HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) review

Improving on the best 2-in-1 laptop of the past few years, the latest Spectre x360 13 delivers faster performance and longer battery life in an even smaller chassis

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021)
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Laptop Mag)

Laptop Mag Verdict

HP's Spectre x360 13 is an outstanding premium laptop even if it gets overshadowed by the newer (but pricier) Spectre x360 14.


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    Luxurious design

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    Sturdy, compact chassis

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    Bright 1080p display

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    Fast performance

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    12+ hour battery life

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    IR camera and fingerprint sensor


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    Terrible webcam

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    Small touchpad

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    No bundled stylus

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    Overshadowed by Spectre x360 14

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HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) specs

Price: $899 ($1,199 reviewed at)
CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7
GPU: Iris Xe
Storage: 512GB M.2 NVMe
Display: 13.3-inch, 1080p IPS touchscreen
Battery: 12:32
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5
Size: 12.1 x 7.7 x 0.7 inches
Weight: 2.8 pounds

When HP released the Spectre x360 14 to critical acclaim, I wondered whether it marked the end of its smaller sibling. The Spectre x360 13 had, for years, been the best 2-in-1 laptop on the market, eclipsing tough competition with its elegant chassis, fast speeds, and great display options. 

The problem? The 14-inch model delivers in all of those areas, then adds a larger touchpad, quad speakers, and a bigger display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. How could the more compact model keep up? I'm happy to report that my fears of the Spectre x360 13 becoming irrelevant were dispelled after spending a few days with it. 

Yes, the Spectre x360 14 is the pinnacle of ultra-thin convertible computing, however, the Spectre x360 13 isn't far behind, and for now, it costs considerably less. There are a few compromises made when stepping down to the 13-inch model, but those are easily overlooked thanks to its bright 1080p display, capable performance, epic battery life, and gorgeous, ultra-compact chassis. It may not demand the spotlight as much as it did before, but the Spectre x360 13 remains one of the best 13-inch laptops

HP Spectre x360 13 price and configurations 

With a starting price of $899, the HP Spectre x360 13 comes in at $100 less than most competitors in this category, including the MacBook Air. The base 1080p model comes with an Intel Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. 

Our $1,199 review unit comes with a 13.3-inch, 1080p touchscreen display with a Core i7-1165G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. From there, you can pay an extra $60 for the 1080p Sure View privacy screen or another $180 for the OLED panel. 

Storage upgrades cost $70 extra to go from 256GB to 512GB or double the amount to get to 1TB.  You will pay a reasonable $1,269 for a model with a 13.3-inch, 1080p display, a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. Things get expensive when you spend an extra $200 for a 2TB SSD.

HP Spectre x360 13 design 

Striking and sturdy, the Spectre x360 13 stands at the peak of laptop design. 

I'd usually roll my eyes at the fancy words HP uses to describe the Spectre, like "chamfered" and "beveled." In this case, however, it's as if the company handed an aluminum slab to a master gem cutter and told them to use their finest techniques. 

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Where laptops like the MacBook Air or Surface Laptop 4 are slab-shaped with rounded corners, the Spectre x360 has diamond-cut edges and aggressive angles. These bold design elements give the Spectre a luxurious, attention-grabbing form. If the silver Spectre isn't showy enough, HP offers a stealthy Nightfall Black version or, my personal favorite, the cerulean Poseidon Blue color variant. 

More compact than before, at 12.1 x 7.7 x 0.7 inches and 2.8 pounds, the Spectre x360 13 now has a genuine edge-to-edge display with barely-there bezels. The XPS 13 (11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches, 2.8 pounds) remains the king of compact while the MacBook Air (12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches, 2.8) is in need of a redesign. For comparison, the Spectre x360 14 comes in at 11.8 x 8.7 x 0.6 inches and 3 pounds.

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Flexible dual hinges allow the Spectre x360 13, a 2-in-1 laptop, to convert from a laptop into a tablet. They are stiff enough to prevent the screen from wobbling when you tap on the glass, yet flipping the panel around to transition into tent or tablet mode doesn't require much force. It strikes the right balance between sturdy and practical.

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Speaking of practical, there is a fingerprint sensor on the deck just below the arrow keys. If that is too much effort, an IR camera lets you log in to the system via facial recognition. With both features at your fingerprints, you can afford to forget your password. 

HP Spectre x360 13 ports 

The Spectre has a wider range of ports than most laptops in its ultra-thin category. You not only get Thunderbolt inputs but a USB-A port and a microSD card slot.

