I was very impressed with the high-end laptops that HP has released over the past 12 months. The HP Specter is a fantastic, ultra-slim and light notebook with a beautiful case. When I reviewed the Specter last year, I was amazed at how far HP's engineering and design teams got in the Windows 10 era.
Alongside the Specter, the Specter x360, a convertible 2-in-1 notebook that was recently updated to Kaby Lake, is at the top of the HP laptop product range. But not only the internals of this laptop have improved. HP has also launched a design overhaul that makes the Specter x360 thinner, lighter, and more portable than before.
A key aspect of the Specter x360 – and the biggest difference to the regular Specter – is the 360-degree hinge attached to the display. The Specter x360 is still a 13.3-inch laptop with a 1080p display, but the display can be folded into a tablet form factor. That's why HP obviously added a touchscreen to the mix.
As with the standard Specter, HP has brought the design of the Specter x360 to the point.
The hardware in this ultraportable will not surprise you, but there are still some powerful configurations. You can choose between Intel Core i5 or Core i7 Kaby Lake CPUs with 8 or 16 GB RAM and solid-state storage between 256 GB and 1 TB. The base model is available for $ 1,050, while the top-end model I received for review brings you $ 1,620.
As with the standard Specter, HP has brought the design of the Specter x360 to the point. Sure, with a thickness of 13.8 mm and a weight of 1.29 kg, this laptop is not that thin or light, but the small amount of additional volume is understandable, since the Specter x360 contains a flexible hinge assembly and a more powerful battery. And it's still a very portable laptop anyway, with dimensions that match laptops of a similar class. Wearing the Specter x360 every day will neither break your back nor take up a lot of space in your pocket.
Almost the entire Specter x360 is made of breathtaking silver aluminum with a fingerprint-resistant matt surface. The base of the laptop is cut from a piece of metal, which gives the x360 a beautiful unibody aesthetic with seamless aluminum edges. The bottom of the laptop has a removable cutout that interrupts the unibody design. However, this section is required to access and install the internals, and mostly out of sight during use.
Like the base, the lid of the x360 is mainly made of a single piece of aluminum, except for the large shiny glass plate that protects the display. The contrast between the silver lid and the black display bezels gives an otherwise monochrome design a certain amount of interest and contributes to the slim appearance. The new HP logo is a beauty that blends in well with the rest of this premium build.
The main point of interest of the design here is the speaker grille with a triangular pattern that runs over the keyboard. The speakers of the HP Specter x360 with the Bang & Olufsen brand are louder than average, although pumping out music at maximum volume leads to considerable distortion. The quality of these speakers is generally decent, though like most laptop speakers, you won't be blown away.
HP has chosen a wedge-shaped base that is similar to the old MacBook Airs and has little space for connections. Despite the small size of this laptop and the limited space available, HP managed to plug a full-size USB port on the left and two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports on the right. Two USB-C ports are particularly convenient because you can charge the x360 while using a Thunderbolt 3 device without dongles, while USB-A is great for older peripherals.
HP will also receive large props to hold three USB-C dongles in the box: one for HDMI, one for VGA and one for Ethernet. These are all the dongles you need to use the x360 with typical business devices.
HP has also installed the on / off switch and a volume rocker on the left or right edge. Positioning that continues to make the Specter x360 usable in tablet form. For cooling, there is a large inlet grill with a single outlet opening on the left side. This laptop works noiselessly when used lightly, but with any processor-intensive work, the fan turns and creates an annoying high whine. Expect some areas of the case, e.g. B. over the keyboard near the speaker grille, also become very hot.
The bezels around the 13.3-inch display are thinner than in the previous models, especially on the sides. However, the massive black bars at the top and bottom can spoil the otherwise great design a little.
With a 360 degree hinge, the Specter x360 can be used in several ways. During my tests, I mainly used the x360 as a laptop, since this device is definitely a laptop first, and I suspect that most users will spend 80 to 90 percent of the time in this mode.
It's easy to flip the laptop over and use the base as an exhibition stand or in a tent configuration for better access to the touchscreen. These modes are best suited for use on the desk and in practice offer only limited advantages over a conventional laptop setup.
The most compelling case for the 360-degree hinge is using the device in tablet mode. There are certainly some nice usage scenarios that this ability opens up: it's the easiest way to carry the laptop around and display other information on the screen, and I've also used tablet mode while I was on my couch to do without surfing the internet keyboard in the way.
However, it is far from an ideal large-screen tablet, and like most devices of this form factor, tablet functionality is an added bonus rather than a real, uncompromising mode of use.
With a total weight of 1.3 kg, arm fatigue when holding the tablet is a problem unless you place the device on something. Even without taking the weight into account, it is not a convenient device to hold in this mode, as there is a gap on the edges between the display and the keyboard base. The feeling that the buttons on the back are not ideal, and although the narrow side panels look good while using the laptop, they make it difficult to hold the device without activating the touchscreen. HP has obviously forgotten to implement palm rejection.
While there are notable problems with using this – and a similar convertible laptop – as a tablet, it should be noted that tablet mode is a limited use case. You will probably spend most of your time with the Specter in standard and excellent laptop mode. If you want to flip the screen briefly, the problems aren't bad enough to make a fuss. I also would rather not have the flexibility that the 360 degree hinge offers.