HP Spectre x360 (2021): two-minute review
It’s hard to improve on a winning formula but the HP Spectre x360 (2021) has done just that. It raises the bar of what to expect out of these laptops now that it comes with Intel’s Evo certification.
To meet Intel’s standards, HP had to not only improve upon the laptop’s performance but its design and battery life as well. In fact, it lasted almost 13 hours in our PCMark 10 battery life test.
This makes the 2021 refresh of the Spectre x360 one of the best laptops out there right now, building on everything we loved in our HP Spectre x360 (2020) review. Whether you’re concerned about battery life and want something that can hang with Chromebooks and MacBooks during long workdays, need something portable enough to easily take on the go, or want something powerful, the HP will be able to satisfy just about any user outside of hardcore gamers.
With that said, the HP Spectre x360 takes some missteps. It’s a bit clumsy when in tablet mode since it’s a bit too big to comfortably use in that mode. If that’s a crucial feature for you and you want a laptop that’s as easy to use no matter what form factor it’s in, you might want to consider a Surface Pro 7 or iPad instead, which are thin and light tablets that can be used with keyboards.
Our other issue is that the fans become quite loud when you’re using the laptop – and, on occasion, even when you’re not. A few times we heard the fans kick even when the Spectre x360 was closed. It’s the one area of the design that doesn't feel completely premium.
Aside from those issues, this is a supremely accomplished laptop that’s great for day-to-day use, including work. However, with starting prices of $1,349/£1,199/AU$3,339 (various markets have different starting configurations), it's pricey. If you have the budget for it, though, you won’t be disappointed.
HP Spectre x360: price and availability
- How much is it? Starting at $1,149 / £1,199 / AU$3,399
- When can you get it? The HP Spectre x360 (2021) is available now
- Where can you get it? The HP Spectre x360 (2021) is available in the US, UK, and Australia
The HP Spectre x360 (2021) is available in a variety of configurations and prices. Prices start at $1,149.99 in the US, for a model with an Intel Core i5 -1135G7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
In the UK, the base model costs £1,199.99 and comes with an Intel Core i5 -1135G7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.
Then there’s a version with an Intel Core i7 -1165G7 processor, 16GB of R AM and a 512GB SSD, which is the version on review here. It costs $1,349.99/£1,399.99.
There's also a model with the same CPU and RAM, but with a 1TB SSD and a 4K OLED screen for £1,699.99.
In addition, the Spectre x360 comes with various screen sizes: 13 inches (the version we’re testing), 15 inches, and 13.5 inches (which has a taller 16:10 aspect ratio).
Here is the HP Spectre x360 (2021) configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7 (quad-core, up to 4.7GHz Boost)
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
RAM: 16GB LPDDR4 (3200MHz)
Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1080p) touch
Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
Ports: 1x USB-A 3.1, 2 x Thunderbolt 4, microSD card reader, combi audio jack
Connectivity: Intel Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5
Camera: HP TrueVision HD 1080p IR Webcam
Weight: 2.8 pounds (1.3kg)
Size (W x D x H): 12.08 x 7.66 x 0.67 ins (306 x 194.5 x 16.9 mm)
In Australia, you can get the 13-inch model with an Intel Core i7-1165G7, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for AU$3,399. It's also available with the Core i7, 16GB of RAM, a 4K OLED screen and a 2TB SSD for AU$4,599.
Like models in the UK and US, there are numerous configurations available, including models with 14-inch and 15-inch screen sizes.
So, as you can see, there's plenty of choice available for those in the market for a new HP Spectre x360 – but we'd hesitate to say there's a model for every budget. Even the cost of the base models exceed those of many other laptops. This is a seriously premium laptop – which means it needs to work hard to justify its high price.
HP Spectre x360: design
- Stunning design
- Good amount of ports
- A better laptop than tablet
With a premium price you expect a premium design, and HP certainly delivers with the HP Spectre x360 (2021). To be honest, we never had any doubt that it would; the previous model was one of the nicest-looking laptops we've had the pleasure of reviewing.
So, it comes as little surprise that the new model is yet another gorgeous laptop from HP. Design-wise, the Spectre x360 is basically identical to the previous model – which is no bad thing, considering how impressed we were with its looks.
The Spectre x360 arrives with a brushed-metal design that's available in several color combinations. The 360-degree hinge, which allows the screen to flip back completely, turning the Spectre x360 into a tablet-like device, feels solid and reliable. The right-hand side is engraved with the word ‘Spectre’ – a nice touch that further cements the Spectre x360’s overall premium feel.
