Look, my parents taught me not to judge a book by its cover, but damn. The HP Spectre 13 ($1,299.99 to start; $1,409.99 as tested) is a beautifully designed piece of technology. It's smaller than ever, with a new white finish that makes the computer look like you'd buy it from Coach, not Best Buy. But while you'll get speedy performance from an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU, the HP Spectre 13's stunted battery life and dim display will make you look elsewhere.
The Spectre 13, in its new, ceramic-white color, looks extremely fancy. I feel like I should be washing my hands before touching it, or wearing white gloves and doing my best Vanna White impression on it. (If you prefer it in last year's more utilitarian charcoal-and-copper model, don't fret; that's still available.) The white paint surrounds HP's logo in gold, and the laptop's hinge is a sandblasted, matte gold. Unlike the ash-silver model, this one barely picks up any fingerprints.
When you lift the lid, you'll find the touch-screen display surrounded on three sides by thin bezels. The exception is the bottom, which has a really thick bezel. The speaker is right above the island-style keyboard and features an intricate pattern of triangles. The whole thing is also white, and the touchpad has some gold trim to match the lid.
Oh, yeah -- this thing is tiny. At 12 x 8.8 x 0.4 inches and 2.4 pounds, the Spectre 13 is not only slimmer than the competition but far tinier than last year's model, which was wider and taller. The Dell XPS 13 (12 x 8 x 0.6 inches, 2.8 pounds) and the Lenovo Yoga 920 (12.7 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches, 3.1 pounds) are both thicker and heavier, while the 12-inch Apple MacBook (11.04 x 7.7 x 0.5 inches, 2 pounds) is a tad thicker but weighs less.
In fact, the Spectre is so slim, there's barely any room for ports. Instead, HP put four on the back of the machine: two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a USB Type-C port (for charging) and a headphone jack. HP included a bunch of adapters in the box, so you can keep using old peripherals and live your best #donglelife. They include adapters for Ethernet, USB 2.0 and HDMI.
The 13.3-inch, 1080p touch-screen display on the Spectre 13 is colorful, but it isn't as bright as its competitors' screens. When I watched the latest trailer for Black Panther, it was hard to make out the landscape of Wakanda because the shadows were so dark, and it was also hard to see the patterns on T'Challa's costumes. Brighter colors, like those of the Dora Milaje's red outfits, popped against dark backgrounds and clear blue skies.
The Spectre 13's screen registered an average of 247 nits on our light meter, which is dimmer than the ultraportable average of 285 nits and the Lenovo Yoga 920 (284 nits), but the MacBook (340 nits) and the Dell XPS 13 (368 nits) are in a class of their own. HP also offers the Spectre 13 with an optional 4K display, which may be brighter.
The Spectre 13's panel covers 111 percent of the sRGB color gamut, surpassing the average (102 percent) and the Yoga 920 (105 percent), but the XPS 13 (112 percent) and the MacBook (117 percent) are even more vivid.
Keyboard and Touchpad
With such a small chassis, there isn't room for a lot of key travel on the Spectre. But despite the keys' minimal 1.3 millimeters of travel and 70 grams of force required to press them, the keyboard feels clicky and tactile -- far better than the shallow keyboard on Apple's latest MacBooks.
On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I blazed away at 116 words per minute, which is just above my usual average, and for the first time ever, I achieved a 0 percent error rate (down from my usual 2 percent).
The 4.3 x 2.1-inch touchpad is roomy and, more importantly, accurate. Whether I was browsing the web or needed to access my notifications, three and four-finger gestures were responsive every time.
The speakers on the Spectre 13 are par for the course on an ultraportable laptop. The audio was loud enough to fill our lab when I listened to Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle," and the guitar, drums and vocals were clear. However, the Spectre 13 was lacking on the low end. I used the Bang & Olufsen app to try to turn up the bass, but it didn't do much. I recommend most people leave it on the default setting, music mode.
