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HP Envy Spectre XT

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What's hot: Good quality, metal casing, fast and pleasant keyboard.

What's not: Average features and specs don't set it apart from the Ultrabook crowd.


Reviewed September 5, 2012 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

It's not easy being an Ultrabook anymore. It used to be if you weighed a scant 3 pounds, had a metal casing and a thin design you were golden. Now every major manufacturer has a generation or two of these slim Intel-powered beasts on the market and they're starting to blur, just like regular notebooks. Had the HP Envy Spectre XT come out 4 months ago when HP first teased us with marketing bites, it would have made quite a splash. Now it's just another (very) pretty face among second generation Ultrabooks. In our review we look at the Envy Spectre XT-2050nr quick ship model that's also offered by retailers for $999.

HP Envy Spectre XT

That's not to say this is a weak product. It's not. The brushed aluminum casing is brash, all American and classy looking. It's a solid and durable Ultrabook, despite the sub 0.7" (at its thickest point) design. It's a worthy competitor to the very good Dell XPS 13, and it beats the Dell with an Ethernet port and a third generation Intel CPU/GPU combo, even if it lacks the sexy carbon fiber bottom. But there's nothing beyond good looks and that Ethernet port to make the Spectre XT stand out from the competition, especially with Asus pushing the envelope with features like a matte 1080p display and dedicated graphics on the Zenbook Prime UX32VD (and 1080p without dedicated graphics on the Zenbook Prime UX31A).

The HP Envy Spectre XT, unlike the Envy 14 Spectre that's clad in Gorilla Glass inside and out, is a much more conformist product with a 13.3" HP BrightView LED backlit 1366 x 768 glossy display, third generation Intel Ivy Bridge ULV CPUs, Intel HD 4000 graphics and SSD drives. It weighs 3.07 pounds and fits easily in a small messenger bag. Though this isn't an IPS or HP Radiance display like that of the 14" Spectre, viewing angles are better than average for a TN panel and colors are bright and rich. The display is brighter than the HP Folio 13's, and it shares a similar excellent backlit keyboard.

HP Envy Spectre XT

HP's quality control on Envy products hasn't been at its best in the past year. Our first unit (a retail purchase) was DOA and wouldn't boot (it seemed a power cable was impaled by a screw during factory assembly). Our second model behaves perfectly and is put together with a level of excellence we haven't seen on more the more expensive HP Envy 15 and Envy 17 models that sometimes have wide seams or small dents in the chassis. The Envy Spectre XT is tight as a drum.

Design and Ergonomics

The Envy Spectre XT has a metal casing with a tapered design so it's thinner at the front. The bottom cover is clad in a silver soft touch finish that feels really nice and doesn't get as blazingly hot. The machine's bottom typically reached 94F and the center of the keyboard was a relatively cool 84F. Fan noise is moderate, and the machine is often nearly silent but the fan will kick on for 30 seconds a few times per hour even when the CPU and case temps are fairly cool (chalk that up to HP CoolSense technology).

HP Envy Spectre XT

The Spectre XT has exceptionally loud audio for a 13" Ultrabook, thanks in part to the four speakers. Two fire from a grille just below the display and another two fire from the bottom near each side. Audio is reasonably full, but not as full as the bigger HP Envy 15 or the Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 with JBL speakers. That said, the Beats equipped XT sounds very good for a small machine. Unlike the big Envy models, there's no Beats rotary control wheel, so you'll use on-screen controls or the keyboard keys to set volume.

HP Envy Spectre XT


Deals and Shopping:


HP Envy Spectre XT Video Review

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
Memories: 7206
TV and Movies: 4759
Gaming: 10,005
Music: 13,324
Communications: 11,637
Productivity: 17,381
HDD: 46,158

3DMark Vantage: 3316 (GPU 2761, CPU 8375)

Windows Experience Index:

Processor: 6.9
RAM: 5.9
Graphics (for Aero): 6.4
Gaming Graphics: 6.4
HDD: 7.9

Benchmark Comparison Table

PCMark Vantage
HP Envy Spectre XT (Core i5) 11,812
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Core i7) 12,339
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A (Core i5) 12,272
Sony Vaio Z (quad core i7 Sandy Bridge) 17,003
Dell XPS 13 (Core i5 Sandy Bridge) 9850
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 (Core i5 Ivy Bridge) 8152


Battery Life

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



HP Envy Spectre XT


HP Envy Spectre XT


HP Envy Spectre XT


HP Envy Spectre XT


HP Envy Spectre XT


blog comments powered by Disqus


Display: 13.3", 1366 x 768 LED backlit display. Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. HDMI port and Intel WiDi wireless display.

Battery: 45Wh, 4 cell Lithium Ion rechargeable, sealed inside.

Performance: 1.7GHz Intel third generation Core i5-3317U processor. Core i7 ULV CPU options are available. 4 gigs DDR3 RAM (soldered onto motherboard, not upgradable) and a 128 or 256 gig SSD (ours was made by Samsung).

Size: 12.44 x 8.8 x 0.69 inches. Weight: 3.07 pounds.

Camera: HP TrueVision HD 720p webcam and built-in mic.

Audio: Four speakers with Beats Audio. Combo mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated Intel Centrino Advanced N-6235 dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. Gigabit Realtek Ethernet.

Software: Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit. MS Office 2010 Starter Edition, Norton Internet Security (2 year subscription included), Skype and various HP utilities.

Expansion and Ports: 1 SD slot, 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 3.0 port, full size HDMI, 3.5mm combo stereo/mic jack, RJ45 Ethernet.



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