HP Spec­tre 13

PC Advisor - - CONTENTS -

HP has pro­duced some ex­cel­lent premium lap­tops re­cently that have caught peo­ple’s at­ten­tion be­cause of their sur­pris­ingly sen­si­ble prices – the HP Envy 13, for ex­am­ple. The Spec­tre 13 takes a dif­fer­ent tack as it’s a flat-out ultra-premium lap­top with a de­sign you could pick out of a line-up from 20 paces and con­nec­tiv­ity de­signed for the fu­ture more than the present.

De­sign

HP’s grand claim for the Spec­tre 13 is that it’s the thinnest lap­top in the world. The sur­pris­ing part is that even in the plain num­bers, it ap­pears sig­nif­i­cantly slim­mer than the 12in MacBook – Ap­ple’s sys­tem is 13.1mm thick, this one is 10.4mm. In prac­tice this means there’s no ‘bulge’ to­wards the back where core com­po­nents such as the bat­tery and CPU live. It’s skinny from front to back.

Pick the HP Spec­tre 13 up and it’s won­der­fully thin and light. How­ever, we’d ad­vise against load­ing too much im­por­tance on this lit­tle thing’s 1cm-thick frame. To claim it’s re­ally that much more por­ta­ble than a lap­top of a sim­i­lar weight that’s 2mm thicker is wrong.

This is not a crit­i­cism of the hard­ware, only those who sim­ply fo­cus too much on de­sign ele­ments of only mod­er­ate prac­ti­cal im­por­tance. The lap­top is among the most con­ve­nient and por­ta­ble de­vices with a de­cent-sized screen.

Like the 12in MacBook, at its most ba­sic level this is a very con­ven­tional lap­top. The screen doesn’t come off, nor does it ro­tate around 360 de­grees, although HP also pro­duces a Spec­tre x360 that of­fers such a hinge. It’s ac­tu­ally rel­a­tively re­stric­tive in these ar­eas. The screen tilts back less than most lap­tops and it isn’t a touch­screen.

The dis­play may lack flex­i­bil­ity, but it’s a very well made and eye­catch­ing. The gold hinge is, bright enough to stun when it catches the light, and the rest of the lap­top a brown-bronze that is the per­fect coun­ter­point to the gold high­lights.

You only have to look at the key­board’s keys to see the at­ten­tion to de­tail put in. The sides of the keys and let­ter­ing are gold (not daz­zling this time), and the top bronze. This is a very strik­ing two-tone lap­top.

Its lid and key­board sur­round are alu­minium, while the un­der­side is car­bon fi­bre, which feels like a fancier take on plas­tic to the touch.

Con­nec­tiv­ity

Some may be put off by the jewellery-like hinge of the Spec­tre 13, but the real rea­son to think twice is what’s on the back: the con­nec­tions. As part of its mis­sion to be­come the thinnest and most for­ward-look­ing lap­top around, it has three USB-C/Thun­der­bolt 3 ports and a head­phone jack, and noth­ing else. There’s not a sin­gle full-size USB port.

In a cou­ple of years, lap­tops us­ing USB-C con­nec­tors only may be com­mon­place and largely not a prob­lem. But at present it’s not for every­one. We, for ex­am­ple, keep a lot of our tests on an SSD drive, which we nor­mally plug the drive into test lap­tops with a USB plug. The Spec­tre 13 comes with a sin­gle USB-C to USB adap­tor, but when us­ing it, the drive con­tin­u­ally re­ported dis­con­nec­tions, mak­ing any trans­fers im­pos­si­ble. This could be down to a faulty driver or the adap­tor cable not be­ing de­signed to let the de­vice pull too much cur­rent. Ei­ther way, it was a prob­lem.

Sim­i­larly, the lack of a mem­ory card slot will be an un­der­stand­able deal-breaker for some. Not all of us are ready for the con­nec­tiv­ity-lite fu­ture yet.

The the­o­ret­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity of the ports is sound, though. One dou­bles as the power socket, and the other two have Thun­der­bolt 3.0 sup­port, whose band­width is an im­pres­sive 40Gb/s. Whether you

love or hate the use of USB-C, the HP Spec­tre 13 does at least soundly beat the MacBook, which has a sin­gle Thun­der­bolt port, also used to charge the bat­tery.

Key­board

The con­nec­tiv­ity may put off a lot of tra­di­tional lap­top buy­ers, but in other ar­eas the HP Spec­tre 13 is ab­so­lutely made for this au­di­ence. Namely, it has a nicely spaced full-size key­board and a track­pad that doesn’t feel too cut-down to fit the frame in use. Be­ing ultra-slim and light while still of­fer­ing these com­puter sta­ples is the Spec­tre 13’s whole rea­son to ex­ist.

We’re happy to re­port that the HP hasn’t suf­fered from any of the key­board tor­ture Ap­ple sub­jects some of its mod­els to. This is a clas­sic chi­clet key­board with sur­pris­ingly good key travel for a lap­top this thin.

Key-press feed­back is crisp, with a much more sat­is­fy­ing re­sponse than you’ll get from the ultra-flat 12in MacBook or the slightly hol­low in situ feel of the Microsoft Sur­face’s of­fer­ing. It’s a proper lap­top key­board, in other words.

A back­light makes typ­ing in the dark much eas­ier too, although un­like some other parts of the hard­ware it’s to­tally con­ven­tional. It’s ei­ther on or off, no gra­da­tions, and isn’t overly bright.

Com­pared to some larger mod­els what it lacks slightly is some give af­ter the ini­tial key de­press. This leads to the keys feel­ing slightly light mid-typ­ing. How­ever, we’re get­ting into real key­board navel­gaz­ing ter­ri­tory now.

The track­pad is very good too, for a num­ber of rea­sons. As you’d hope at the price, it uses a tex­tured glass sur­face for a to­tally non-tacky feel. Its shape is sen­si­ble, too. Look­ing at it, the pad may ap­pear a lit­tle ‘squashed’, ver­ti­cally. And it is. How­ever, it’s some­thing we’ve only no­ticed while gam­ing. There’s plenty of space for com­fort­able gen­eral use. It is worth con­sid­er­ing a lit­tle more if you need to do a lot of im­age edit­ing, though.

Driver sup­port is good, too. The pad is un­usu­ally well-be­haved among Win­dows lap­tops. Where the last touch of style comes in is the click feed­back. HP has got this just right. It’s vir­tu­ally si­lent, doesn’t re­quire too much force and still pro­vides a great feel. This is not as com­mon as you might think. While Ap­ple has blazed ahead with a pres­sure-sen­si­tive track­pad, other man­u­fac­tur­ers still strug­gle to make a stan­dard pad that feels like it doesn’t hate you.

Dis­play

The Spec­tre 13 has a 13.3in screen, which is our pre­ferred size for a Win­dows ma­chine that’s de­signed for ‘proper’ work on-the-go. You get enough screen space to do jus­tice to com­plex ap­pli­ca­tions, with­out the bulk of a 15.6in lap­top.

It’s a 1080p IPS LCD dis­play that, as men­tioned ear­lier, does not use a touch layer. You’ll be us­ing the track­pad 24/7 with this lap­top.

A lot of our favourite por­ta­ble Win­dows lap­tops of re­cent times use matt screens, but in keep­ing with the glitzy de­sign, the Spec­tre 13 has a more trendy glossy fin­ish. This means, like a MacBook, it picks up an aw­ful lot of re­flec­tions when used out­doors or near a win­dow.

The back­light has the bright­ness needed to com­pete, though, go­ing up to 365cd/m2. We’ve used the Spec­tre 13 out­doors on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, although we did need to ramp up the bright­ness much higher than we might with a matt-screen ma­chine.

HP has aimed for the sRGB colour stan­dard with the Spec­tre 13, which is what gets you nat­u­ral-look­ing rather than over­sat­u­rated colours. It hits a re­spectable 90 per­cent of the sRGB spec­trum and 65 per­cent of Adobe RGB. Na­tive con­trast is good for an LCD too, at 1300:1.

At this price you can find lap­tops with even higher res­o­lu­tions and deeper colour, but this dis­play is uni­formly good in all re­spects.

Per­for­mance

One of the most cu­ri­ous parts of the Spec­tre 13 is how it de­fies ex­pec­ta­tions with its CPU. In a lap­top this thin, we’d ex­pect to see an In­tel Core M se­ries chipset. They’re tiny, can get by with pas­sive cool­ing, and of­fer enough power for gen­eral pro­duc­tiv­ity use.

This HP has an In­tel Core i7-6500U, which is still part of In­tel’s low-volt­age range of CPUs, but has ac­cess to a few more gears than a Core M chipset.

Matched with 8GB RAM and fast all-SSD stor­age, the Spec­tre 13 feels very fast in day-to-day use. Quite how dif­fer­ent an ex­pe­ri­ence this is to us­ing any sys­tem with a hard drive is a rather sad in­dict­ment of Win­dows 10.

This is still not a work­horse you’d want to re­place a re­cent desk­top PC with, but only re­ally be­cause the CPU has just two cores. The lim­its of its abil­i­ties aren’t as re­stric­tive as a Core M lap­top.

