Is it a laptop, tablet or both? The HP Spectre x360 13t Touch, the latest in HP's line of Yoga-like systems, fills the gap between the company's previous 11- and 15-inch systems designed to flip from notebook to slate -- and everything in between. Starting at $899 ($999 as configured), this all-aluminum ultraportable also has a bright display, extra-wide touchpad and excellent battery life. But while it's a great notebook, is it the best convertible you can get?
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then HP's competitors must all be blushing. For the Spectre x360, HP looks like it combined the best ideas from most other top-end Ultrabooks.
Like the MacBook Air, the x360 is made from a machined aluminum chassis. Its polished metal sides, not unlike the Samsung ATIV Book 9, are a nice contrast to the matte finish on the lid and bottom. As with the Toshiba Kirabook, the front edges are rounded, while the rear edges have a sharper right angle. Finally, the rear portion of the lid and the bottom section are each rounded and connected by two shiny hinges, similar to the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro.
The lid has a clean, minimalist look: It's unadorned except for a small groove near the top and an offset "Hewlett-Packard" in the middle. Inside, the x360 is all HP. The keyboard deck, a silver-on-silver treatment, is reminiscent of other HP systems, and the extra-wide Clickpad is also a holdover from earlier Spectre-branded notebooks.
In a necessary concession to its folding design, the x360's power button is on the left edge, and the Windows button is on the right edge (instead of below the display). Also on the right is a volume rocker, useful for when you're using the x360 in tablet mode.
At 3.26 pounds, the x360 is heavier than most other 13-inch ultraportables. Among those whose screens can fold back 360 degrees, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is a full pound lighter, as is the nonfolding Dell XPS 13 (2.5 pounds). The MacBook Air weighs 2.9 pounds.
Like with other convertible notebooks, the Stand mode (with the keyboard facing down) will be useful when watching movies in compact spaces, such as when the notebook is on an airline tray table. However, the sharp edges and weight of the x360 made it unwieldy and uncomfortable to hold in Tablet mode.
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HP says the x360's hinges contain a set of three spiral gears "for synchronized and precise movement." All I know is that it opened and closed fairly easily, and was stiff enough so that I could poke at the screen without it wobbling too much.
Recently, many notebook makers have outfitted their high-end Ultrabooks with UltraHD displays. On most versions of the x360, HP eschews that trend, opting for a 1080p touch screen, which is plenty sharp and colorful, and most likely helps save battery life. (A quad-HD touch screen will be available, but only on the most expensive configuration.)
A trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron looked rich and saturated, and the sports cars in Fast and Furious 7 gleamed in the Southern California sun. Details were sharp enough to see the stubble on the face of just about every male actor.
At 339 nits, the x360 outshines its competition, besting the average ultraportable (255 nits) by a fair margin. The Yoga 3 Pro is the next brightest, at 318 nits, followed by the XPS 13 (298 nits) and the MacBook Air (288 nits).
Our display tests backed up my initial impressions: The x360's screen can produce 103.2 percent of the sRGB spectrum (anything around 100 percent is very good). The panel's Delta-E score of 1.25 (numbers closer to 0 are better) means that the colors are highly accurate, too.
Like its display, the x360's audio also impressed. Kurt Russell's growling voice in Furious 7 was full throated, as were explosions, gunfire and the roar of V12 engines. Vocals were also front and center in Vance Joy's "Riptide." Higher tones, such as guitar strums and the tambourine, were pronounced without being muddy.
Although it seemed to boom in my office, the x360's speakers weren't the loudest. Registering 82 decibels (as measured from 23 inches away), the notebook was a touch quieter than average (85 dB) and the Yoga 3 (86 dB), and nowhere near as loud as the XPS 13 (94 dB).
Keyboard and Touchpad
In all, typing on the x360 was a pleasurable experience. The x360's keys have 1.34mm of travel and require 62 grams of force to press; both numbers are typical of most notebooks (1.32mm/57 grams). While the keys were slightly mushier than I'd prefer, it didn't affect my typing speed by much. On the 10fastfingers typing test, I averaged 59 words per minute with 92 percent accuracy, nearly on a par with my desktop average of 60 wpm with 97 percent accuracy.
I also liked that the top row let me perform actions such as lowering and raising the volume and brightness without having to press the Function key first.
