The Morning After: HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) Second Impressions

Posted on February 19, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 26 Comments

The Morning After: HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) Second Impressions

A full day of use and a few more notes about the new 15-inch HP Spectre x360, which has already exceeded my expectations in a few key areas.

Speaking of which, the parallels between this portable PC and the new HP ENVY Curved All-in-One, a desktop-based system, are quite interesting. In both cases, HP has taken a well-designed PC and upgraded it in ways that both useful and surprising.

But the Spectre x360, in 15-inch form, hits a unique chord. From its gorgeous color scheme and styling to its capacious 4K/UHD IPS display, the new Spectre cuts a striking figure. But this is no supermodel. The HP Spectre x360 15 also has a newly-found brawn to back up its beauty.

That is, it is notable to me that this near-workstation device is only outfitted with a high-end Intel Core i7 processor, albeit a dual-core chip. It can be had with 8 GB or 16 GB of RAM, 256 GB to 1 TB of fast PCIe-based SSD storage. HP does not offer a compromised version of this product. You’re getting quality, no matter which model you choose.

But the best change in this product is the keyboard. As I noted yesterday, I had been using last year’s Spectre x360 15 for the 10 days before the new version arrived for review. And the keyboard on that earlier device, like that of all Spectre x360 versions, is excellent.

This one is even better. I believe that the keyboard on the new Spectre x360 15 is, in fact, the best portable PC keyboard I have ever used. Now, I will need to keep using it, of course. And I will need to switch back and forth between this device, its predecessor, the recent 13-inch Spectre x360, and, most crucially Microsoft’s Surface Book—the reigning champ for portable PC keyboards—to be sure. But from the moment my hands started flying away on this wonderful keyboard, I think I knew. It’s just so immediately obvious.

The Bang & Olufsen speakers are likewise excellent. And while HP has actually gone from a four speaker design in the 2016 model to just two speakers here, I find the sound, overall, to be louder, fuller, and more impressive. HP credits a new design with discrete amplifiers for this improvement. Whatever the reason, if you’re ever stuck in a hotel room on a business trip and just want to enjoy a Star Wars movie for the upteenth time, you’ll be blown away by the sound.

Yesterday, I mentioning gaming. Since then, I’ve tried two Windows Store titles, Forza 3 Horizon and Batman: The Telltale Series, and the short version is that gaming is doable, albeit with lower-quality settings than you may be used to on a real gaming PC. But work it does.

So while the Batman game stutter-steps on a pre-Performance Base Surface Book, even in the introductory bits, the HP performs smoothly, with no hitching at all. Yes, I’ll need to examine the settings on each to see how they really compare. But it looks great, plays great, and the sound, again, is amazing.

Forza is perhaps the better test. After having GeForce Experience optimize the game for this system, I was told that it would run with “low” settings. This means it plays at 1360 x 768 at 30 fps, and with most advanced video settings either off at a low setting. But my god, does this game look pretty great even at these lowly settings, and the sound, again, is amazing.

OK, the Spectre x360 15 is not a game machine. But there is a much bigger audience of people who require a PC to be truly versatile and handle a variety of workloads, one of which is the occasional game. This system will do nicely, thank you very much. (And, I suspect, will do even better after the Windows 10 Creators Update hits, thanks to Game Mode.)

(And God help me, twitchy controls aside, I may be starting to like Forza 3 Horizon.)

There is a LOT of extraneous software on this device, HP and otherwise. I removed the obvious stuff, but there is a big list of HP someting something on there that I need to work through.

One final note for this early peek: As you may know, I’m very sensitive to noise, especially the fan noise that dogs so many PCs. The HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) has acquitted itself well in this regard, with silent operation for the most part. Yes, the fans crank up when you’re playing games, but that’s expected. Otherwise, it’s been very quiet.

More soon. But my quest for a new road companion may be settled.


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Comments (26)

26 responses to “The Morning After: HP Spectre x360 15 (2017) Second Impressions”

  1. Jaxidian

    Any coil whine that has plagued high powered laptops for the past couple years? Typically happens with high CPU use, changing screen colors on screen (sometimes with white coming and going), and on some other weird scenarios.

    • argrubbs

      In reply to Jaxidian:

      I purchased this laptop a few days ago from Best Buy and have not heard any coil whine at all. No squeaking, no chattering, no abnormal sounds at all even under load. The fans will kick in when gaming or transcoding video, but that's the only noise that I can hear. Great notebook, really.

  2. brettscoast

    Looks a sweet machine with enough grunt for a productivity or light gaming. For removing the superfluous apps you could use this little tool link below which works pretty well to remove unwanted software.

    • Polycrastinator

      In reply to brettscoast:

      PC Decrapifier is a great tool, but I find that because it crowdsources its choices for uninstalls, it's not as aggressive as I'd like in selecting things to be removed by default, I suspect for the same reason Paul looked at that list of HP crap and thought "do I need this? I don't know?" Everyone does that.

      I have to set up a lot of HP systems for customers, and it's almost surprising how much of that is utterly superfluous.

  3. DaveLG526

    I wonder when or of this will appear in my local Microsoft mall store!

