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HP Spectre

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star

What's Hot: Unique and striking look, extremely thin and light. Good performance and pleasing display.

What's Not: No touch screen, fans comes on more often compared to thicker Ultrabooks, battery life isn't fantastic.


Reviewed May 19, 2016 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

HP Spectre

The battle for thinness isn't over, and thankfully as technology advances, the penalties are fewer. The HP Spectre 13.3" is currently the world's thinnest laptop, but performance, keyboard ergonomics and heat don't suffer. The Spectre is available with Intel Core i5 and Core i7 dual core CPUs for true Ultrabook performance and the dual fan "hyperbaric chamber" design keeps intense heat at bay. The keyboard is crisp and tactile, and the only casualty we lament is the lack of a touch screen. The Ultrabook has one of the nicest full HD 1920 x 1080 displays we've seen in some time on a laptop, and clearly HP has built on the very successful Spectre x360 convertible that married classy materials and great looks with solid displays and overall good ergonomics.

The 10.4mm thick Spectre is available with 8 gigs of RAM and a fast PCIe SSD drive. It has a backlit keyboard and weighs just 2.45 pounds. According to HP it uses "Artisan" materials and a design that's inspired by high end furniture rather than consumer electronics. Though HP's product photos accentuate and even exaggerate the designer look, it is rather fetching in person. It's a minimalist yet blingy approach to design--the surfaces are tasteful low key matte brown-gray (depending on the light it can remind you of a Hershey's chocolate bar) and the rear end cap and cabinet style hinges are bright gold. HP's new logo, apparently reserved for their high end laptops, is modern and abstract. As you'll notice, it sounds like I'm talking about a piece of exquisite decor, and that means HP has succeeded at making a laptop that's equal parts designer and notebook. In person it looks like a notebook, but one with a great deal of flare. Pick it up and you'll be shocked at how light it is, though there are a very few laptops that are even lighter like the 1.9 lb. Samsung Notebook 9 13.3" model and the 2.2 lb. LG Gram 15 (a 15" laptop that's much less rigid).

So what's the gotcha? The fans are often on, particularly when charging, though they're quiet enough if you're working on an MS Office document or playing a video. The bottom air intake vents are placed so that your legs will block them when using it on your lap. The fans are very audible if you're pushing it hard with video editing or gaming (to be fair, this is not a gaming laptop). That said, the carbon fiber bottom gets warm but not hot, and the small fans aren't capable of drowning out a video's dialog. Overall, we're impressed by HP's thermal management when they had so little room to work with. Battery life is just OK--it's not an all-day machine, but it has enough stamina to survive a flight from L.A. to NYC, and almost back if layovers and security lines aren't included.

HP Spectre


Design and Ergonomics

The HP Spectre is made of a mix of aluminum alloy, copper and carbon fiber. It has a metal frame and aluminum alloy covered carbon fiber to add durability (the bottom panel is just carbon fiber). It's very rigid and doesn't feel in the least bit delicate, despite the designer look. The lid, often a point of flex in these ultralights, does have some flex, but far less than the LG Gram 15. The 12" MacBook's lid doesn't flex at all in comparison, and the Samsung Notebook 9's aluminum alloy lid has a similar amount of flex. The lid is rigid enough that light won't pool on the display if you press from behind.

The cabinet style display hinges are an attractive though, though I'm not sure they add anything functionally beyond allowing for a thinner design. The don't extend very far back from upright, and there's a good deal of wiggle and jiggle when the display is pushed back to a comfortable max, which will drive train and bus commuters slightly mad. The hinges are stiff enough for stationary use on a lap, even if you occasionally jiggle your legs.

Ports are simple here, and cutting edge. Perhaps too cutting edge for those who are using today's USB, HDMI and DisplayPorts. You get a USB-C port for charging/peripherals and two USB-C 3.1/Thunderbolt 3 ports. That will undoubtedly be great a year from now, but in the meantime you'll be hunting for USB-C or in the future, Thunderbolt 3 adapters for display out, Ethernet and USB hubs. HP does include a USB-C to USB 3.0 dongle adapter in the box. That's more than Apple gives you with the 12" MacBook, but HP did have more room to work with in the Spectre's bigger 13.3' chassis.

HP Spectre

The look is definitely unique, and I leave it to you to decide if it's awesome or ostentatious. In person it's subtler and more laptop like than in HP's photos, but no one will doubt that you're using an expensive laptop. That said, the price isn't as insane as you might think from appearances--chalk that up to HP's big manufacturer prowess and experience with the also lovely looking Spectre x360.



Ultralights don't get touch screens or super high resolution displays. The Spectre's is clad in Gorilla Glass 4 and is glossy. It's very reflective-- a bit less so than very glare-prone HP Spectre x360, but much more than the MacBook and Samsung Notebook 9 (Samsung really works some magic with fighting glare in their recent glossy-screen laptops). The 1920 x 1080 display is made by Samsung and HP says it's IPS (rather than the PLS technology Samsung is known for). It's a wonderful display. Yes, it's not the highest resolution display on the market, but this is one of the nicest we've seen in a notebook this size. It's quite bright at a measured 315 nits according to our Spyder4 Pro colorimeter, and color saturation is high without being overdone. Contrast is likewise very good at 950:1 with a low .3 black level at max brightness. That means colors really pop and text is very crisp. Color calibration out of the box is good and our colorimeter managed to get it spot on. Gamma is perfect at 2.2. It's simply a wonderful display for photo and video editing, watching movies and reading text at length.