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On the right side of the Spectre x360 are two Thunderbolt 4 ports, one on the chamfered corner. I wish the USB-C inputs were split among each side of the laptop, but hey, beggars can't be choosers. Below these is a webcam shutoff switch and a microSD card slot.

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On the left edge, you'll find a USB 3.1 Type-A port using a drop-jaw hinge, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack. A physical power button is located on the left corner. 

HP Spectre x360 13 display 

The 13.3-inch, 1080p IPS touchscreen is a good one if you don't mind the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio. It gets bright enough to use outside on a sunny day and the colors are punchy when you're streaming Netflix or watching YouTube videos.

Getting back to the aspect ratio, many premium laptops released in the past year use 16:10 or 3:2 ratios to allow for more vertical screen real estate. While the Spectre's screen is ideal for watching videos, taller displays improve productivity by showing more content on web pages, documents or spreadsheets. Which method is best comes down to personal preference, but tall and narrow is certainly trending.

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Watching the trailer for Free Guys on the Spectre x360 13 was a visceral gauntlet composed of a richly saturated video game world with epic explosions, frenetic action scenes, and an increasingly sentient Ryan Reynolds. The FHD panel was sharp enough to reveal shards of glass sprinkling over Reynolds after a bank robber blasts a shotgun round at a glass partition. 

From the neon signs to the freshly painted supercars, colors on the Spectre's screen were rich without being oversaturated. 

The touchscreen was responsive to my taps and so accurate that I could press on small icons to minimize my Microsoft Edge browser window or change the volume using the on-screen controls.

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The panel did slightly worse on our benchmarks than I had expected; it covers only 68% of the  DCI-P3 color gamut, making it less colorful than those on the MacBook Air (81%), XPS 13 (69%), and the Spectre x360 14 (75%). 

Reaching an excellent 391 nits of brightness, the Spectre's 1080p panel outshone the MacBook Air (366 nits), the Spectre x360 14 (365 nits) and the category average (389 nits), but the XPS 13 (469 nits) makes its rivals look dim in comparison. 

HP Spectre x360 13 keyboard and touchpad 

HP knows the Spectre x360 13 has a great keyboard, which is why no changes were made from the previous model. It's satisfying to type on due to the respectable key travel and clicky switches.

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Moreover, the keys are a decent size (if just a tad small), and none of the important ones are shrunken to fit on the compact deck. I also like that HP puts video conferencing hotkeys like a mic on/off on the shortcut row for easy access during Zoom or Teams calls. 

If I'm nitpicking, hunt-and-peck typists might take issue with the transparent font on the keycaps as it doesn't contrast well against the silver surface. Also, the arrow keys aren't offset so you can't find them by feel and the keys require slightly more force to actuate than I'd prefer.

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I typed at 118 words per minute with a 97% accuracy on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which tops my usual 109-wpm at 95% averages. 

The 4.4 x 2.5-inch touchpad is wide but short, so those with larger hands will have trouble executing two and three-finger Windows 10 gestures without brushing against the surfaces. With an assist from Precision drivers, the touchpad responded quickly to swipes and pinches; zooming in with a pinch was effortless and switching programs with three-finger swipes worked well. 

HP Spectre x360 13 audio 

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Not even the Spectre x360's dual bottom-firing speakers could prevent me from rocking my head to Dayglow's groovy retro jam "Close To You." But let's be clear, these aren't the best-sounding speakers, even with luxury audio brand Bang & Olufsen doing the tuning. They sound fine, with a decent punch on the low end but the midrange lacks depth, making my alternative and indie playlists sound flat. It's worth noting that the Spectre x360 14 has a quad-speaker setup capable of more sonic oomph than what you get with this 13-inch model. 

HP Spectre x360 13 performance 

Equipped with an Intel Core i7-1165G7 and 16GB of RAM, the Spectre x360 13 has enough muscle to run demanding workloads including my usual gauntlet consisting of 30 Microsoft Edge tabs, many running processes in the background. I fired up four 1080p YouTube videos, played Dayglow's album on YouTube Music, and streamed First Take on ESPN, without any problems. The Spectre was even up to the task of editing photos for this review in Affinity Photo.

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The Spectre x360 13 scored a 4,749 on the Geekbench 5.3 overall performance test, which is a good result, but short of the Spectre x360 14 (4,904, Core i7-1165G7), XPS 13 (5,319, Core i7-1165G7) and far behind the MacBook Air (7,575, M1). I consider the Spectre's a "good" score because it bests the premium laptop average (4,467). 

