HYBRID LAPTOP-COME-TABLET DEVICES haven’t really impressed us much outside of the Surface Pro and Google Pixelbook; they either tend to be a compromise too far, or lack the hardware pizzaz to win us over.
HP’s latest 15in Spectre x360 makes a good effort at changing that, offering a 2-in-1 laptop that ticks all the boxes associated with general computing. That’s quite an ask, so read on as we take a closer look.
Straight out of the box, our review unit caught our attention by massaging our eyeballs with a rather lovely mixture of smoky grey aluminium with a copper gold-like trim, which HP calls “Dark Ash Silver with Copper Luxe accents”.
This Spectre x360 has been designed to slip into the world of chic tech and does so by looking showy without looking like a bling-covered noughties rapper.
The gold trim extends from the lid, which in the 2018 model sports a slightly angular rather than rounded spine, and runs down to the laptop’s sides and sharp angular 360-degree hinges, as well as the edges of the trackpad.
It’s surprisingly tasteful and has received a good few admiring glances as we lugged it out and about.
And lug it you will, as the machine is not the slimmest or lightest 15in laptop around. At 1.9cm thick and weighing in at 2.14kg it’s a relatively hefty machine; that’s because it packs in decent specs, but more on that later.
Its girth means the x360 not only has two USB Type-C ports, both sporting Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, but it also fits in a USB 3.1 port, an HDMI 2.0 connection, a full-sized SD card reader and the enduring 3.5mm headphone jack.
That’s a very decent suite of ports when you compare it to say the latest Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro. Oh and there’s a fingerprint reader on the right edge for use with Windows Hello biometrics.
Likely adding to its heft are the Bang & Olufsen speakers which sit behind a fancy grill-come-vent above the keyboard. Normally, we expect such branding to mean diddly squat, but here the audio here is decent for a laptop – bass could be beefier and the sound isn’t as ‘warm’ as we’d like, but the overall aural effect is nice and clear.
One thing that really impressed us about the x360’s design is its build quality. The whole machine feels lovely to the touch, with virtually no flex in the lid or keyboard deck, and the copper trim feels nicely finished. This quality is expected for a machine that costs a hefty £1,900.
Our only concern is such coloured accents tend to have a habit of picking up scuffs and scratches that are more noticeable than on laptops with plain edges, so a cushioned sleeve or protective laptop bag might be a worthwhile accessory.
Keyboard and trackpad
The lovely design continues onto the keyboard which is a joy to use. The chiclet-style keys have the right balance of travel meets tactile resistance and feel lovely for tappig out anything from rapid emails to extensive essays. Sadly, the backlight only has an on/off toggle with no in-between to tweak its intensity.
The keyboard is a good size as well, even fitting in a number pad. As such, within an hour of using the x360, our fingers were zipping across the keys and touch typing away. It’s not quite one of the best keyboards we’ve tried out but it’s certainly very good.
Unfortunately, the trackpad is a different story. It uses Synaptics rather than Windows Precision drivers which we feel are the inferior option as the mouse cursor tends to slip all over the desktop thanks to a sensitivity that’s not easy to get used to. It can be adjusted, but we’d still rather Windows Precision trackpads which we reckon work well without the need for any adjustments out of the box.
On the hardware side, the trackpad feels nice if a little slippery, which makes smooth and accurate mouse movements a tad tricky. It’s by no means a bad trackpad, it just doesn’t hit the high notes of the keyboard it’s partnered with.
The HP Spectre x360’s screen is another hit for the machine. At 15in with a 4K 3,820×2,160 touchscreen panel, the display is clear and sharp with accurate and vibrant colours.
It’s not quite as bright as the PixelSense display found on the Surface Pro and its contrast is good if not stellar, meaning some shades of colours can go missing. But this is a screen you’ll still be happy glueing your peepers to and photo or video editing upon.
One downside to the display is its highly reflective coating. It helps make the colours pop, but at the same time it’s not easy to use outside or in rooms with bright lights, and it sucks up fingerprints like crazy.
The bezels are a tad thick for our liking, especially at the top, though there’s an argument to be had that they make it easier to hold when the display is flipped back into a tablet mode. But the x360’s bulk makes it a bit of a strain to hold as a tablet for too long, so we’d rather have thinner screen surrounds instead.
We don’t think HP intended it to be used as a tablet either.
Rather, the ability to fold the display back on itself, prop it in a picture frame like orientation, or fold it into an inverted V, makes the screen ideal to sketch upon with the bundled stylus, or show off presentations or watch videos without the keyboard deck being in view.
The touchscreen is nice and responsive as well with but a little wobble when prodded with gusto in its ‘laptop mode’, but that’s down to there being less tension in the hinge due to its acrobatic flexibility.
In short, the display is pretty damn good, and thankfully the x360 has a decent chunk of power to push and polish the pixels in the panel.
The Spectre x360 is the first device we’ve got our hands on that comes with Intel’s Core i7-8705G; a chip birthed out of the Intel and AMD partnership.
Running the eighth-generation Kaby Lake-R CPU architecture – rather than Coffee Lake – the quad-core, eight-thread chip runs at 3.10GHz and boosts to 4.1GHz, while sharing some silICOn with AMD’s Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics accelerator, which has 4GB of HBM2 memory to tap into.
This mash-up chip has enough processor grunt for an all manner of tasks, including some video rendering, while the GPU is in the performance ballpark of an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti.
Alongside the AMD-Intel love-in chip sits 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and storage comes in the form of a 1TB PCIe NVMe M.2 solid state drive that’s nice and nippy.
Throwing some benchmarks at the processor we see it gets a very respectable 4,700 in GeekBench 4’s single-core test and grabs a 16,259 multi-core score. In Cinebench R15, the CPU render test saw the processor score an impressive 729. In the common computing test in PC Mark 8, the x360 hit a high score of 4,058; it’s a decent little performer all-in-all.
In real-world terms, this means the i7-870G will chew through pretty much any general computing workload in Windows 10 you can throw at it. And it makes zipping through the OS and bouncing between apps a very slick process.
But the x360 is also a machine that can handle gaming with a surprising aplomb. It’s no gaming laptop by any stretch of the imagination, but it can still handle some of the more demanding games out there providing you can stomach gaming below 60 frames per second with some graphical bells and whistles turned off.
We had to first get games to correctly identify the integrated Vega M GPU, which was an unwanted faff. Once we did, we booted up The Witcher 3.
Running with everything turned up except the performance pounding ‘Hairworks’ and HBAO+ post-processing, The Witcher 3 ran at 30fps at 1080p – there’s no way the Vega M can handle gaming at the x360’s native 4K resolution.
It’s a tad choppy in some areas but otherwise, the rather graphically intensive game runs fine; dropping settings will get a better frame rate, but smooth 60fps was still quite an ask.
As was the case with the demanding Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which ran at 30fps at full-whack. Again, dropping settings can smooth things out, but then one loses some of the sumptuous detail of near-future dystopian Prague.
While Titanfall 2 refused to show up a 1080p resolution, so we settled with around 720p, it ran at 60fps – needed for such a shooter – with high settings.
So while the x360 isn’t a dedicated gaming machine it still does a good job of running modern titles and we reckon the performance it pushes out is akin to console-quality gaming if not higher.
It’s worth noting that the fan noise ramps up when gaming, though not to intolerable levels.
It gets hot as well; we were gaming on a sweltering London summer’s day so the temperatures were expected to get a bit toasty. But the keyboard started to get a little too warm and parts of the laptop were uncomfortable to touch for too long – this is certainly not a machine you want on your lap when running demanding games.
Connect an Xbox One controller to the x360, which is a doddle thanks to Windows 10 support, and flip the machine so it’s screen is propped up by the keyboard, and it can be turned into a nice little portable gaming machine – though you’ll likely want to have it plugged in as performance needs power.
Speaking of power, the battery life is a disappointment. It only manages six hours of general use, which from an all-purpose machine may not be enough for people who envisage using the x360 away from a power socket for a working day.
That lacklustre battery life is probably a result of having capable graphics performance plonked onto the same chipset as an equally capable processor. We think that’s an alright compromise for the compute power on offer, but fans of energy-efficient ultraportables might not agree.
HP seems to have aimed the Spectre x360 to be everything to everyone. And it almost succeeds, in that it’ll work well as a day-to-day work laptop with the ability to run modern games once the clock hits 5:30, while the 360-degree hinge means it’s a decent canvas for digital art or in our case scribbling.
However, it doesn’t necessarily excel at any of those areas. It’s too heavy and power-hungry to be a real ultraportable workhorse, it’s too bulky to work as a slick convertible, and the gaming performance can’t compete with a specialist gaming laptop.
At nearly £2,000 it’s not a cheap machine either, but then there are MacBook Pros around that price tag that don’t offer the performance or the flexibility of the x360.
As such, it’s really a niche device, with only the Dell XPS 2-in-1 offering the same convertible chops and the Core i7-8705G chip in a slightly more compact package with the fancy InfinityEdge display. So it’s lacking competition in the jack-of-all-trades machine market.
One could argue a fully-kitted out Surface Book 2 with discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics and a prober hybrid setup could be an alternative. But that device is also in its own niche and is a good bit more expensive.
So if you want a laptop that’s suitable for solid work and play, while also able to do some display gymnastics, then the Spectre x360 15 is definitely worth considering, providing you have a spare two grand to splash. µ
Gorgeous design, impressive performance, lovely keyboard.
Lacklustre battery life, bulky body, noisy fans.
Slippery trackpad, big-ish bezels, gets hot when under strain
Source : Inquirer