Unique Control Zone touchpad; Beautiful design; Gorgeous display; Snappy backlit keyboard; Strong performance; Long battery life
Bottom runs a bit warm
The HP Spectre 13t-3000 Ultrabook packs a user-friendly touchpad, strong performance and long battery life in a beautiful design.
One of the chief complaints users have about Windows 8 is that its gesture controls aren't intuitive enough for first-time users. HP addresses that gripe head-on with the new Spectre 13t-3000 Ultrabook. Large areas on either side of the notebook's Control Zone touchpad make it easier to activate Windows 8's gesture-based Charms and Recent Apps menus. That's not all this $1,019 ultraportable has to offer, though. With the latest Intel Core i5 processor, a solid-state drive, beautiful 13-inch 1080p touch screen and a dead sexy design, the Spectre 13t is one of the best Ultrabooks money can buy.
Open up the notebook, and the first thing to catch your eye will be the Spectre 13t's oversized Control Zone Touchpad. Developed to make it easier than ever to use Windows 8 gestures, without having to reach up to the touch screen, Control Zone features a standard touchpad flanked on its left and right sides by areas specifically designed for interacting with Windows 8's Recent Apps and Charms menus. (More on this later.)
Measuring 12.8 x 8.7 x 0.59 inches and weighing a scant 3.3 pounds, the HP Spectre 13t is a hair thinner, though a bit heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Air (12.8 x 8.9 x 0.11 - 0.68 inches and 3 pounds). At 12.6 x 8.8 x 0.54 inches, Samsung's ATIV Book 9 Plus is slightly smaller than both the Spectre 13t and Macbook Air, and weighs 3.2 pounds. Acer's Aspire S7 measures just 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.51 inches and weighs 3 pounds.
A trailer for "X-Men: Days of Future Past" looked considerably better when viewed on the Spectre 13t's 1080p display than it did on the MacBook Air. Fine lines in characters' faces were sharper on the HP, and colors appeared warmer. Skin tones also looked more natural, and blacks looked endlessly deep on the Spectre 13t. The MacBook Air's display looked washed out by comparison. Similarly, a high-definition image of a lush mountain landscape looked far greener and sharper on the HP.
With a display brightness of 254 lux, the HP Spectre 13t's screen barely outshined the ultraportable laptop category average of 249 lux, and was neck and neck with the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (251 lux). The MacBook Air's display topped out at 263 lux, while the Acer Aspire S7 hit an impressive 329 lux.
The Spectre 13t's touch screen proved accurate and responsive during our time with the notebook.
Switch off Beats, however, and audio sounds muddled. In fact, at one point, it sounded like we were listening to a smartphone rather than a laptop. So just keep Beats on. On the LAPTOP Audio Test, the Spectre 13 pumped out a steady 84 dB at a distance of 23 inches. That's just above the category average of 83 dB.
On the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, we typed at a rate of 79 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate, about equal to our personal average. Our one gripe with the keyboard is the small size of its directional keys, which made navigating a bit of a chore.
Control Zone Touchpad
Performing gestures on the Control Zone is no different than it would be on a standard notebook. Users swipe in from the right to open the Charms menu, while a swipe in from the left opens the Recent Apps menu. In testing, however, HP said it found that the wings helped users more easily recognize how to use Windows 8 gestures. From a practicality standpoint, it makes more sense to direct users to the touchpad, rather than forcing them to use the touch screen exclusively or expecting them to know, without prompting, that they can use the touchpad for the same gestures.
Adding the Control Zones to the touchpad dramatically increased its size, to a whopping 5.5 x 2.6 inches. With such a large space between the user and keyboard, we figured we'd accidentally move the cursor more often. To prevent this, HP and Synaptic wisely chose to disable the cursor in the Control Zones. As a result, we noticed little to no issues with palm rejection during our time with the notebook.
Overall, we liked the larger touchpad and its enhanced functionality. Even Windows 8 veterans will appreciate how much easier it is to use gestures with the Control Zone compared to a standard touchpad.
Ports and Webcam
The Spectre 13t's 720p webcam provided acceptable stills and video. Colors were accurate, and while we noticed some blurring, the lines in our shirt were still easy to make out.
