The first generation HP Spectre x360 was a big hit when it launched in March 2015. It was the first 360 degree convertible to sport a truly classy and solid aluminum chassis, plenty of ports, very good battery life and quite strong specs for the price. Technology moves quickly and Lenovo, who first popularized the 360 degree Yoga hinge improved their casing and materials, and Asus' 13" convertibles have crept up in quality and price. Just as the Spectre x360 was starting to look a little dated with large display bezels and a pretty hefty weight, HP refreshed the popular laptop with side bezels almost as thin as the Dell XPS 13 that started the no-bezel craze (5.6mm vs. 5.4mm), a significantly smaller footprint and a half pound less weight. While Lenovo's Yoga 910 is equally as light and has that attractive watch band hinge, we still give the nod to HP for a slightly more premium casing and more rigid design. If you accidentally banged the HP into a wall, the wall would dent, it's truly strong.
The last gen Spectre x360 branched and grew--there were 2K display models, ash silver premium models (with a dark brownish gunmetal finish), an OLED display model and even a 15" model. Will we see some of those options return with the new generation? My guess would be yes. But for now, there's just the natural silver model with a full HD 1920 x 1080 display. The standard list of features is the same--360 degree convertible design, IPS display, the latest Intel 7th generation dual core i5 and i7 Kaby Lake CPUs with 8 or 16 gigs of RAM, and 256 gig or 512 gig SSDs (now fast PCIe NVMe SSDs). The convertible weighs a very competitive 2.8 lbs. despite the rock-solid base and lid, and it's a little thinner at 13.5mm (not that the outgoing model seemed thick). The one feature missing from the previous generation is the active digitizer for the optional HP Active Stylus (a Synaptics pen technology). Given how heavily HP has advertised this feature in the previous generation, I'm surprised they removed it. And yes, it's really gone--there's no active digitizer listed in device manager, and I tested both Synaptics pens and Wacom and N-Trig pens just in case they'd switched to a different pen technology. That means you can use your finger or a capacitive stylus like those made for the iPad Air, but not a precise pen with pressure levels and palm rejection.
Design and Ports
This is simply a smaller and lighter take on the last generation model--the keyboard deck loses the dished out look since the keyboard runs almost the full width of the deck. The keyboard backlight Fn key no longer glows at all times (which drove folks mad) and the trackpad is as huge as ever... though not as bizarrely big as the 2016 MacBook Pro models. All exterior surfaces are finished in matte aluminum that resists fingerprints and the sides look like polished stainless steel. The rear still has the two rounded sections that mate for a neat look (Lenovo copied this design element on the ThinkPad Carbon X1 Yoga). There's a small "Spectre" logo on the back edge and the hinges are very firm for a convertible--it actually takes some effort to induce screen wobble or change display position.
As is the way of late 2016 Ultrabooks, there are fewer traditional ports, and they've been replaced by USB-C Gen.2/Thunderbolt 3 combo ports. The laptop has two Thunderbolt 3 (which also function as USB-C) ports on the right, either one of which can be used for charging. These ports can handle multifunction hubs with USB-A 3.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort and Ethernet, or individual dongles that do the same. There is a traditional USB-A 3.1 port on the left, so you won't have to run to the store to find adapters to use existing USB peripherals and hubs. HP has so far disabled support for graphics over Thunderbolt 3, so we don't expect the Razer Core to work. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack, but the SD card slot is gone.
The HP has quad stereo speakers, two of which face up and two down. That way you can hear the audio whether in laptop or tablet mode. Sound is quite loud and fairly full for a 13" convertible, though it does begin to distort above 80%. Fortunately, I never needed to raise volume higher than 65% to fill a room. The included Bang & Olufsen app allows for audio settings tweaks and there's an EQ that I recommend using to get the most out of these speakers.
One of the First with Intel 7th Generation Kaby Lake CPUs
The Spectre x360 is available with Intel Core I5-7200U and i7-7500U 15 watt dual core processors with Intel HD 620 integrated graphics. We have the $1,159 Core i7 model with 8 gigs of DDR3LP RAM and a 256 gig M.2 Samsung PM951 SSD. It's also available with 16 gigs of RAM and a 512 gig SSD for $1,299. The RAM is soldered on board and isn't upgradable, which is typical for Ultrabooks. The M.2 SSD is upgradable. Unscrew the exposed Torx T5 screws on the bottom cover and the Phillips head screws hidden under the two rear rubber feet, and you'll have access to the internals.
Kaby Lake brings heat and battery life improvements and modest performance improvements. The CPU is 3% faster than 6th generation Skylake, but the Intel HD 620 graphics is 10% faster than the outgoing HD 520. This Spectre x360 won't feel worlds faster than the model it replaces, in other words, but it will run cooler and longer. Heat has always been noticeable on the older Spectre x360 models due to the thin and very conductive metal chassis. The good news is that HP uses the chassis to conduct heat away from the CPU, so the machine runs cooler internally than you might think. As with last generation models, the bottom toward the rear can get pretty warm when you're working the laptop hard (video rendering and export, gaming with demanding 3D games), but it doesn't get as hot as the last generation, thanks to an added second fan. The fans are rarely on during normal productivity and streaming video use, and aren't overly loud when they kick in for heavy work. I played Civ VI for 2 hours and the game ran well and the fan was quite audible but not room-filling. The HP can handle Minecraft but it's not a gaming laptop- don't expect it to play Battlefield 1 well.