In terms of connections, you get an audio-in jack and full-size USB port on the right (the inclusion of a full-size USB port is a nice touch for such a thin and light laptop), plus two USB-C ports, a microSD port and a physical webcam kill switch on the left.
The latter allows you to turn off the webcam when it isn't in use; it's a great feature for people concerned about their privacy. It’s definitely a big selling point, and that – along with the full-size USB port and microSD slot – show that it is possible for a thin and light laptop to incorporate multiple connections without compromising design. It certainly puts the two USB-C ports of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) and MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) to shame.
Open up the HP Spectre x360 and you’re presented with a bright and vibrant screen, surrounded by extremely thin bezels. This gives the device a modern look, while keeping the overall size of the laptop down.
It’s another case of a Windows 10 laptop looking more stylish than an Apple MacBook – something both HP and Intel will be pleased to learn, and is yet another reason for Apple to consider updating its MacBook designs.
The keyboard is large and enjoyable to use, with the keys offering decent travel. They’re also backlit, so you can comfortably use them in the dark.
The touchpad is nice and responsive. It's wider than you’d expect on a 13-inch laptop, providing a bit more room to move your fingers. There’s also a fingerprint scanner to the right of the touchpad for logging into Windows 10.
Similar to HP's provision of ports, the company has found a way of cramming a large keyboard and trackpad into a small body. It’s a seriously impressive design feat, and means the HP Spectre x360 doesn’t only look good, it feels good to use as well.
Flipping the screen entirely back, using the Spectre x360 as a tablet-like device, the large touchscreen works well. However, while this is a thin and light laptop, compared to tablets such as the iPad, the Spectre x360 actually feels heavy and bulky.
Having the option to use the laptop in this way is certainly welcome, but it isn't an ideal replacement for a standard tablet. The Spectre x360 is far more successful as a laptop.
HP Spectre x360: performance
- Upgraded 11th-gen Intel processors
- Not really good for gaming
The biggest upgrade on the HP Spectre x360 (2021) over the previous model are its components and performance, with the laptop being a showcase for Intel’s latest mobile processors.
The review unit we were sent in for review features an Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor. This is a quad-core unit that can achieve boost speeds of up to 4.70GHz, which marks a decent leap over the Intel Core i7-1065G7 (the previous generation CPU) included in last year’s model.
As you can see in our Cinebench and Geekbench results, the new Spectre x360 delivers a lift in performance compared to last year’s model, with a single-core score of 1,317 compared to the previous model’s 1,259. It isn't a huge leap, but it’s an increase nonetheless. The Intel Core i7-1065G7 was a pretty great mobile processor anyway, so it’s good that Intel has built on its solid foundation.
Here’s how the HP Spectre x360 (2021) performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
Cinebench R20: 1,430 points
GeekBench 5: 1,317 (single-core); 4,541 (multi-core)
PCMark 10 (Home Test): 4,721 points
PCMark 10 Battery Life: 12 hours 52 minutes
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 11 hours 22 minutes
Overall, as a result of the new CPU, along with a hefty 16GB of RAM, the HP Spectre x360 is a great little performer, with Windows 10 feeling fast and responsive. Multi-tasking, with numerous apps open at once, alongside plenty of Edge tabs too, didn’t really serve to slow down the Spectre x360’s performance, either.
For day-to-day use, then, the Spectre x360 delivers the sort of performance you'd expect of a premium laptop at this price point. You certainly won’t be disappointed.
However, one of the biggest upgrades to come alongside the new Tiger Lake CPUs such as the Intel Core i7-1165G7 is the inclusion of Intel Iris Xe graphics. This is an integrated GPU that promises to offer vastly improved performance compared to previous integrated graphics, and could even rival some discrete GPUs.
While the Spectre x360 certainly isn't one of the best gaming laptops out there, it could feasibly run some of the best PC games that don't have especially steep hardware requirements and will definitely do better than a lot of other thin and light laptops out there.
While Cyberpunk 2077 at full graphical settings isn't on that list, Intel has claimed it could play GTA 5 at over 60fps, while esports games such as Rocket League, League of Legends and CS:GO – which are less graphically demanding, but require fast performance – could be playable on the right settings.
So, of course, we attempted to play a few games on the HP Spectre x360. As we've mentioned, this definitely isn't a gaming laptop, but we wanted to see if it would be possible to play games at the end of the day, when you want to unwind after a hard day at work.
The answer is: sort of. Total War: Three Kingdoms managed only 30fps on low settings. Anything more demanding was unplayable. We also fired up Ori and the Will of the Wisps – a visually stunning 2D platform game, which despite looking great, is less taxing than a lot of other modern games.
Unfortunately, we had to drop graphical settings to low, and scale down the resolution, to achieve smooth gameplay. As such, while it was possible to play modern games such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, it was only with big sacrifices to graphical fidelity. So, don’t give up the day job, Spectre x360.
One thing to note, is that even while performing relatively low-powered tasks, such as downloading an app, the fans of the Spectre x360 will kick in. In a way, it’s understandable, since this is a super-thin laptop that needs to keep its components cool.
However, it proved annoying, and was in sharp contrast to the silent operation we saw in our Apple MacBook Air (M1) review, which has a fanless design.
HP Spectre x360: battery life
- Solid, half-day battery life
- Fast Charging capable
- Intel Evo Certified
One of the biggest quality of life improvements Intel is pushing with its Intel Evo platform is long battery life, and the HP Spectre x360 (2021) doesn’t disappoint here. It lasted an excellent 11 hours and 22 minutes in our own battery life test, which loops a 1080p video file at 50% brightness until the battery dies.
The previous HP Spectre x360 also performed well in this test, scoring 10 hours and 55 minutes. Nevertheless, the extra half an hour is welcome, and it means the more powerful components haven’t come at the cost of battery life.
We also ran the intensive PCMark 10 battery life test on the laptop, which replicates day-to-day use such as web browsing and video calling. Here, the Spectre x360 managed almost 13 hours – again, a very impressive achievement and a big leap over the previous model’s four-hour result (on PCMark 8).
As such, the Spectre x360's battery is nice and balanced; it's able to last equally well in both light- and medium-use cases. You’ll easily get through a full work day on this laptop, which makes it an excellent tool for business users who are looking for a device that offers superb performance, fantastic looks, and won’t need to be plugged in until they return home.
HP Spectre x360: software and features
The HP Spectre x360 (2021) is premium enough that it isn't overwhelmed by bloatware, and – being a 2-in-1 touchscreen – also comes with an HP Tilt Pen. There is also a physical webcam killswitch, which is something that should be standard on every laptop in 2021, but many still haven't gotten with the program.
Even better, the HP killswitch is a physical shutter over the camera rather than a software webcam deactivation, since in the latter case, malicious actors can reactivated your webcam remotely with a little bit of malware. Software killswitches are really only good enough to let you easily shut off your camera when you need to step away from the meeting, but that's about it.
HP has been a real leader on the physical shutter front (along with Lenovo), and as such, we will never miss an opportunity to commend either company for caring about its customers' privacy and consistently implementing privacy shutters. More manufacturers need to follow their example.
Should you buy an HP Spectre x360 (2021)?
If you're still seriously considering the HP Spectre x360 (2021), we can safely say you're almost certainly not going to be disappointed, but even though it's one of the best 2-in-1 laptops you're going to find anywhere, it's not going to be the right fit for everybody.
Buy it if...
You want a stylish laptop
The HP Spectre x360 really does look and feel premium, sporting one of the best designs we’ve seen in a laptop.
You want a powerful laptop for day-to-day use
The new 11th-generation mobile CPU from Intel means Windows 10 runs extremely well, and the laptop is even capable of a bit of light gaming.
You’re after all-day battery life
The battery life of the HP Spectre x360 is excellent; it will easily last you a full work or school day. Even on long transatlantic flights (remember those?), this laptop should last the journey.
Don't buy it if...
You just want a tablet
The Spectre x360 can double as a tablet-like device, but it’s bigger, bulkier and more expensive. If you just want a tablet, there are better options out there.
You want a silent laptop
The fans of the Spectre x360 kick in a little bit too readily, which means this is a laptop that can get noisy in use. The new MacBook Air, with its fanless design, shows how it’s done.
You’re on a budget
This laptop with a premium design and premium features also comes with a premium price tag.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6
Lenovo ThinkPad Yogas are consistently among the best 2-in-1 laptops, and the X1 Yoga Gen 6 is one of the best of the best. In terms of price and performance, it can go toe-to-toe with the HP Spectre x360. It does have more of an enterprise focus though, so there are some extra business-y features that bump the price up a bit more than the Spectre x360's.
Read the full Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6 review
Asus ZenBook Flip 15
The Asus ZenBook Flip 15 is a premium 2-in-1 that offers some great features like a 4K display, a ScreenPad trackpad for extra functionality, and more. It's priced competitively against the Spectre x360, so it's definitely one to check out before clicking on the order button.
Read the full Asus ZenBook Flip 15 review
This review was originally published on February 1, 2021.