HP has updated one of its most luxurious laptops -- the 15-inch Spectre x360 -- and made it one of the faster premium notebooks on the market. Its performance gains are owed to its Intel Kaby Lake G Series technology, mixing an 8th Gen Core i7 CPU with AMD Radeon RX Vega M graphics. Also, you get a gorgeous 4K screen and a comfy keyboard. The only major downside is its low battery life, which can leave you lugging the cable everywhere. Still, dollar for dollar, the Kaby Lake G series Spectre x360 is one of the best super-speedy premium laptops around.
This Kaby Lake G series Spectre x360 doesn't change much about the recent design of the Spectre x360, and that's a great thing. Its machined aluminum chassis (which HP calls "dark ash silver with copper luxe accents") features the sophisticated black-and-copper color scheme that makes Apple's Space Gray MacBook Pro look dull, and the triangular edges on the rear of the machine look unique.
Weighing 4.6 pounds and measuring 0.8 inches, the Spectre x360 is just as heavy and thick as the 15-inch Lenovo Yoga 720 (4.6 pounds, 0.8 inches). The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (4.4 pounds, 0.6 inches) and the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro (4 pounds, 0.6 inches) are thinner and lighter, while the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Book 2 (4.2 pounds, 0.9 inches) is lighter but thicker.
The Spectre x360 offers dual Thunderbolt 3 ports for extending your display and connecting to high-speed devices; they sit on the right side, near the HDMI port and fingerprint reader. Thankfully, the left side of the laptop features a USB 3.0 port, for those of us who haven't migrated over to the reversible USB Type-C future yet. A headphone jack and an SD memory card reader sit on the near edge of the left side.
While the Surface Book 2 includes both Type-C and Type-A USB ports, it lacks the power of Thunderbolt 3. The XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro don't offer any USB-A ports at all, thus requiring you to use (and carry) adapters to connect to older peripherals. The Yoga 720 offers both Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-A connectivity, but only one port for each.
The HP Spectre x360's exquisite, 15.6-inch, 3840 x 2160-pixel screen produces crisp, bright and vivid images. When watching the 4K film Tears of Steel, I noted that, colorful details I'd never noticed before popped, such as a yellow-and-black alien design on a jacket. The glowing blue and pink holographic lasers looked as strong as ever, and I could see plenty of detail in the flying airships, including a camouflage pattern that was almost obscured by its adjacent spotlights.
According to our colorimeter, the Spectre x360 produces 119 percent of the sRGB spectrum, edging out the 114-percent premium-notebook average and the 114-percent Lenovo Yoga 720. However, we saw more colorful ratings from the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro (126 percent), the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (131 percent) and the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (160 percent).
The HP Spectre x360 emits up to 340 nits of light, making it brighter than the 306-nit premium-laptop average. The 387-nit XPS 15 2-in-1, the 417-nit Surface Book 2 and the 460-nit MacBook Pro are all brighter, while the 272-nit Lenovo Yoga 720 is dimmer. That brightness makes for a screen you can share with a few friends huddling around it, as colors stay strong from 80 degrees to the left and right.
The Spectre x360's touch-screen display tracked my taps and swipes accurately as I navigated the internet in Google Chrome. It also correctly responded to Windows 10's edge swipes for opening the Action Center and Timeline (just recently introduced in the Windows 10 April 2018 Update)
Keyboard, Touchpad and HP Pens
The HP Spectre x360's keyboard allows for comfortable, speedy typing. Testing the notebook out on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I hit a rate of 75 words per minute, which is close to my 80-wpm average. This speed was due, in part, to the keys, which feature 1.4 millimeters of travel and require 69 grams of actuation force -- measurements near and within the 1.5 to 2 mm and 60 grams and up we look for.
You also get a full-size number pad, which is new for this model. None of the laptops we're comparing it with provide a number pad.
The 4.7 x 2.3-inch touchpad on the Spectre x360 accurately tracked my input as I navigated the desktop. It also speedily registered Windows 10's three-finger swipe, and the touch-screen display tracked my taps and swipes accurately as I navigated the web and , launched Action Center and Timeline.
The Spectre x360 includes the HP Pen stylus, which is OK, but I prefer the HP Tilt Pen, which you can get for $30 extra. Not only does the Tilt Pen feel more natural (its tip doesn't move, and is more integrated), but it also offers Presentation mode for switching slides (you click its "eraser") and features USB Type-C charging (which beats buying batteries). HP says the Tilt Pen has improved precision and detection for writing at different angles, but the two pens seemed similar in this regard during my use. Laptop Mag photo editor Jef Castro agreed that the pens' pressure sensitivity, including how they draw at different angles, was similar.
The HP Spectre x360 Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers delivered impressive volume, with high-quality sound. The synths screamed beautifully on Skrillex's "Bangarang," the silky-smooth vocals of Childish Gambino's "This Is America" sounded clear and the bass hit hard on the Keys N Krates song "Keep It 100."
The Bang & Olufsen Audio Controls app comes preloaded, and I'd advise you keep it set to the Music preset. The audio is more balanced on that setting than on the Movies and Voice options, which, respectively, over- and underemphasize instrumentals and don't make trailers or podcasts that much clearer or stronger.
I tested an HP Spectre x360 configured with a Kaby Lake G series Intel Core i7-8705G processor with 16GB of RAM, which gave the laptop enough horsepower for speedy multitasking. I saw no pause or stutter after splitting my screen between a 1080p YouTube video and a dozen Chrome tabs (including Google Docs, Slack and TweetDeck) while PowerPoint, Edge and Autodesk Sketchbook ran in the background.