Deals and Shopping:
HP Spectre x360 (late 2016) Video Review
HP Spectre x360 vs. 13" MacBook Pro (Late 2016) Comparison
HP Spectre x360 vs Lenovo Yoga 910 Comparison
The Spectre x360 has a very pleasing full HD IPS display that supports touch. Thanks to the 360 degree hinges, you can use it in tablet mode, tent and presentation modes. The size bezels are indeed tiny, but the top and bottom bezels are by no means small. We won't complain about the top bezel because it allows room for a 1080p webcam in the normal top position (much more flattering and it doesn't require gymnastics as does the Dell XPS chin-cam). There's a Windows Hello IR camera so you can log into Windows using your lovely visage, and that works well.
The display is quite bright at 330 nits, which is above average for the $1,000 and up tier. You'll have to keep an eye on Intel's display control panel because it likes to dim brightness in the interest of power savings (right click on the desktop to access Intel display settings). The brightness ramp isn't even--at the low end it's quite dim and the last few notches bring on the big brightness. The IPS panel is fairly well calibrated at the factory and our Spyder4 Pro colorimeter made small changes to correct for the slight green-blue tint.
The display covers the full sRGB spectrum and 74% of Adobe RGB, which is good and typical of laptops in this price range. The native white point is better than most at 6700K (6600K is ideal and most laptops are 7000k to 7600k) and gamma is a little high at 2.3. Black levels at max brightness are quite good at 0.41, and that works out to a contrast ratio of 800:1. What does all this mean? It's a good choice for web graphics creation and photo and video editing for the web.
Keyboard and Trackpad
I'm not generally a fan of very low travel keyboards, but HP has designed a masterpiece of low travel usability. Like the Dell XPS 13 and Razer Blade Stealth, it has 1.3mm of key travel, but it's so well damped and quiet that it's a dream to type on. If you're coming from a deep travel keyboard, you'll likely need a short adjustment period to become accustomed to the difference in feel, but I find it much easier to type on than the XPS 13 and Razer Blade Stealth. Of course, compared to the new MacBook Pro models, it's not shallow--those Macs have just 0.5mm travel. The keyboard is backlit in white (single stage) and it's controlled by an ambient light sensor and an Fn key. Like the last generation natural silver model, key masking doesn't offer as much contrast with the light silver keys as we'd like, but backlighting cures that well enough in modestly lit environments where you normally wouldn't need backlighting.
The last generation Spectre x360 had better battery life than most of the competition. That continues here, and our Core i7 model averages 8.2 hours of productivity, streaming video and photo editing using Photoshop CC with brightness set to 150 nits. Give it an even easier task like streaming Amazon or Netflix video over WiFi at 50% brightness and it can go 10 hours (I binge watched The Wire to test it out). The laptop has a roomy 58 Whr battery and it ships with a small black square charger that's a clone of the MacBook charger. It even has a prong block that you can remove to attach the included extension cord, just like Macs of old (Apple has stopped including the extension cable with the latest generation Mac laptops).
I did notice one issue, and it's one some previous generation Spectre x360 owners experienced, though I did not: the laptop's battery drained 10% overnight each day when turned off. Off, not sleeping or hibernating. I disabled the fast boot option under Windows 10's advanced power settings (in the old control panel UI) and this stopped. This feature is supposed to speed up booting after the laptop has been completely turned off. It does this by caching the OS kernal and some Windows files in something akin to a hibernation file (it's not used when resuming from sleep or hibernation, however). In fact, I didn't notice a significant boot time difference, and that feature isn't one of the best-- if a driver crashes or something goes amiss like a memory leak, I've noticed that Windows machines don't always fully recover from the error as they would from a complete shut down and restart.
Though the competition has stiffened and threatened to catch up to the Spectre x360, HP's redesign maintains their premium convertible's place near the top. The design and build are Apple level good, the chassis is very strong yet thin and light, the display is truly lovely and the bezels are tiny (at least on the sides). Windows Hello facial recognition is welcome and the roomy Synaptics trackpad is a pleasure to use. Performance is a bit above much of the Windows competition thanks to the fast standard PCIe NVMe SSD, and battery life is very good. We do mourn the loss of the active digitizer and pen though--the old model was enticing to beginning artists as well as note takers. Likewise, the old model has an unusally hearty selection of ports, while this one follows the crowd and removes ports to make a smaller and lighter notebook.
Price: $1,049 with Core i5, 8 gigs RAM and 256 gig SSD. Starting at $1,159 with Core i7.