The Spectre 13t proved itself to be a cool customer during our LAPTOP Heat Test (streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes) reaching just 84 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad. The space between the G and H keys hit 94 degrees, falling just below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees. The bottom of the notebook, however, reached a somewhat toasty 99 degrees.
On the Geekbench 3 benchmark, the Spectre 13t scored 6,436. That's better than the Intel 1.3-GHz Core i5-4250U-powered MacBook Air 13-inch's score of 6,267, and well above the ultraportable category average of 4,559. The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus, which packs the same processor as the Spectre 13t, scored a lower 4,150.
The Spectre 13t performed equally well on the PCMark 7 benchmark, hitting 4,806 and easily besting the ultraportable category average of 3,927. The ATIV Book 9 Plus pulled ahead of the HP with a score of 5,017, but the Acer Aspire S7 was higher still, with a score of 5,051.
Thanks to its 128GB solid-state drive, the Spectre 13t booted Windows 8.1 in just 10 seconds. The Acer Aspire S7 was one second faster, while the ATIV Book 9 Plus was a second slower.
The Spectre's SSD also helped it transfer files at a breakneck pace, moving 4.97GB of mixed media files in just 32 seconds. That equals a rate of 159 MBps, which is faster than the category average of 111 MBps, as well as the Acer Aspire S7's 113 MBps and Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus' 127 MBps. That said, the MacBook Air handily beat all three notebooks with its impressive transfer rate of 242 MBps.
During the OpenOffice SpreadSheet Macro, the Spectre 13t matched 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. The average ultraportable takes 6:40, while the MacBook Air 13-inch took 5:33. The ATIV Book 9 Plus was a bit quicker, at 5:13. Once again, though, the Aspire S7 took the crown, with a time of 5:12.
While playing "World of Warcraft," the HP Spectre 13t delivered an average of 28 frames per second with the graphics set to auto detect and resolution at 1366 x 768. That's not quite playable. The Acer Aspire S7 averaged 39 fps at the same resolution, while the ATIV Book 9 Plus hit 46 fps. The MacBook Air averaged 45 frames per second with the resolution set to 1300 x 812.
Thanks to its 4-cell battery and low-voltage, fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, the Spectre will last you all day, and you won't have to worry about finding an outlet. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display brightness set to 40 percent, the Spectre 13t lasted an impressive 9 hours and 4 minutes. That blows away the ultraportable notebook category average of 6:35. This runtime also surpasses the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus' 8:06 and Acer Aspire S7's 8:53. The MacBook Air 13-inch, however, ran for a marathon 11:40.
Software and Warranty
The heavy hitter here is the included Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5. Regularly priced at $149, the software lets you adjust, enhance and organize your digital photos with ease. Unfortunately, unlike HP's older Envy notebooks, the Spectre 13t doesn't come with Photoshop Elements or Premiere Elements.
HP provides customers with a one-year limited hardware warranty. See how HP fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brand Report.
MORE: Top Laptop Gifts
The Spectre 13t starts at $999. At that price, consumers get a 1.6-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-4200U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB solid state drive and a 1080p display. The Smart Buy configuration, which costs $1,229 after a mail-in rebate, has the same processor, but 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 2560 x 1440-pixel screen.
Consumers can also customize the starting model with up to an Intel Core i7-4500U processor ($195), 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD ($150) and the 2560 x 1440 display ($70). Additionally, you can outfit the Spectre 13 with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a $20 option.
HP Spectre vs. the Competition
Samsung's $1,399 ATIV Book 9 Plus has a sharper display, but you can configure the HP with a higher-res panel, too. And the Spectre 13 offers a better keyboard. The Aspire S7 ($1,399), an Editors' Choice pick, is lighter and slimmer than the HP and offers faster performance, but it also costs $380 more.
|CPU||Dual-Core Intel Core i5-4200U Haswell processor|
|Operating System||Windows 8.1|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4400|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260|
|Touchpad Size||5.5 x 2.6 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini DisplayPort|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Lock Slot|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||DC-in|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Combo Headphone/Mic Jack|
|Card Slots||2-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||1-year limited hardware warranty support|
|Size||12.8 x 8.7 x 0.59 inches|