The Spectre 13 packs a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive into a slim chassis. That's enough for multitasking on the go; I had 30 tabs open in Chrome, including one streaming a 1080p episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers from YouTube.
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, the Spectre notched a score of 13,090, which is way over the ultraportable-laptop average of 7,110 (which also includes laptops with 7th Gen and lesser CPUs). The MacBook scored lower (6,853; Core m3), but both the Lenovo Yoga 920 (13,306; Core i7-8550U) and the Dell XPS 13 (14,158; Core i7-8550U) outclassed the rest of the pack.
The Spectre took 15 seconds to copy 4.97GB of files or 339.3 megabytes per second. That's speedier than both the average (219.9 MBps) and the Yoga 920 (299.9 MBps), but the MacBook (467 MBps) and the XPS 13 (508 MBps) offer blazing speeds that couldn't be beat.
On our OpenOffice spreadsheet macro test, it took the Spectre 3 minutes and 29 seconds to pair 20,000 names and addresses. While that's ahead of the average (5:42), the Yoga 920 (3:17), XPS 13 (3:09) and MacBook (3:02) were even quicker.
It's a good thing the Spectre 13 is so small because you'll need to fit a charger in your bag, too. It lasted a weak 6 hours and 3 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which continuously browses the web over Wi-Fi, putting it far behind all of its ultraportable competitors. The average is 8:26, and everything else lasted even longer.
The MacBook (9:29), Yoga 920 (12:22) and XPS 13 (16:05) all offer much better endurance. In fact, the Yoga and XPS 13 endure for more than twice as long as the Spectre.
It's clear that there's not a lot of room for the Spectre 13 to dispense of extra heat. After we streamed 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, the touchpad measured 87 degrees Fahrenheit, and the keyboard between the G and H keys was a comfortable 86 degrees Fahrenheit. But the bottom of the laptop reached a toasty 109 degrees, which is way over our 95-degree comfort threshold. We generally see that kind of number only on gaming notebooks while they play games.
Unlike the Dell XPS 13, which has an awkwardly placed "nosecam," that appears in the bottom bezel, the 720p webcam on the Spectre 13 is located above the display. It takes fine, sharp photos, too. At my desk, a picture that I took was bright despite the challenging fluorescent lights in the office and was sharp enough to catch individual hairs.
Software and Warranty
There's not a ton of useful software on the Spectre 13. The only offering from HP is its JumpStart program, which includes some tips on how to use your computer. HP also added on some bloatware: Netflix, a McAfee LiveSafe trial and Dropbox (though, with the latter, you'll get a free 30GB of space for one year if you create an account).
The rest of the bloatware is what you'll find on every Windows 10 system: Candy Crush Soda Saga, Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition, Bubble Witch 3 Saga, March of Empires: War of Lords and Keeper.
Our review unit costs $1,409.99 and includes a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, a 1080p display and a ceramic-white chassis. The same configuration would cost $1,399.99 in ash silver, as HP charges an extra $10 for the white color.
The base model is $1,299.99 ($1,309.99 in white) and swaps the i7 for an Intel Core i5-8250U CPU. The maxed-out model costs $2,119.99 in white and has a Core i7 CPU, a 4K display, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.
If looks were everything, I'd tell you to run out and buy an HP Spectre 13 right now. At roughly the size of a magazine, it's small enough to take anywhere, and the new white color with gold trim screams premium. The keyboard is also surprisingly comfortable given how slim this system is. But considering it has below-average battery life, a display that's dimmer than competitors' and a proclivity to run warm, there's some trade-offs here.
If you don't mind a slightly thicker, heavier notebook, the Dell XPS 13 ($1,299 for a similar configuration), is the way to go. It lasted over 16 hours on our battery test and has a beautiful, vivid display. It's fast and dependable, no matter how long you use it. But if portability is your top priority and you want to turn some heads, the Spectre 13 is certainly worth considering.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag