HP’s MacBook rival comes loaded with trade-offs

Spectre 13 laptop is super thin, but that charger you’ll need to tote adds to burden

- Ed Baig @edbaig USA TODAY

HP says its Spectre 13 laptop is the world’s thinnest. My question: What concession­s did it make?

I’ll get to those trade-offs, which range from battery life to the lack of a touch-screen.

First, I must praise the physical attributes of this sexy-looking, dark-gray-and-gold premium Windows 10 notebook.

HP Spectre 13 is skinnier at 10.44 millimeter­s than the MacBook from Apple, though at 2.45 pounds it is a bit heavier than its Apple rival. Forced to choose, the MacBook still wins my aesthetics vote.

That said, Spectre is light and appealing, and the carbon-fiber-and-aluminum machine feels sturdy. HP’s designers are using a recessed piston hinge to fold it down into its svelte profile. The company says it was inspired by high-end furniture design.

The Spectre starts around $1,170 but can climb north of $1,550, depending on your choice of processor, storage and other specs.

Indeed, computers in this slim, ultraporta­ble category typically carry the weightiest prices. The MacBook starts at $1,299.

Most satisfying on Spectre is the full-size, back-lit keyboard, which to my digits feels as good as many of the keyboards I’ve used on far chunkier notebooks. The keys have a proper amount of “travel.” I never totally warmed up to the flattened keys on the MacBook.

Another edge for the Spectre comes with the powerful Intel Core i5 or i7 processors that HP employs, more robust than the chips used in many rival ultraporta­ble machines, including the MacBook. Of course, you’re only likely to notice the extra processing power if you’re involved in more intense computing chores, perhaps high-end photograph­y editing or when you’re transcodin­g video.

The audio on the Spectre, piped through Bang & Olufsen speakers, sounded good.

There’s one more chief advantage that HP has over the MacBook: the number of ports. Both computers exploit the emerging USB Type-C flavor, but where Apple supplies just one such port, which is often occupied by the machine’s power adapter, HP gives you three (on the rear). Two of the USB-C ports on Spectre can drive Thunderbol­t connection­s to 4K displays, or docks. And you can plug in the power adapter to any of the trio. Tradeoff: You’ll still need an adapter to connect regular USB accessorie­s.

Now, about those other concession­s. The 13.3-inch, Gorilla Glass-protected full-HD display screen is very nice. Given the machine’s premium status, however, I wish HP had given us 4K. Apple does not offer 4K on the MacBook, but its 12-inch display (smaller than the HP) offers sharper resolution.

Neither machine supports a touch-screen display but that seems like more of a critical omission for HP, again factoring in price, and because Windows 10 (unlike the Mac operating system) relies more on touch. Out of habit, I periodical­ly touched the display on the Spectre 13, to no avail of course. If touch is a must, consider a viable Windows 10 al- ternative in this class such as the Dell XPS 13, a notebook I’m particular­ly fond of. To get it with a touch-screen from Dell, however, you’re looking at around $1,500 or higher.

HP’s reasoning is that two of three customers surveyed would choose thin and light over touch, anyway, and that 79% of premium laptops sold last year were non-touch. That may be so, but I’m squarely in the camp that wants touch. I didn’t find the relatively modest-size glass touch pad on the Spectre particular­ly responsive either.

Battery life was also lacking. HP says it used whatever available internal space it could find to fit in four battery cells (in two shapes), and the company claims up to 91⁄ hours of juice. But in my intentiona­lly harsh test, in which I cranked up the brightness all the way, turned off battery saving measures and streamed video off Netflix, I barely approached five hours. You’ll do better under more “normal” circumstan­ces, but I still found the result disappoint­ing. And the charger you might want to keep handy adds to your traveling weight.

On balance, HP has legitimate reasons to brag about this thinnest of notebooks — the keyboard’s terrific, there’s processing oomph. But Spectre 13 also demonstrat­es that keeping to a diet means giving certain things up.

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HP HP Spectre 13 is light, appealing and sturdy.
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