  4. TedWorkman

    I would love to purchase one of these. I spent the weekend visiting four Best Buys all of which indicated on the Best Buy site that the unit was available at the stores I visited. None of them had the laptop. The fourth store's listing even said they had a unit on display. When I asked the sales clerk about it, he said that it was an older unit and they had removed it. I told him what the website was showing and he pulled out his phone to check the same site. I told him that rather than reward Best Buy for my wild goose chase, I would just wait until the HP store had them back in stock and walked out. This is what drives people to make online purchases.

  5. alankchan

    So of the two Kaby Lake x360 models with pens, would you go with the 13-inch or 15-inch and why or why not? One would think the smaller size of the 13-inch would be a plus for traveling but it seems like there are some pluses for the 15-inch model. Can you say much more about the keyboard compared to the 13-inch model? I really want to buy the 13-inch model but this review is making me rethink that I should wait for the 15-inch model. Also, say more about what the three 13-inch models of HP's product line make sacrifices for and who they're geared toward. Sorry if that's a rehash but I'd appreciate all the info in one place rather than going back and reading through all the reviews individually.

    • JJanner

      In reply to alankchan: Great question; I've been using the 13 inch Spectre x360 since the first generation, now looking a the 13 and 15 inch 2017 versions. Local Best Buy has the 15 on the floor, so playing with the form factor & weight. My evaluation is based on [1] determining if the improved specs of the 15 vs the 13 are material to how I use it (photo and some video editing; movies/streaming, reading news, crunching numbers on very large spreadsheets) and [2] if the larger and heavier 15 makes my sitting on the sofa and reading the news uncomfortable (it's great with the 13). Anyone have thoughts/feelings on this?

  6. jlmerrill

    Too bad it runs windows.

  7. andrewhodge

    You have said many times, and have made it clear numerous times that you do NOT get paid by companies for these reviews. They are honest, first hand experiences, with your personal no-BS opinions, which is great and what your readers like.

    With that being said, I think the folks at HP are sitting back and realizing that giving you this review unit was probably one of the best moves. Given your last two posts regarding it and how highly your speaking of this device. Heck, you have actually changed my focus from wanting the Surface Book to wanting this device, which I think I am going to go ahead and purchase here soon. I wouldn't mind seeing a side by side comparison of this device to the Surface Book from your point of view.

  8. timothyhuber

    It is a bit crazy just how many apps HP puts on its machines. They are not alone, as Lenovo is just as bad (if not worse).

  9. Stoffel

    Any chance you can give us an update after you've gone through that massive amount of HP apps?

    I just got my HP Spectre x360 13t, the late 2016 version, and noticed all these extra apps installed.

    A guide on what is safe to remove would be great!

  10. F4IL

    Unfortunately as the last screenshot indicates, there is a substantial amount of bloatware pre-installed, besides the standard fare of Candycrush et al. HP need to dial it back just a little bit.

  11. Michael Rivers

    Forza Horizon 3's controls are twitchy? Hmmm, never seemed so to me.

  12. burog25c

    Funny how certain things bother some people and not others. Fan noise isn't a biggie for me. Mind you for 35 of my 49 years I've assaulted my ears with stuff like Judas Priest, M-16s, M-60s, C-4, TNT, dump trucks, bull dozers, slamming together 53 combined tons of iron, 60HP turbine vacuums... To me, fans are white noise I use to go to sleep. For you Paul, probably not so much. I can understand that goal of a perfectly quiet machine. It's just that for me, some fan noise.. not a deal breaker at all. Screens on the other hand... UHD 4K HDR or GTFO! Or at least 1080p. We do have to have standards! ;-)

    P.S. Yes, there are times I've pulled out my ear plugs just to hear those multiple tons of iron some together. Sometimes you have to appreciate something that makes the ground shake hundreds of feet away. Oh and did I mention the rock quarry just a half mile away? Probably where I learned to love explosives all those years ago. Fan noise though? Seriously, it helps me sleep!

  13. kenhes

    And so the love affair blossoms. :D

  14. rameshthanikodi

    shouldn't the graphics performance be similar to the surface book pre-perf. base? This uses the Nvdia GeForce 940MX too, which is the same GPU in the surface book non-performance base

    • bsd107

      In reply to rameshthanikodi:

      Yes - I would guess to be pretty similar.

      What I honestly don't understand is why they simply didn't leave out such a weak discrete GPU and instead just use the top end mobile i7 with Intel Iris Plus 640 (which they offer on the 13.3" model). I believe these both have similar performance, and losing the dGPU would save weight, battery, cost and interface delays when switching between the IGP and dGPU.

      I just don't understand the use for such a weak discrete GPU when an IGP could do the same job. Am I missing something?

  15. polloloco51

     "I believe that the keyboard on the new Spectre x360 15 is, in fact, the best portable PC keyboard I have ever used.". Is it even better than the Lenovo X1 Carbon's or any of the Thinkpad keyboards?

  16. Bart

    I guess carrying the weight of the laptop + charger etc. around, might be another good test?

  17. craigsn

    So how does this compare to the "new" Spectre x360 13? Obviously, the screen size, but what else?

  18. dave.erwin

    I'm thinking about purchasing one of these to replace my wife's laptop. I'm concerned about the 4K display. How is the size of the icons, text etc.? She spends almost all of her time in Excel 2010 due to work and I'm not sure how well that responds to Windows 10 display scaling. Is there a similar laptop in the Spectre, Envy etc. line that you would recommend that has a FHD display instead of 4K? Her other requirements are separate cursor and home, pgup, pgdn, and end keys.