HP Spectre X360 (late 2016) Laptop Review
HP crafts the most beautiful 2-in-1 money can buy
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Last year, HP impressed us with its shiny new Spectre X360 models. These laptops took a page from Lenovo's book, featuring 360-degree hinges clearly "inspired" by the now-famous Yoga but with a premium, polished aluminum sheen.
Just in time for Intel's 7th generation (aka Kaby Lake) chips, HP has done a deep rethink on its original concept. The new HP Spectre X360 (MSRP $1,049.99, $1,299.99 as tested) is thinner, lighter, and more future-proof than ever before. Unlike some companies that think the way forward is by ditching old USB ports in lieu of the new USB-C standard, HP has given users 2 USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports...with a single old-school USB so you have a useful port ready to use with your existing peripherals—no dongle required.
Even though I find the trackpad a little finicky compared to what Dell and Microsoft offer on their devices, I was stunned by how excellent this HP is. It's more than worthy of getting our Editors' Choice award, and deserves a place alongside tried-and-true PCs like the Dell XPS 13. If you're in the market for a 2-in-1 laptop, put this HP high on your list.
About the HP Spectre X360 (late 2016)
HP has narrowed its Spectre X360 offerings for this second generation version, putting out only three models with varying specs. We reviewed the following top-tier model priced at a reasonable $1,300:
•Intel Core i7-7500U dual-core processor
•16 GB LPDDR3 RAM
•512 GB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD
•13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS touchscreen
•WiFi AC/Bluetooth 4.1
•Intel RealSense webcam for Windows Hello
•57.8 Wh internal battery
It's worth noting that even though HP uses speedy, standard M.2 SSDs that you can upgrade later on, the RAM inside the Spectre X360 is fixed. Buy as much as you think you'll need up-front, since you can't add more later.
What We Like
An unbelievably pretty, well-crafted 2-in-1
I was impressed with HP's previous Spectre designs, taking both the svelte Spectre and the beautiful Spectre X360 into consideration. Since HP's consumer division broke off from its enterprise arm, its PCs are getting more experimental and design-focused. Premium products like this new Spectre X360 are a far cry from the chintzy, cheap machines that put companies like HP on top. In fact, there are some lessons here that even Apple could learn from.
The new Spectre X360 might look quite a bit like the old one, but, in fact, it's a total redesign. HP's drilled down and left no fat on the new X360, trimming off the edges like a parent might cleave the crust from a kid's PB&J. The smaller footprint is accomplished with the help of a screen that all but eliminates the side bezels to nothing. It's not as striking as Dell's XPS InfinityEdge screens, but there's an advantage here: the bigger top bezel can hold a webcam, whereas Dell's extreme solution shoves the camera down into one corner. You won't look weird on Skype calls or Google Hangouts while using the Spectre.
This 2-in-1's all-metal design is thinner and lighter too, but doesn't sacrifice on the critical elements of a quality laptop experience. For instance, the keyboard is phenomenally good. Though it's slightly shallower than before, it has a crispness that doesn't feel sudden or uncomfortable, unlike Apple's MacBook. The entire keyboard is a little off-center due to a row of right-hand home/pg up/pg down/delete keys, but other than that, the Spectre X360 gives you a top-notch typing experience.
From its polished edges, to its super minimalist new HP logo, and even its detailed, laser-cut speaker grill, HP's proven yet again that it has the chops to put out computers that are as attractive and solid-feeling as anybody out there. Even HP's new AC adapter is an improvement over the generic black matte plastic bricks of yore.
Ports bridge the gap between past and future
If you've been watching Apple's latest Mac laptops, you'll find that on the Mac side, everyday ports are quickly going by the wayside. Both the skinny MacBook and latest MacBook Pro models have replaced the majority of ports with USB-C. HP, on the other hand, has helped ease the transition by pairing 2 USB-C/Thunderbolt ports with a single, ordinary USB 3.0 port on the left side. And, yes, there is a headphone jack, too.