For ex­am­ple, the HP Spec­tre 13 can just about han­dle re­cent games a few years old only, if you’re will­ing to re­ally pare back the set­tings. In our usual Thief 720p ‘low’ test bench­mark, the lap­top man­aged a just-playable av­er­age 23.8fps.

In Alien: Iso­la­tion, it achieved 37fps av­er­age at 720p res­o­lu­tion, low set­tings. That’s a very playable speed. Both games fell apart as soon as the res­o­lu­tion and vi­su­als were in­creased, of course, but this is bet­ter than you get from most other de­vices this slim.

It is a shame there’s no In­tel i7-6650U ver­sion of the Spec­tre 13, though. That CPU uses In­tel Iris graph­ics rather than the bog-stan­dard HD 520 chipset used here. It’s used in Microsoft’s Sur­face Pro 4, so fit­ting one in here would not be im­pos­si­ble.

Us­ing an In­tel i7-6500U also means the Spec­tre 13 can han­dle video and photo edit­ing, although for any pro­fes­sion­als out there, we’d only sug­gest us­ing a ma­chine like this as a backup. You’ll want a quad-core CPU for that sort of work.

In Geek­bench, the Spec­tre 13 scores 6894 points, and 2735 in PCMark 8. This is al­most ex­actly what we saw in the Asus UX303U, which uses the same CPU.

HP has used a de­cent solid­state drive here, too. It can read at 1589MB/s, and writes at 578MB/s.

One of the costs of us­ing an In­tel Core i7 rather than an ultra-low power Core M CPU is that the Spec­tre 13 needs to use fans. It can’t get by with a heatsink alone. A light-noise fan runs when­ever the lap­top is used, while an­other kicks in if the lap­top is put re­motely un­der strain.

When play­ing Thief, for ex­am­ple, it started whirring be­fore we’d even reached the ti­tle screen. With a frame this thin, it clearly needs to be pre-emp­tive about its cool­ing. Note that the fan is loud for a lap­top this dainty, and it may an­noy oth­ers if you’re go­ing to be us­ing the Spec­tre 13 in a quiet en­vi­ron­ment.

Even with those fans whirring, the HP gets a lit­tle warm even with light use, with a hotspot at the back of the hinge where its heat out­lets sit. The TDP of the CPU and the ultra-thin frame have an at times awk­ward re­la­tion­ship.

Au­dio

One op­tion to com­bat fan noise is to turn on some mu­sic. HP uses Bang & Olufsen-branded speak­ers in the Spec­tre 13, though they’re not hugely im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially when com­pared with those of the 12in MacBook. Sev­eral parts of this lap­top seems to have had spe­cial at­ten­tion lav­ished on them, but the speak­ers are much like some of the other Bang & Olufsen lap­tops. Some sound causes mid-range dis­tor­tion at top vol­ume, and the tone is slightly thin.

They aren’t dread­ful and could be a lot worse given how thin the Spec­tre 13 is, but Ap­ple’s MacBooks still lead the pack in this area, by some dis­tance.

Bat­tery life

The other risky part of the HP Spec­tre 13 is bat­tery life. While Core i7 CULV-se­ries lap­tops are ef­fi­cient, they can still draw more power than a Core M ma­chine.

Sure enough, its stamina is good but not ex­cep­tional. When used out and about as a work com­puter, for writ­ing and brows­ing, we found it lasted for six and a half hours.

Loop­ing a video at 120cd/m2 screen bright­ness, the Spec­tre 13 lasted eight hours 55 min­utes. This is sim­i­lar to HP’s claims, although we did no­tice that the bat­tery level dropped much faster when we put it un­der any sort of sig­nif­i­cant strain. If you’re just brows­ing and start to hear a louder fan whir, it is time to head to the Task Man­ager to see what’s up or you won’t see any­thing like this per­for­mance.

Ver­dict

The HP Spec­tre 13 is des­per­ate to ap­pear as a lap­top of the fu­ture, and that comes with sub­stan­tial pros and cons. Its supreme porta­bil­ity is won­der­ful, and while its de­sign is po­lar­is­ing, it cer­tainly is fancy. There’s sub­stance too, with a pow­er­ful CPU for a lap­top this thin and solid build in the key­board and track­pad. Its mes­sage is a lit­tle con­fused, though. The pro­ces­sor courts en­thu­si­asts, but that’s ex­actly who’s likely to be most an­noyed by the lack of mem­ory card slot and a tra­di­tional USB port. There’s an au­di­ence for the Spec­tre 13, but if you’ve not signed-up to a wire­less way of work­ing yet, you may want to think twice.

An­drew Wil­liams

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