When the original MacBook Air was launched by Apple back in 2011, it inspired Intel to try and change what Windows laptops could be. You see, until then, Windows laptops were notoriously un-cool, cheap and flimsy devices – the antithesis of what HP’s Spectre 13 2017 would ultimately shape up to be.
Intel’s efforts resulted in the best Ultrabooks, and several years later, the best laptops are now thinner, lighter and more powerful than ever before. The Ultrabook has reached a level of near perfection that the MacBook Air hasn’t held for years – even after the 2018 refresh.
We were sent the HP Spectre 13 for testing, as proof of the Ultrabook revolution. Coming in at just 0.41 inches thin, the HP Spectre 13 achieves levels of portability and aesthetics that would make Apple jealous. And, the HP Spectre 13 manages to do this without compromising on performance or 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
You’ll find the HP Spectre 13 for $1,499, and it rivals the $1,349 (£1,218, AU$2,099) Dell XPS 13.
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.
In the UK there are two different models of the HP Spectre 13 available, starting at £1,599. This model is mostly the same as the one listed to the right, but with a 4K touch display and a larger SSD. However, it appears that the Spectre 13 is discontinued in the UK, though you can still find it at third-party retailers
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.
Throughout the last couple years, HP has revolutionized its design approach, to the point where it’s really hard to criticize its laptops. 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.
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.
The beautiful gold trim, which bedecks the two-prong hinge and the edges of the HP Spectre 13, has become a signature element of every product 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.
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.
One area where we would argue that MacBooks are still in the lead is the trackpad. On the Spectre 13, you can touch or, if you want to put some force behind it, click the touchpad, but you can’t personalize the amount of force it takes for a clike to register or the sound it makes when it does.
The comparisons to the Macbook Pro don’t end there, though, Apple’s flagship is 11.97 inches wide and 8.36 inches deep, but 0.59 inches high. Still, the HP Spectre 13 gives the impression that it occupies far less space than the 2017 Macbook Pro we used to write this review.
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.
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.
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.
In this case, Thunderbolt 3 is the future – an interface that leverages the amazing USB-C port for transferring data, displaying video and charging the device, on top of charging outside devices connected to it. It’s a reversible plug, too, so that you can use it in the dark easily. 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
- Images Credit: TechRadar