The Spectre x360 notched an impressive 15,340 on the Geekbench 4 general performance benchmark. That's higher than the 10,368 premium-notebook average and only slightly above the 15,040 from the G-series-CPU-powered Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (Intel Core i7-8705G CPU with 16GB of RAM) and the 15,170 from the MacBook Pro (Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM). We saw lower scores of 12,505 and 11,951, respectively, from the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (Intel Core i7-8650U CPU with 16GB of RAM) and the Lenovo Yoga 720 (2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU with 8GB of RAM).
The 512GB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD in the Spectre x360 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 18 seconds, for a rate of 282.7MBps.That's similar to the 283 MBps premium-notebook average. We saw faster rates from the competitors -- 391.5 MBps from the XPS 15 (1TB SSD), 318.1 MBps from the Surface Book 2 (1TB SSD), 654 MBps from the MacBook Pro (512GB SSD) -- while the 267.90-MBps Yoga 720 (256GB SSD) trailed behind.
The Spectre x360 completed our Excel Spreadsheet test, matching 65,000 names using the VLOOKUP function, in 57 seconds and thus besting the 1:39 category average. The XPS 15 2-in-1 (0:58) took about as long as the Spectre, while the Surface Book 2 (1:31) took longer.
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It took the Spectre x360 15 minutes and 1 second to convert a 4K movie to 1080p in HandBrake. That time slides under the 22:30 average and the 23-minute result posted by the Surface Book 2. The XPS 15 2-in-1 (14:10) finished in less time.
Graphics and Gaming with Kaby Lake G
This Spectre x360 is one of the first Kaby Lake G systems -- which provide Intel's 8th Gen CPUs and AMD's Radeon RX Vega M graphics -- we've tested. The results were decent but not always as high as we'd have liked to see.
The Spectre started off strong on the Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, earning a 147,606, which is close to the 150,257 from the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (Kaby Lake G, Radeon RX Vega M) and above the 84,524 premium-notebook average. A higher score of 162,361 came from the Microsoft Surface Book 2, which features a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM, while a lower 119,006 came from the Lenovo Yoga 720 (Nvidia GTX 1050).
The Spectre x360 ran the modestly demanding Dirt 3 racing game at 182 frames per second, again narrowly trailing the XPS 15 2-in-1 (186 fps) and beating the 70-fps average for premium notebooks. We saw slower rates from the MacBook Pro (76 fps) and the Yoga 720 (110 fps).
Then we moved on to more demanding games, running the budget version of the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark on the Spectre x360. The system posted a rate of 35 fps, which is slightly above our 30-fps smoothness threshold but below the 40-fps premium-notebook average and the 44 and 39 fps posted by the XPS 15 2-in-1 and the Yoga 720.
I also played a little Grand Theft Auto V on the Spectre (with the graphics settings on High), and most of the time, the game ran as high as 41 fps and as low as 28 fps. The XPS 15 stayed around 57 to 60 fps for most of its test but fell to the 30s at one point.
Having reviewed 15-inch laptops for years, I wasn't surprised by the middling battery life from the HP Spectre x360. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web browsing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits), this convertible lasted 5 hours and 27 minutes, which is shorter than the 8:24 average and the 6:28 runtime from the similarly sized and powered Dell XPS 15 2-in-1. The Microsoft Surface Book 2 lasted longer in laptop mode (11:34) than as a tablet (3:12).
Finally, a laptop has a webcam that exceeds the bare minimum needed for a Skype call. The 2.0-megapixel webcam in the HP Spectre x360 was a pleasant surprise, offering more detail than I expected from an integrated camera. Not only did I see more of the actual hairs on my head and the texture of our office ceiling during test shots, but the tone of my skin looked accurate.
The Spectre x360 runs a little warm, but it's not too hot. After we streamed 15 minutes of HD video on the laptop, our heat gun picked up readings between 96 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit (both of which exceed our 95-degree comfort threshold) on its underside, with the warmest point being on the left near a fan duct. The touchpad (82 degrees) and the keyboard (93 degrees) stayed cool.
Throughout my testing -- whether I was gaming, watching YouTube videos or using Chrome -- the machine ran a little loud. The whirring of the fans got to the point where my colleague seated next to me asked, "What is that noise?"
Software and Warranty
I'm delighted to say that HP limited the amount of preinstalled software on the Spectre x360, sticking with the necessary basics. Support Assistant provides access to HP's firmware updates and ways to contact tech support, while Recovery Manager helps you rest your system and create a recovery backup.
The $1,720 Kaby Lake G series Spectre x360 we tested features an Intel Core i7-8705G processor, Radeon RX Vega M graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. The entry-level version of the G series Spectre x360 includes 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD and costs $1,490.
The Spectre x360 includes the HP Pen by default, but you can upgrade to the HP Tilt Pen, which feels more natural to write with, for $30.
The HP Spectre x360's elegant design, speedy CPU and comfortable keyboard make it just as nice to look at as it is to use. Unfortunately, the short battery life leaves something to be desired.
The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 lasts a little longer on a charge and provides smoother gaming, but it costs a whopping $2,350. That's $620 more than the Spectre. If you don't need the general performance of an 8th Gen Kaby Lake CPU, you can get decent gaming speeds and save $220 by opting for the $1,500 Lenovo Yoga 720.
Overall, the Spectre x360's mix of style and power cannot be ignored at its comparatively low price.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag