When Apple launched the original MacBook Air back in 2011, Intel went on a journey to redefine what a Windows laptop was capable of. Until then, Windows laptops had a reputation of being notoriously cheap, shoddy and unhip devices – exactly the opposite of the HP Spectre 13.
Intel’s quest resulted in the best Ultrabooks, and several years later, the best laptops keep getting thinner, lighter and more powerful by the minute – the Ultrabook has reached a level of near perfection that we haven’t seen from the MacBook Air in quite a while.
As evidence of the success of the Ultrabook, HP sent us the HP Spectre 13 for review. Coming in at just 0.41 inches thick, the HP Spectre 13 has achieved a level of perfection that we haven’t seen from any other manufacturer in a long time. What’s more, the HP Spectre 13 achieves all of this without compromising on high-level performance and great value.
Here is the HP Spectre 13 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U (quad-core, 8MB cache, up to 4GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 8GB LPDDR3-2133 SDRAM
Screen: 13.3-inch, FHD (1,920 x 1,080) micro-edge WLED-backlit multi-touch IPS
Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD (NVMe M.2)
Ports: 2 x Thunderbolt 3, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 1, 1 x headphone/microphone combo
Connectivity: Intel 802.11b/g/n/ac (2x2) Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.2
Cameras: HP Wide Vision HD Camera with dual-array digital microphone
Weight: 2.45 pounds (1.11kg)
Size: 12.03 x 8.83 x 0.41 inches (30.56 x 22.4 x 1.04cm; W x D x H)
Price and availability
Before Black Friday and Cyber Monday come around, you’ll find the HP Spectre 13 for $1,499, and it rivals the $1,349 (about £1,000, AU$1,760) Dell XPS 13. However, as of this writing, it looks like the HP Spectre 13 is out of stock in the US.
For that price, you’re signing up for a zippy Intel Core i7-8550U processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of PCIe-based SSD storage space and a 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080-pixel touch display.
Granted, the Dark Ash Silver Spectre 13 starts at $1,249 and comes with an Intel Core i5-8250U instead of an i7.
Over in the UK, you’ll be able to pick from two different HP Spectre 13 configurations, starting at £1,599. This model is mostly the same as we reviewed, but with a 4K touch display and a larger SSD.
The HP Spectre 13 is also available in Australia, starting at AU$2,699 for the model we reviewed here.
If there was ever a reason to shell out 120 clams over the best-in-class Dell XPS 13 in favor of the HP Spectre 13, it’s that the latter is a looker. In deservedly praising companies like Razer for their design accomplishments, HP shouldn’t go overlooked.
Over the last few years, HP has completely revolutionized its approach to design, to a point where it’s getting extremely difficult to criticize its products. The elegant gold trim, which bedecks the discrete, two-prong hinge as well as the edges of the HP Spectre 13, have become a signature element of every laptop in the HP Spectre family.
These hinges stand out in the HP Spectre 13, just like the previous model, but there’s more to admire this time around. HP took the phenomenal design we loved last year, and downsized the screen bezels so much that the HP Spectre 13’s predecessor looks like a relic in comparison.
Today, the HP Spectre 13 is 12.03-inches wide and 8.83-inches deep. Bearing in mind that last year’s Spectre was already exceptionally thin and light, this is a welcome refinement over the 12.8-inch width and 9.03 inch depth we were graced with before.
Meanwhile, the keyboard feels like a full chiclet, akin to the Apple Magic Keyboard for iMacs rather than what we’ve experienced with the MacBook Pro’s dinky butterfly switches that are susceptible to getting stuck.
The Dell XPS 13, on the other hand, comes in at 11.98 inches wide and 7.88 inches deep, making it the more compact notebook of the three – at least in those areas. In terms of thickness, the XPS 13 is generally fatter, thanks to its ascending height of up to 0.6 inches (again, compared to the 0.41-inch HP Spectre 13) when the lid is closed.
The MacBook Pro, on the other hand, is 11.97 inches wide and 8.36 inches deep, but 0.59 inches high. Having said that, the HP Spectre 13 gives the impression that it occupies far less space than the 2017 MacBook Pro we used to write this review.
Still, there was a glaring difference in the screen resolution that gives Apple’s laptops the clear-cut advantage. In a world where our 5-inch phone screens are exceeding 400, sometimes 500, pixels-per-inch (PPI), the 166 PPI pixel density of the HP Spectre 13 is approaching unacceptability for a laptop that costs over a grand.
The good news is that, upon ordering the HP Spectre 13, you can net yourself a much sharper 4K Ultra HD screen for an additional charge of $150 in the US. As it stands, we highly recommend doing that, especially if you’re accustomed to flagship smartphone screens at it is.
There’s also the trackpad, one area we would argue MacBooks remain in the forefront. You can touch or, if you want to put some muscle into it, click the touchpad on the HP Spectre 13, but you can’t personalize the amount of force it takes for a click to register or the sound it makes when it does. That’s where Ultrabooks, including this one, struggle the most.
A port in a storm
Like the MacBook Pro, the HP Spectre 13 doesn’t have a lot of ports in tow. This is probably the point in our review where you’ll decide whether you hate the device or you’re willing to overlook the sparse ports, because you understand that it’s a necessary compromise for the sake of mobility and that you’re investing in the future of inputs.
That future is Thunderbolt 3, an interface that leverages the infamous USB Type-C port for transferring data, displaying video and charging the device that houses the port in addition to charging outside devices connected to it. It’s reversible, too, so that it’s easier to use in the dark than its predecessor. In other words, it’s meant to be the be-all end-all of ports.
The problem is that, although Apple has been using USB-C exclusively in its MacBooks since 2015, there aren’t a lot of accessories out there that use it natively even still.
Making matters worse, the HP Spectre 13 only rocks three USB-C ports and a headphone jack, the USB, HDMI and DisplayPort accessories you currently own will require a dongle. While two of these USB-C ports are Thunderbolt 3, with data transfer rates of up to 40 Gigabits per second, power delivery and DisplayPort 1.2, the other is a slower and less versatile USB 3.1 Gen 1 port ideal for charging.
Luckily, HP thought of this when it sent us the Spectre 13 for review. Out of the box, we were given adapters for USB 3.0, HDMI and RJ45 Ethernet to USB Type-C. After contacting a customer service representative at HP, however, it turns out that, alas, none of these accessories are included in the retail version of the Spectre 13.
But, enough about ports, let’s talk performance.
First reviewed November 2017