It’s the thinnest touchscreen laptop, but HP’s Spectre doesn’t sacrifice speed
The Windows PC market moves fast, and sometimes companies make claims that are quickly superseded. Such was the case with the original HP Spectre 13, which was first advertised as the “world’s thinnest laptop.” Soon after, Acer released its even thinner Swift 7, which beat it out. Now, in our latest HP Spectre 13 review, we look at the update to the Spectre, which has been significantly redesigned and is now touted as “the world’s thinnest touchscreen notebook.”
Our review unit was equipped with an eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), and a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 165 PPI) resolution display, at a retail price of $1,400. HP will be offering higher-end configurations and a 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160 or 331 PPI) display, but pricing has not yet been announced.
A LOVELY LITTLE JEWEL OF A NOTEBOOK
HP’s redesigned Spectre 13 is as thin as ever at just 0.41 inches thick, in spite of its new touch display, and it’s incredibly light at 2.43 pounds. But as you probably know, HP isn’t exactly the only company trying to slim down its products. There are plenty of notebooks around that are sold for their tiny size, including the 12-inch Apple MacBook at just over half an inch thick and the Huawei MateBook X at 0.49 inches. The Spectre 13 out-thins both of those — and throws in touch display electronics as the icing on top. It’s still not quite as thin as the Swift 7, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
The refreshed Spectre 13 also sports a new Ceramic White and Pale Gold color scheme that is the yin to the previous model’s yang. You can still choose the Ash Silver and Chrome Luxe version, but our review model convinced us that if you’re going to choose such a thin and beautiful notebook, you might as well select the one that stands out. It’s a unique color scheme that sets it apart from the sea of MacBook and Surface clones.
To make sure that lovely white surface stays pristine, HP utilizes a special scratch-resistant Advanced Electro Deposition (AED) process on the aluminum lid and keyboard deck and carbon fiber bottom. The Spectre 13 has also been trimmed of any excess width and depth, with the display’s bezels reduced to 5.3mm (from 15.03mm) and the top bezel to 9.7mm (down from 16.04mm). That’s similar to the Dell XPS 13, with its side and top bezels of 5.2 mm. The angles have been chiseled for a cleaner look, and the diamond cut around the lid makes it easy to open.
All in all, it’s a gorgeous design that looks like a fine piece of jewelry, with a fit and finish to match.
Our only complaint with the design and build is directly related to the Spectre 13’s thinness. While the chassis feels solid enough when the lid is closed, there’s some give when pressing on the bottom and the keyboard and the screen significantly bends under relatively light pressure.
As long as you’re just opening the lid and not twisting it, though, you’ll appreciate the hinge’s smooth action — which can be used with single-handedly — and how well it holds the display in place. However, the odd design, in which the display isn’t as deep as the chassis and folds down to lie flush with a metal strip along the back of the machine, means that the display doesn’t open as wide as you’ll find on most notebooks.
Overall, the Spectre 13 is a lovely-designed machine that’s as much a work of art as it is a notebook. It’s thin and exceptionally light, albeit at the cost of sheer rigidity.
FUTURE-PROOF BUT LIMITED CONNECTIVITY
With the Spectre 13, you can have any kind of port you want, as long as it’s USB-C. As with the previous model, the new Spectre 13 offers up three USB-C ports to go with the 3.5mm audio jack, and that’s it. Two of them support Thunderbolt 3, however, and that’s a real plus.
Nevertheless, you’ll be relying on dongles to connect legacy peripherals (although the Best Buy version does come with a USB-C to USB-A adapter). The MacBook has fewer ports with its single USB-C Thunderbolt 3 connection, and the MateBook X increases the count to two USB-C ports. The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe, on the other hand, duplicates the Spectre 13’s triplet of USB-C ports, two with Thunderbolt 3. The more ports the better, but the Spectre 13 is in line with the competition in this department.
Wireless connectivity includes the increasingly typical 2×2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi adapter and Bluetooth 4.2 combo. HP has built in its Connection Optimizer technology that aims to keep Wi-Fi connections fast by picking the least congested connection available.
SURPRISINGLY GOOD KEYBOARD FOR SUCH A THIN MACHINE
Somehow, HP managed to squeeze an excellent keyboard into the Spectre 13’s frame, with an impressive 1.3mm of key travel — significantly more than on a laptop like the ZenBook 3 Deluxe or MacBook Pro — that provides for a surprisingly good typing experience. There’s plenty of snap, giving a precise feel, and we found ourselves quickly ramping up to our usual typing speed. The keyboard is uniformly backlit, but oddly enough there’s only one rather bright setting that is a bit much in darker environments.
The Spectre 13 sports one of the best keyboards you’ll find on such a thin-and-light notebook.
In addition, HP moved the speakers from the sides to reside underneath the display. This let the company expand the keyboard to provide excellent spacing as well as to add the same row of home keys along the right-hand side that you’ll find on some other recent HP notebooks. All the keys are the right sizes and in the right places.
All in all, this is one of the best keyboards you’ll find on laptops of the thin-and-light variety. It’s vastly superior to the “typing on a block of wood” experience of the recent MacBook keyboards, and it’s even better than the aforementioned ZenBook 3 Deluxe’s keyboard, which we considered very good for the form factor.
The touchpad is a little less pleasant. To begin with, it’s not a Microsoft Precision Touchpad, but rather utilizes Synaptics drivers. Therefore, its gesture support was a little less precise than we like. The glass surface is smooth, though, and it’s been increased 15 percent in size from the previous generation, with a shape that mimics the display’s widescreen aspect ratio. You’ll be happier with the larger touchpad on the MacBook, as well as the more common Microsoft Precision touchpads you’ll find on other modern Windows notebooks like the Dell XPS 13.
The display on the new Spectre 13 also supports multitouch, and it’s a nice addition. Even without pen support or the ability to rotate into tablet format, having a touchscreen makes it easier to push buttons and scroll the display, and we’re glad to see HP add the feature.
A SLIGHTLY BELOW-AVERAGE DISPLAY THAT’S JUST GOOD ENOUGH
Our review unit came equipped with a 13.3-inch Full HD display, which is the baseline for today’s premium notebooks. HP will also offer a 4K UHD option that will make for a very sharp display indeed.
According to our colorimeter, the Spectre 13’s display is a little worse than average compared to similar premium notebooks. Contrast was a bit low at 740:1 at full brightness, which was just 266 nits, and thus had a hard time overcoming bright lights. The Dell XPS 13 and Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe both exceeded 900:1 in contrast, and 300 nits in brightness.
Colors were also slightly less dynamic, with only 71 percent coverage of the AdobeRGB gamut and 94 percent coverage of sRGB. Most displays in this class hit at least 72 and 95 percent, respectively, and the XPS 13 was a standout at 77 and 98 percent. The Spectre 13’s color accuracy was also a little worse than average at 2.54, where anything less than 1.0 is considered excellent.
Subjectively, the Spectre 13’s display was pleasant enough to use, although we did notice that video was darker than we’d like. That makes sense given the gamma results of 2.4 (2.2 is perfect). We wish it was brighter, though, and offered up more contrast to make black text on a white background pop more.
PUNCHY AUDIO, JUST DON’T TURN IT ALL THE WAY UP
HP moved the speakers from the sides to just below the display on the newest Spectre 13, adding more space for the Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers to work. The result is audio that’s impressive for such a tiny machine.