Say "Hello!" to facial recognition login
One of the best features on Windows PCs is Windows Hello. The HP Spectre X360 sports a webcam with depth-sensing that lets you quickly and easily log in with your face. This works like magic most of the time, and it's great to see it included as standard here. Competing ultrabooks like the Asus ZenBook 3 and Dell XPS 13 both can't or just don't include the requisite camera to make this feature come to life, and it's a pity.
Excellent battery life
In our intensive battery test, there are few laptops that escape scrutiny without being a disappointment. Especially in a thin laptop like the new Spectre X360, battery often gets sacrificed to keep the weight and thickness down. What HP did here is astonishing, since it outpaced its i7-packing competition by quite a bit.
The HP Spectre X360 lasted 3 hours and 42 minutes in our PCMark 8 Home test, nearly 3/4 of an hour longer than models like Asus's ZenBook 3 and significantly longer than the latest Razer Blade Stealth.
The battery capacity is impressive at 57.8 Wh, even though the Spectre is smaller than before and weighs under three pounds. In the real world, I'd say that the Spectre will last just about all day, even with the more powerful i7 chip version.
What We Don't Like
Trackpad is fine, but behind Dell and Microsoft
I've griped about HP's trackpads for a while now, and I gotta admit that the new Spectre X360 has improved quite a bit. It's glass, and plenty big for smooth scrolling and has a satisfying click action. It's far bigger than the slightly shrunken unit we sampled in the Spectre earlier this year, too.
What's not as great is the lack of compatibility with Microsoft's built-in Precision Touchpad software. I find Precision-compatible touchpads to be way better, whether it's in the Surface Book or in Dell's affordable Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1. Scrolling here on the HP just isn't as satisfying, and lacks accuracy when it comes to handy multitasking gestures in Windows 10. I also found myself accidentally selecting text on websites while trying to scroll down.
Furthermore, if you want to make changes, you'll have to dig deep to find the Synaptics control panel, whereas Precision-equipped laptops conveniently stash their settings in the global Settings app.
I wouldn't call this a dealbreaker, but in my eyes, it puts the otherwise excellent Spectre X360 ever-so-slightly behind other premium models like the Dell XPS 13.
McAfee is included...uninstall and don't look back.
This is a minor sticking point for me, but McAfee can be a little obnoxious. HP means well, but given that the Spectre X360 comes with a short, 90-day subscription, you'll be seeing dialog boxes asking you to pay up in no time. I find that going with the free, built-in Windows Defender will work perfectly well for most users, as long as you use common sense while out and about online.
HDMI, SD card get kicked to the curb
Even though the transition to Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C is made a little easier thanks to a standard USB port, there are a couple handy ports that got the axe in the name of making the Spectre X360 smaller than ever. Unfortunately, you'll miss out on ports the prior Spectre X360 had, namely a convenient video-out (this has neither DisplayPort nor HDMI). Photographers will also be saddened by the lack of an SD card slot, but given how tiny HP's made this latest Spectre, it leaves plenty of space in your bag for an adapter.
Should You Buy It?
Yes! Beautiful and fairly priced, this is the best HP in ages.
It's a strange time when HP builds hardware up there with the likes of Apple, but I'd say that's just about what the new Spectre X360 represents. Whereas Apple is happy to sell shoppers a watered-down entry-level 2016 MacBook Pro for $1,500 or a crusty old MacBook Air for $1,000, HP splits the difference here with a modern notebook that's fast and beautiful in its own right.
Maxed out with an i7 and 16 GB RAM for just $1300, HP stands to win over disaffected Mac users looking for a model with a USB they can use today, a full-sized touchscreen, and a keyboard that isn't painful to use for more than a half-hour. Add in solid battery life and twin forward-looking Thunderbolt 3 ports, and it becomes clear that HP's knocked it out of the park. Sure, there's no SD card reader or an HDMI port for video, but these slim machines are going this way, and adapters are going to become commonplace before long.
Given the choice between this and a rock-solid option like the Dell XPS 13, I'd probably take the Dell due to my trackpad preferences, but the HP gets your blood pumping in a way that other premium computers don't. It's super hard to pick between the two.
If you want top-tier portable power without Apple's price tag attached, HP has delivered the goods in a big way with the new Spectre X360.