Our video test proved to be tricky for the Spectre, which needed 18 minutes and 39 seconds to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution. That is twice as long as the MacBook Air (9:15) and slightly slower than the XPS 13 (18:22), Spectre x360 14 (17:02) and the category average (16:01).

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The 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD in our review unit took 59 seconds to duplicate a 25GB multimedia file equating to a transfer rate of 452.6 megabytes per second. It gets nowhere near as fast as the storage drives in the Spectre x360 14 (764 MBps), XPS 13 (806.2 MBps) or the category average (820.6 MBps). 

HP Spectre x360 13 graphics 

Relying on Intel Iris Xe graphics, the Spectre x360 13 can play less intensive games, stream 8K videos or export 4K files. What it can't do is run the latest games at high frame rates or execute real-time 3D rendering. For that, you need an eGPU or a gaming laptop with a discrete GPU

Proper gaming will be a struggle on the Spectre which ran Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm at 23 frames per second, below our preferred 30-fps threshold. 

Scoring a 4,459 on the 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark, the Spectre x360 13 flexed against the XPS 13 (3,598, Iris Xe) and the Spectre x360 14 (4,229, Iris Xe). The average for premium laptops is 4,774.

HP Spectre x360 13 battery life 

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HP's Spectre laptops consistently nail our Laptop Mag Battery Test and this 2021 model is no different, lasting 12 hours and 32 minutes while browsing the web with the screen set to 150 nits. 

That outstanding result tops both the XPS 13 (11:07), the Spectre x360 14 (12:11) and the category average (10:27), falling victim to only the MacBook Air (14:41).

HP Spectre x360 13 webcam 

This 720p camera is so bad that I had to remind myself that it's better than any webcam not located on the top display bezel. Better, yes, but only barely. A selfie I snapped in my office was covered in a thick layer of digital noise despite the overhead light providing decent shooting conditions. 

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The picture was so blurry that I couldn't make out wrinkles in my face or individual strands of hair. If there are any positives, it's that the colors looked accurate; my high-contrast bike helmet in the background was a highlighter yellow and the longhorn on my baseball cap was the right shade of burnt orange. 

HP Spectre x360 13 heat 

The bottom panel reached 101 degrees Fahrenheit after we played a 15-minute, 1080p video, exceeding our 95-degree comfort threshold. That is toastier than we'd prefer, but at least the areas where your skin touches, like the center of the keyboard (89 degrees) and touchpad (83 degrees), kept their cool. 

HP Spectre x360 13 software and warranty 

I'm relieved to see only five HP-branded apps installed on the Spectre x360 13, not the usual dirty dozen. With Command Center, you can adjust the fan speed, performance output and network bandwidth of the Spectre. 

Worth keeping around is Support Assistant, where you can run a diagnostics test, download the latest drivers, or find help from a virtual assistant. Also installed on the Spectre is an app with documentation, another with privacy settings, and myHP, which gives you how-tos on basic Windows 10 options. 

You will find a few additional Windows 10 apps but nothing out of the ordinary. There is the Your Phone app, Xbox Game Bar, and a pair of Intel programs for Optane memory and the Iris Xe graphics.

The Spectre x360 13 comes with a one-year warranty. See how HP fared on our Tech support showdown and Best and worst brands special reports. 

Bottom line 

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I can't remember feeling so conflicted about a laptop before. Because, objectively, the Spectre x360 13 is fantastic. It refines one of our favorite convertible laptops by bringing faster performance and longer battery life to a more compact design. 

The problem is that the Spectre x360 13 now has a bigger, bolder sibling. The sort of sibling who tends to win at everything. That model, the HP Spectre x360 14, has a slightly larger 13.5-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio that will benefit those who use their personal laptop for work. It also has a much larger touchpad and about the same battery life as the 13-inch model.

If I had to choose between them, I'd buy the Spectre x360 14. Factor in the extra cost (almost $400 at the time of writing) and I start leaning toward the Spectre x360 13. Like the Spectre 14, this 13-inch version has a bright display, a comfortable keyboard, epic battery life, and one of the most striking designs we've ever seen on a laptop. 

I'll leave the decision up to you — whether the touchpad and screen benefits on the Spectre x360 14 are worth the extra cash. Either way, you can't go wrong. Having said that, you should consider other capable laptops in this category as well, like Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and Lenovo Yoga 9i, before spending your hard-earned money. 

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.