" models you wrote about a while back, HP is bundling an active pen even though it doesn't actually work with the laptop.</p>

  • Athena Azuraea

    18 February, 2017 - 3:22 pm

    <p>Still lacks numeric keypad, has dual core instead of quad core, weights more, two useless USB-C ports instead of one (save those ports for when USB-C peripherals start coming out; right now they're just replacing useful type-A ports)… thanks, but no thanks.</p>

    • bsd107

      Premium Member
      28 May, 2017 - 4:49 am

      <blockquote><a href="#43281"><em>In reply to Athena Azuraea:</em></a></blockquote><p>Since it only actually has one Thunderbolt 3 port (which I good), one way to look at the second (non-Thunderbolt) USB-C port is as a replacement for the previous AC adapter port. They just basically replaced it was a port that doubles as USB-C. That is more flexible, and smart in my opinion…</p>

  • Bart

    Premium Member
    18 February, 2017 - 4:04 pm

    <p>I don't have this kind of money just laying around. But if I did, I would pull the trigger straight away.</p><p>Awesome specs, future proof, gorgeous laptop. What's not to like</p>

  • ChrisKal

    18 February, 2017 - 6:26 pm

    <p>You know, the original didn't quite do it for me, but this iteration is very attractive. I think I'd personally get a Razer Blade over this, but I will definitely be adding this to my list of laptops I recommend to people.</p>

  • Alex Taylor

    18 February, 2017 - 7:40 pm

    <p>A serious question Paul : Does the USB-C port for charging accept anything but the provided charger? I had read that prior HPs had DRM to lock out third party chargers. </p><p><br></p><p>In my view, if it isn't interoperable, it's even worse than the past, where at least the plug shape gave users a clue. </p><p>And any chance of a test with a third party dock? Connecting to an external monitor and desktop peripherals is big for your audience:I'd love a future where I could plug any laptop into the same single cable to get everything hooked up – are we there yet? </p>

    • rbrynteson

      18 February, 2017 - 8:02 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#43317"><em>In reply to Alex Taylor:</em></a></blockquote><p>I just picked up the new 13 inch/4k version of this and my new USB-C pluggable powers it.&nbsp; I do get a message on screen that tells me I should use the HP provided one (one of the 1000 HP apps is most likely making this appear) but it charges fine.</p>

      • Alex Taylor

        18 February, 2017 - 9:33 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#43319">In reply to rbrynteson:</a></em></blockquote><p>Thanks, that's really helpful info! </p><p>What pluggable did you get, and what are you driving off it? </p><p>Thanks </p>

  • karlinhigh

    Premium Member
    18 February, 2017 - 9:22 pm

    <p><em style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">"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."</em></p><p>Yay, squares! In style twice and never changed!</p>

  • hrlngrv

    Premium Member
    18 February, 2017 - 10:43 pm

    <p>For me, all the HP laptop keyboards are less usable than Lenovo or Dell laptop keyboards. I use the arrow keys a lot, and HP half-height up and down keys are much less usable than the ones on other brands' keyboards. There may be other reasons to prefer HP, but this alone will keep me from buying another (I have an HP Chromebook).</p>

  • krisarthur

    Premium Member
    18 February, 2017 - 11:16 pm

    <p>I would really like to see this compared against the new 15" Dell XPS line with the 1050 video card in it… that seems like quite a laptop in one package.</p>

  • wshwe

    18 February, 2017 - 11:16 pm

    <p>The lack of USB Type A ports is a deal breaker for me. The budget gaming laptop I own has 3 USB Type A ports.</p>

    • John Dunagan

      Premium Member
      20 February, 2017 - 2:23 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#43337">In reply to wshwe:</a></em></blockquote><p>Couldn't you buy a mini hub?</p>

  • Billzeal

    Premium Member
    18 February, 2017 - 11:34 pm

    <p>Looks great in every way. HP continues to do a fantastic job. I will be getting this one. Great review Paul.</p>

  • jlmerrill

    19 February, 2017 - 12:03 am

    <p>I still like my 2015 Spectre X360 13". When it dies I will get a 15" model. But for now my 15" MacBook Pro 2015 will suffice for a 15" laptop.</p>

  • tremblaymax

    19 February, 2017 - 8:00 am

    <p>Hi Paul,</p><p><br></p><p>You describe the CPU as Core i7-7700T and you said it's a dual core.<a href="http://ark.intel.com/products/97122/Intel-Core-i7-7700T-Processor-8M-Cache-up-to-3_80-GHz&quot; target="_blank"> However on Intel ark </a>it is listed as a quad-core (8 threads). Are you sure it's dual core or if it's the right CPU model ? The spectre looks really nice and was going to suggest this model to a friend, but he needs a quad-core CPU for some of his tasks. </p><p><br></p><p>Nice article as usual, thank you.</p>

  • argrubbs

    Premium Member
    19 February, 2017 - 8:49 am

    <p>Great article, Paul! I purchased one of these about 3 days ago and it has been an excellent machine. I'm not sure about the specs you posted as the one that I got was a dual-core 7500U and a GeForce 940MX. It was the $1499 model as well. It's a great machine so far. Battery life has been stellar. I get a solid workday out of it while doing some browsing, watching YouTube, and doing some system administration tasks. Also, to anyone stating that it's too heavy, I can agree that it's heavy for tablet use but as a laptop it's not bad since it's so thin and easy to grip. Also, some folks just need to hit the gym if 4.4 pounds is too heavy.</p><p><br></p><p>So, to answer tremblaymax, mine has a dual-core i7 7500U.</p><p><br></p><p>About the pen, it works really well for me. It has 2048 levels of presssure and I feel it's way better than the pen on my aging Surface Pro 3. Though, the Surface is much easier for note taking due to its size and weight.</p><p><br></p><p>If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask!</p>

  • CJones

    Premium Member
    20 February, 2017 - 8:50 am

    <p>Paul, you list your laptop as having a Radeon graphics chip, but I only see a NVIDIA chip listed in the configuration builder at HP. What gives?</p>

  • DaveLG526

    20 February, 2017 - 1:37 pm

    <p>I have to say the performance, price and features make these high end machines more and more attractive to a Apple MBP. I still like the Apple track pad and video scrolling better but I haven't examined this HP model. I will have to check when it shows up at the local MS store. </p><p><br></p><p>I like the idea of the touch screen and pen too.</p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • YouWereWarned

    20 February, 2017 - 2:43 pm

    <p>Asus Q324U: i7-7200, 16GB, 512 SSD, 10-point touch, finger-print reader, 2.8lb, excellent construction. $999.</p><p>Touched the HPs and Dells and Lenovos and Acers, and the rest. Asus owns the motherboard space, and saves you $500 if you don't require a Trump-plated chassis.</p>

    • scottheroc

      20 February, 2017 - 7:45 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#43776">In reply to YouWereWarned:</a></em></blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote>Is the $999 price for a 13" or 15"?</blockquote><p><br></p>


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