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 very 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 3 months ago when HP first teased us with marketing bites, it would have made quite a splash. Now it's just another pretty face among second generation Ultrabooks.
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 envelope with features like a matte 1080p display and dedicated graphics.
The HP Envy Spectre XT, unlike the 14" Envy Spectre that's clad in Gorilla Glass inside and out, is a much more conformist product with a 13.3" 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 and colors are bright and rich. The display is brighter than the HP Folio 13's, but it shares a similar excellent backlit keyboard.
HP's quality control, even 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. Our second model behaves perfectly and is put together with a level of excellence we haven't seen on more the more expensive latest generation 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.
Like most Ultrabooks, the RAM is soldered on the motherboard, so you can't upgrade it later. HP ships ith 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.
The HP Envy Spectre XT starts at $999 for a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U machine with 4 gigs of RAM and a 128 gig SSD. You can order it with a 1.9GHz Core i7 or a 2.0GHz Core i7 with Intel vPro. Since HP started accepting orders on their website, lead times to receive a Spectre XT have been an inexplicably long 3-4 weeks. It's just now starting to appear in online and bricks and mortar stores, so you might get one quicker from a retailer if you're happy with the Core i5, 128 gig SSD model.
Here's our HP Envy Spectre XT video review. Our full written review will follow in the coming days.