There's a saying that I always heard as a kid: "Dress for the job you want." And by the looks of the HP Spectre Folio 13 ($1,299 starting, $1,608 as reviewed), the 2-in-1 is auditioning for a spot in some high-powered executive's arsenal. Clad in genuine leather, the Folio is a refined take on the 2-in-1 (it's certainly the best Surface Pro alternative for the stylish among us) offering stunning good looks, multimode modes, over 10 hours of battery life and a comfortable keyboard. The Y-series Core i5 processor isn't the fastest, but otherwise, the Folio is a stellar example of computing design that earns a spot on our Best 2-in-1 Laptops and Best College Laptops pages.
Design: Seriously Impressive
As soon as I showed my mom the Folio, she said, "I love it!" And while I wouldn't go that far, I will say I'm seriously impressed with HP's design choices. The supple Cognac Brown genuine leather is soft against my hand and resistant to my overly oily fingers. And while I'm not normally one to sniff my tech (at least, not in public), you'd be remiss not to in the case of the Folio. A couple of whiffs of the laptop, and I wanted to be in the velvety dark of my favorite cigar bar, with a stogie in one hand and a rocks glass of a 25-year-old scotch in the other.
Outside the normal creases of the leather, you'll see a subtle line in the center of the lid accentuated by some stitching. The HP logo is stamped elegantly toward the rear. On the right side rests a leather loop, waiting expectantly for the accompanying pen. On the bottom, you'll find more HP imprints, informing you that the company was established back in 1939.
More of that winsome leather awaits upon opening up the convertible. In fact, the palm rest is made entirely from the stuff, surrounding the touchpad in a sea of sumptuousness. The keyboard waits expectantly in the ash-gray aluminum keyboard deck. The slim, backlit power button sits right above the ESC key, while the speaker grille runs across the top of the deck.
And as enthusiastic as my mom was about the mix of leather and metal, she did ask if the Folio came in other colors. She was very excited to hear about the notebook's Bordeaux Burgundy and Luminous Gold color variations. And having seen it in person, her excitement is valid -- the wine-red leather is definitely a conversation starter.
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At 3.4 pounds, the 12.6 x 9.2 x 0.6-inch Folio could hardly be considered heavy or chunky. It slid effortlessly into my backpack on the way home to New Jersey for Thanksgiving. The Lenovo Yoga C930 (12.6 x 8.9 x 0.6 inches) is a tad bit lighter at 3.1 pounds. Since they're detachables, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (11.5 x 7.9 x 0.3 inches) and Samsung Galaxy Book 2 (11.3 x 7.9 x 0.3 inches) are noticeably lighter at 1.7 and 1.8 pounds, respectively.
Ports: The Three Musketeers
Since the Folio is only 0.6 inches thick, the convertible doesn't have a lot of real estate available for ports.
You get two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right and a USB Type-C port and headphone jack on the left.
On the rear of the tablet, hidden just above the kickstand, sits a dual SIM slot.
Mostly Polished Transitions
One thing HP is stressing with the Folio more than any of its other systems is the polish that went into the design. Nowhere is this more evident than when you're transitioning through the various modes. With a firm push and a sliding motion, the Folio can transform from a Laptop to what HP calls its Forward position to a Tablet.
The transition is achieved with a relatively smooth flick of the wrist. Starting from Laptop mode, I would grab the upper-right corner of the lid and push forward to detach the hidden kickstand from the powerful magnets that hold the panel in an upright position. From there, I simply slid the display toward the edge of where the touchpad and keyboard meet to enter Forward mode, or what others might refer to as a Presentation mode. The panel is positioned at a 60-degree slope, concealing the keyboard while allowing for a better viewing angle. Placing the Folio into full Tablet mode requires another firm push-and-slide motion.
Although switching between the modes is pretty simple, I wish the transitions were achieved with a more fluid sliding or folding motion -- something similar to what you'd find in a Lenovo Yoga convertible. If you use too much downward pressure, you can accidentally scrape the bottom of the display across the keyboard. But ultimately, it's one of the more graceful takes on the kickstand approach I've used. I'm also a big fan of how solid the transitions are. When I used the Folio in Laptop mode, there was no unwieldy wobbling from the display. I really had to shake the notebook to shift the screen's position.
The Folio's 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 touch display is colorful, responsive and fairly bright. During the Pimp trailer, Keke Palmer's warm chocolate skin was bathed in a lurid red glow, drawing attention to the small bumps congregating in the center of her forehead. The light sashayed playfully on her glossy locs, allowing me to see individual strands of hairs.
The panel's vividness is partially due to its ability to reproduce 119 percent of the sRGB gamut. That's better than the Yoga C930's 100 percent and the 116-percent premium laptop average. However, the Surface Pro 6 (136 percent) and the Galaxy Book 2 (200 percent) offer richer color.
Averaging 313 nits, the Folio's brightness is enough to outshine the Yoga C930's 273 nits, but it's a few nits below the 316-nit category average. At 408 nits, the Surface Pro 6 is the brightest in the field of competitors, with the Galaxy Book 2 coming in a close second at 350 nits.
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My biggest complaint about the Folio's display is with the bezels. In the world of InfinityEdges and other barely-there bezels, the Folio's are looking chunky in comparison, particularly along the top and bottom. If HP cut down the bezels, I'd imagine it would be possible to squeeze a 14-inch panel in there, and bigger is always better.
Yes, you can use your fingers on the touch screen. The 10-touch capacitive display is quick and responsive, keeping up with my squiggling in Fresh Paint. But instead of smudging the panel with unsightly fingerprints, you could use a pen.
HP has bundled its Digital Pen with the Folio, which can be used for notetaking or sketching. Powered by a AAAA battery, the Bluetooth-connected Digital Pen offers 1,024 pressure levels and delivers smooth, accurate pen strokes, as I discovered as I penned a few notes and colored the lighthouse template from the Windows E Ink workspace. Microsoft's Surface Pen offers 4,096 levels of pressure, but HP claims it can match Microsoft using software algorithms.
But if the idea of hunting down AAAA batteries gives you pause, HP also has its Tilt Pen. Available for $89.99, the Tilt Pen can be used for more minute details such as shading. Similar to the Digital Pen, the Tilt Pen is also Bluetooth-connected and has 1,024 pressure points. However, where the Digital Pen relies on a battery, the Tilt Pen charges via USB Type-C and can achieve 3 hours and 18 minutes of battery life from a 15-second fast charge. The Tilt Pen also offers deeper functionality, including a replaceable pen tip and a Bluetooth button embedded in the tail of the device in order to preserve battery life.
Audio: Loud, But Brassy
I've got to hand it to HP. The company manages to package quite a lot of sound in a relatively thin frame. The laptop easily filled my grandma's old bedroom with loud, somewhat brassy audio.
Vocals on LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" were big and bold, but while the speakers could provide the bap, the boom was missing. The absence of the lows continued when I played bass-heavy tracks like Ludacris' "Stand Up" and J. Cole's "Chaining Day."
Keyboard and Touchpad
Usually, my biggest complaint about 2-in-1 systems is the often shallow and mushy keyboards keyboards.. That's not the case with the Folio.
The laptop's island-style keyboard is evenly spaced with large, backlit keys. Despite only having 1.3 millimeters of key travel (1.5 mm is our minimum), the keys never bottomed out and even had a bit of a snap, thanks to the 71 grams of actuation force.
When I took the 10fastfingers typing test, I was only two keystrokes short of my usual 70-word-per-minute average. I used the laptop to write tons of articles during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday rush and enjoyed a comfortable typing experience throughout.
The 3.7 x 2.1-inch touchpad offered fluid, accurate response, whether I was scrolling through web pages or zooming in on some test shots. The bottom corners had a nice, springy response when I clicked either for left or right mouse button duties.
Performance: An Exercise in Compromise
With a pointed focus toward power efficiency, the Folio is outfitted with a Y-series Intel processor. That means that the dual-core 1.5-GHz Intel Core i7-8500Y CPU is nowhere near as powerful as its H-series brethren or even the U-series. However, the Folio still streamed an episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power from Netflix, while running 18 Google Chrome tabs (a few of which were running Twitch streams) and Tweetdeck without any signs of lag.
When we ran synthetic benchmarks like Geekbench 4.1, which measures overall performance, the Folio put up a score of 8,090. It's OK, and enough to crunch the Galaxy Book 2's 3,575 (Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 GPU), but it's no match for either the Surface Book Pro 6 (Intel Core i5-8250U CPU) or the Yoga C930 (Intel Core i7-8550U CPU), which achieved 13,761 and 14,739, respectively.
The Folio lagged behind on our Excel Spreadsheet Macro test, taking 3 minutes and 37 seconds to match up 65,000 names and addresses. That's much slower than the 1:36 premium laptop average. The Galaxy Book 2 finished the task in 2:18, while the Surface Pro 6 crossed the finish line in 1:12. The C930 only took 4 seconds to blow through the job.
When we ran the File Transfer test, the Folio did a little better. The convertible's 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD took 16 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of mixed-media files, which is a transfer rate of 318 megabytes per second. That pushed it past the 203 MBps and 118 MBps posted by the Surface Pro 6 and Galaxy Book 2, respectively. The Yoga C930 only performed slightly better than the Folio with 339.3 MBps, but neither system matched the 495.9-MBps category average.
If you're looking to edit video, the Folio isn't the notebook for you. It took 49 minutes and 45 seconds to convert a 4K video to 1080p. That's more than double the 21:35 average. The Galaxy Book 2 fared somewhat better at 39:49, while the Surface Pro 6 finished in 23:22. The C930 was the only hybrid to beat the average, with 20:45.
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Outside of older titles or games that aren't very graphics-intensive, you won't be doing too much serious gaming on the Folio and its integrated Intel UHD Graphics 615 GPU. The Folio fell short of our 30-frames-per-second average on the Dirt 3 benchmark, notching 28 fps. It's well below the 72-fps average as well as the 81 fps put up by the Surface Pro 6 (Intel UHD 620 GPU). It was closer in performance to the Galaxy Book 2 and C930, which hit 24 and 37 fps, respectively.
Battery Life: Still Going
It seems that including that Y-series processor really paid off in terms of endurance. The Folio lasted 10 hours and 18 minutes on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. That's longer than the 8:13 category average, the C930's 8:09 and the Surface Pro 6's 9:20. Only the Galaxy Book 2 lasted longer at 10:41.
As I feverishly wrote about deals for Black Friday, my mobile hotspot died. I froze in a panic, but as soon as it happened, the Folios 4G LTE connection kicked in like digital manna from heaven, allowing me to continue working. In addition to saving my ass, the Folio uses a dual SIM system, which means you can use multiple SIM cards for different regions.
According to HP, the Folio is the first Intel-powered laptop with gigabit class LTE. That means that you'll have the ability to access blistering gigabit speeds … soon. T-Mobile and AT&T currently offer the service in limited markets, while Verizon and Sprint are testing out the technology. Right now, this is more of a future-proofing measure than anything else.
Despite the leather cover, the Folio managed to stay relatively cool. After 15 minutes of streaming a full-screen HD video, the touchpad and center of the keyboard measured 91 degrees Fahrenheit. The bottom hit 99 degrees, which is slightly above our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, having used this laptop in my lap in 6-hour shifts without scorching my nether regions, I can confirm that it's comfortable for long stretches.
That rather thick top bezel does at least pack a solid 1080p integrated webcam, which deftly captured the intricate knit pattern of my sweater along with its dusky pink hue. Details in the background were grainy, however, and the view from the window was rather blown out.
Software and Warranty
HP packs a ton of its own software on the Folio, and most of it is pretty useful. There's HP Recovery Manager, which performs maintenance and creates recovery data in case of a crash; and HP Support Assistant, which automatically updates drivers and troubleshoots hardware. If you're a Windows 10 newbie, there's HP JumpStart, while HP Sure Click maintains web browser security, and HP ePrint keeps a handle on your printing status.
The usual Windows 10 bloatware includes Candy Crush Soda Saga, Royal Revolt 2 and Candy Crush Friends Saga. Some of the more useful software includes Netflix, Drawboard PDF, Dolby Access and McAfee Security. You can also get 25GB of free cloud storage via Dropbox when you sign up or sign in.
The HP Folio Spectre 13 ships with a one-year limited warranty. See how HP fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands annual report.
Spectre Folio 13 Pricing and Configurations
I spent a week testing the $1,608 version of the Spectre Folio, which is loaded up with a 1.5-GHz Intel Core i7-8500Y, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD, an Intel UHD 615 GPU and an Intel XMM 7560 LTE-Advanced Pro modem.
The $1,299 base model has a 1.3-GHz Intel Core i5-8200Y CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD and an Intel UHD 615 GPU. An extra $200 will bump you up to a Core i7 processor and a modem.
It's not enough for a laptop to just look different; there needs to be some functionality to the form. The Spectre Folio 13 has both in spades. It's an undeniable head turner that's equal parts business and fashion. For $1,608, you get a stylish, versatile system with over 10 hours of battery life, 4G LTE connectivity, pen support and one of the best keyboards I've used on a 2-in-1.
However, for the money, I wish I could have gotten a U-series system for more oomph in the performance department. I also want better audio performance and a brighter display -- things that the $1,228.98 Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (with Surface Pro Type Cover and Pen) delivers at a notably cheaper price. But I highly recommend the Spectre Folio 13 for anyone looking for a laptop with incredible style, versatility and performance.
Credit: Laptop Mag