HP Spectre


Deals and Shopping:


HP Spectre Video Review


HP Spectre vs. 12" MacBook Comparison Smackdown


HP Spectre vs. Dell XPS 13 Comparison

Keyboard and Trackpad

Super-skinny laptops often have weird or compromised keyboards. The HP Spectre has 1.3 mm of key travel, like the Dell XPS 13, and it has normal keys rather than the odd switches used in the 12" MacBook. I had my doubts, but once I put it on my lap, I loved the crisp feel of the keys and good damping that didn't leave me with sore fingertips. It's as if they married the precise, clicky precision of the MacBook's keyboard with a standard keyboard. I type thousands of words each week, and I really like this keyboard.

HP Spectre keyboard

The glass Synaptics trackpad is good, and it has a full-featured control panel for 2 and 3 finger gestures and more. The surface is fast (smooth with little resistance to finger travel), and it doesn't degrade after it's accumulated fingerprint oils like the Dell XPS 13.


Performance and Horsepower

This is a standard high end Ultrabook--no compromises here. It's available with Intel Skylake 6th generation Core i5-6200U and i7-6500U dual core 15 watt CPUs with Intel HD 520 graphics (there's simply no room for dedicated graphics here). It has 8 gigs of LPDDR3 dual channel RAM that's soldered on board and is not upgradeable, which is typical of today's Ultrabooks. The laptop is available with 256 or 512 gig M.2 SSDs that use the faster PCIe NVMe protocol (our 256 gig drive was made by Samsung). The SSD is upgradable if you remove the bottom cover. To get the cover off you'll need to peel up the top and bottom (but not the middle) rubber strips on the bottom to reveal 3 Phillips head screws on the top row and two at the bottom. The rubber strips have good quality reusable adhesive, so if you use a little care when pulling them up, they'll stick back down just fine.

HP Spectre

The Intel 8260AC latest generation WiFi 802.11ac dual band wireless card with Bluetooth is likewise socketed. I don't foresee needing to replace this top of the line (for Intel) card. Reception is good, but not stellar, and I suspect that has more to do with antenna and design than the solid wireless card. We actually see few 13" high end laptops with stellar reception, perhaps due to the smaller chassis and metal casings.

Performance on our Core i7 was in line with other Ultrabooks using the same CPU in this price range, and it even slightly surpassed the Core i7 Razer Blade Stealth, though the numbers are so close that it's of little consequence.



HP Spectre benchmarks


Battery Life

Extremely skinny and small laptops don't have room for big batteries, hence the 1080p display and lack of touch screen (those consume more power and add thickness). We didn't have high hopes for the HP Spectre's small 4 cell 38 Whr battery (45-55 Whr is the average for 13" Ultrabooks). HP did good work here, because we averaged 6 hours of use in a mix of productivity and streaming video via the Netflix app with WiFi on, keyboard backlight on half the time and brightness set to a zingy 50%. Granted that's well below HP's 9 hour claim, but most PC manufacturers claims are unrealistic. If you push the laptop hard, as you might be tempted to do with something that has a Core i5 or i7 CPU, then battery life takes a nose dive. Editing and exporting 1080p video, compiling large programs and playing games (nothing too demanding in the way of games since this is an Ultrabook) can drop battery life down to 3 hours (assuming you're spending that 3 hours only doing these demanding tasks).

HP Spectre

The laptop ships with a square 45 watt charger that's a matte black version of Apple's laptop chargers. It has lots of cord length in two segments but HP doesn't include the Apple style module that allows you to plug the charger block directly into the wall if you don't need that 12 feet of cord.



It's a rare treat when we see what can only be described as a designer laptop that's 1) not priced way above the competition, 2) actually highly functional. The HP Spectre 13.3" Ultrabook has undeniable good looks, though it may be a bit uncomfortably fashion-oriented for some. The Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs match any 13" Ultrabook on the planet, the PCIe SSD is a nice performance touch and 8 gigs of RAM is plenty for most looking for highly portable machine. The backlit keyboard is unexpectedly good and the glass trackpad is pleasant. The IPS display is positively lovely and battery life is decent, though not stellar. The price is fair and not out of line for a laptop that competes with the MacBook, Dell XPS 13 and other high end 13" portables. Well done, HP.


Price: starting at $1,169

Related Reviews:

Dell XPS 13 Review

12" MacBook Review

Samsung Notebook 9 (13.3 and 15 inch) Review

Lenovo Yoga 900S Review

LG Gram 15 Review

HP Spectre x360 (late 2016) Review

HP Spectre x360 15t (15") Review

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review


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Display: 13.3" full HD 1920 x 1080 glossy IPS display. Intel HD 520 integrated graphics.

Battery: 4 cell, 38 Whr Lithium Ion rechargeable.

Performance: 6th generation Intel Skylake dual core, 15 watt Core i5-6200U and Core i7-6500U CPUs available. 8 gigs DDR3L dual channel RAM, soldered on board (not upgradeable). 256 or 512 gig M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD.

Size: 12.8 x 9.03 x 0.41 inches. Weight: 2.45 pounds (1.1 kg).

Camera: 720p webcam.

Audio: Quad stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard audio jack. Bang & Olufsen audio.

Networking: Integrated Intel 8260AC dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth.

Software: Windows 10.

Expansion and Ports: 3 USB-C 3.1 ports, 2 also support Thunderbolt 3.



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