Keyboard and Trackpad
The Spectre XT's keyboard has much in common with the HP Folio 13, and that's a good thing. As Ultrabook keyboards go, the XT is better than average with good tactile feel and as much key travel has one can allow in a very thin notebook. The keys are backlit in white and we thoroughly enjoyed typing this review on the Spectre XT. No, it's not as good as the class-leading Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon's keyboard, and we find the Dell XPS 13's keyboard a little bit better, but the HP's is more than satisfactory.
HP's trackpads have been a fiasco for the past few years. Our Envy 15 trackpad has a mind of its own and the Pavilion series have been flakey for multi-touch gestures. Happily, the large and slightly inset Spectre XT trackpad behaves nicely with predictable cursor movements and decent two finger scrolling. You can turn the trackpad off by double-tapping on the rectangle masked on the upper left corner of the trackpad to avoid accidents when typing, though we found this unnecessary since palm rejection worked well.
Internals: Good Parts and OK Design
Like most Ultrabooks, the RAM is soldered on the motherboard, so you can't upgrade it later. HP ships it with 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 128 or 256 gig SSD drive (ours was a fast performing Samsung 128 gig SSD). This is an mSATA drive, so it is possible to upgrade later, though mSATA drives aren't as plentiful as their standard 2.5" SATA companions. The machine has Intel Centrino Advanced N-6235 dual band WiFi with WiDi and Intel Bluetooth 4.0. A 720p webcam and 45Wh 4 cell Lithium Ion battery that's sealed inside round out the features. We're happy to see top quality wireless components and drives in the XT. Inside, we're a little less thrilled with the complex stacking of daughterboards and cables that seem to run everywhere. If your Spectre XT has a noisy fan that sounds like it's rubbing, it probably is rubbing against its cable that runs to the power connector. Open up the Envy (it's easy to do, simply remove the Phillips head screws on the bottom and lift off the bottom plate) and tuck that cable away from the fan housing.
Ultrabooks are short on ports due to the small footprint and motherboard. Ethernet is a rare bonus, and Gigabit Ethernet is even rarer so we appreciate it on the Spectre XT. Otherwise, it's business as usual with one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm audio jack, HDMI and an SD card slot. We'd have preferred two USB 3.0 ports or three total USB ports, but the HP is average among its competitors except Toshiba who manages to cram an amazing number of ports into the thinnest and lightest Ultrabook, the Portege Z835 and its replacement the Portege Z935.
Performance and Horsepower
The HP Envy Spectre XT is a fast performing Ultrabook that does very well on synthetic benchmarks and in real world performance. Thanks to the SSD, Windows starts in seconds and applications launch instantly. The XT does better than average among Ultrabooks with the usual Intel integrated graphics, scoring 3316 on the PCMark Vantage graphics benchmark. Encouraged by that, we tested a few challenging games including Batman Arkham City (watch our video review to see it in action). At low settings and native resolution, our 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U base model managed frame rates in the low thirties.
For those who want a little more gusto, HP offers options for the 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U (add $125 to the base price) and the 2.0GHz Core i7-3667U with vPro for $250 additional to the base price. HP currently offers the laptop with 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and there's no option to order it with more. The base $999 model comes with a 128 gig SSD and you can order it with a 256 gig SSD.
PCMark Vantage: 11,812
TV and Movies: 4759
3DMark Vantage: 3316 (GPU 2761, CPU 8375)
Windows Experience Index:
Graphics (for Aero): 6.4
Gaming Graphics: 6.4
Benchmark Comparison Table
The Spectre XT has a 4 cell, 45Wh cell Lithium Ion battery that's sealed inside (if you remove all the bottom screws and take off the bottom cover you can access it). The laptop ships with a compact 65W charger. Battery life for 13.3" Ultrabooks averages 6 hours and the slimmest Envy manages just shy of that when using the balanced power management setting, brightness set to 60% and WiFi on in a mix of productivity tasks with 40 minutes of video streaming. Our Core i5 model averaged 5:40 minutes in these tests that included Outlook running in the background, IE with 5 tabs open, MS Word 2010 (used to write this review) and 40 minutes total YouTube streaming.
Though we gave the HP Envy Spectre XT a bit of a hard time for not bringing anything new to the table, it's still a very strong Ultrabook that's good looking and well made. The metal casing gives it a premium look and the internals don't skimp: fast SSD drives, dual band Intel wireless with WiDi and Bluetooth 4.0 are top notch. The display is better than average for clarity and viewing angles, though the resolution is commonplace. The Spectre XT is a fast, light, stable machine that we wouldn't mind taking on the road.
Price: starting at $999 for the Core i5 with a 128 gig SSD drive