The superwide Synaptics Clickpad (5.5 x 2.5 inches) has similar dimensions to the 15-inch Envy x360, but lacks the former's Control Zones -- sections on the right and left sides that made it easier to launch Windows 8 gestures. The cursor never jumped, either, a problem I've experienced with other Ultrabooks.
Like cookware, aluminum-clad notebooks tend to absorb heat, and the Spectre x360 is no different. After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad (81 degrees Fahrenheit) and the space between the G and H (86 degrees) were relatively cool. However, the bottom rose to 100 degrees, which is 5 degrees higher than we consider comfortable.
Ports and Webcam
On the left side of the x360 is a single USB 3.0 port, an SD Card slot, the power button and a jack for the power plug. On the right are two more USB 3.0 ports, a headphone port, a full-size HDMI port and a miniDisplay Port.
HP calls the x360's camera a "TrueVision Full HD VWA webcam," but it didn't live up to the name.
Details, such as strands of my hair, were nondescript, and colors, such as my hazel eyes, were muted. To top it off, there was a great deal of visual noise.
Powered by 2.2-GHz Intel Core i5-5200U processor and 8B of RAM, the Spectre x360 had enough muscle to perform a full system scan using McAfee, run our Spreadsheet test and play an episode of Modern Family on Hulu at full screen without lag.
On Geekbench 3, which measures overall performance, the x360's score of 5,614 trumped the average (4,037) as well as the XPS 13 (5,530), which has the same CPU. The MacBook Air (5,393) came in just behind, and the Yoga 3 Pro's Core M processor scored 4,571.
The x360 finished our Spreadsheet Test (pairing 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice portable) in 5 minutes and 4 seconds. That's on a par with the XPS 13 (5:02) and about 40 seconds faster than the Yoga 3 Pro.
While not as fast as the MacBook Air (190.3 MBps) or the Yoga 3 Pro (175 MBps), the x360's 256GB SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files at a rate of 141.4 MBps. That's enough to beat the category average (121.7 MBps) as well as the nontouch XPS 13 (87.7 MBps).
Intel HD Graphics 5000 GPUs, such as the one found in the x360, are good for lightweight games, but will struggle on more demanding titles and systems with higher resolutions. The x360 managed only 26 frames per second on World of Warcraft at its native resolution and effects on autodetect. That's on a par with the category average (29 fps) and a few ticks below the XPS 13 (33 fps).
The Spectre x360 is one of the longest-running 2-in-1s we've tested. The system's 3-cell 56-wHr battery lasted 9 hours and 28 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi at 100 nits).
That's about 2 hours longer than the category average (7:27) and touch-screen version of the XPS 13 (7:24) and an hour longer than the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. The nontouch Dell XPS 13 (11:42) and the MacBook Air (12:20) both endured considerably longer, but not having a touch screen increases battery life.
Software and Warranty
HP includes its trio of "Connected" utilities. Connected Music acts as a portal for audio from both local files (such as your iTunes library) and streaming sources such as TuneIn Radio.
Connected Photo, powered by Snapfish, lets you view images on the notebook, as well as on Facebook and Snapfish. Through this app, you can also print photos through Snapfish, if you want to go old school.
Connected Drive is a means to view all your photos, videos, documents and music on your PC, tablet, phone (Android and iOS) and cloud services (Box.net, Facebook, Dropbox and Google Drive).
Third-party apps include Netflix, CyberLink Power Media Player and CyberLink YouCam. Users also get a one-year subscription to McAfee LiveSafe.
The HP Spectre x360 starts at a very reasonable $899, which gets you a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i5-5200U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. You can configure this version with 8GB of RAM ($50), a Core i7-5500U processor ($150), and a 256GB SSD ($50) or 512GB SSD ($200). For the money, I'd recommend the 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD.
A preconfigured $1,149 version comes with the Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which represents a savings of $50 than if you were to purchase those components separately.
At the top end, a quad-HD version of the x360, available in April, will have a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, and will cost $1,399.
With long battery life, good performance and an attractive design, the HP Spectre x360 is one of the best convertible notebooks you can buy. While not as light, or convenient, in tablet mode as the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, the x360 is less expensive, has a more powerful processor and lasts longer on a charge. If you're not interested in a convertible, the nontouch version of the Dell XPS 13 offers similar performance and much longer battery life in a smaller package. But if you want something that can adapt with your needs, the Spectre x360 is a very good choice.