The HP Folio Spectre is a gorgeously-designed convertible laptop that looks – and feels – incredibly premium. That’s just as well, really, as the price tag is just as luxurious.
Impressive build quality
Speakers aren’t great
Battery life isn’t as long as promised.
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That’s a pretty huge promise, especially as we’ve seen a number of innovative designs that have changed how we think about PCs.
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While the HP Spectre Folio is certainly a nicely-put together device, with a design that HP describes as “modern vintage meets technology,” is it really that revolutionary? At the launch event, HP boasted that the Spectre Folio “basically has no flaws,” another seriously bold claim.
While we have to admire HP’s bravado when talking about the Spectre Folio, we’ve now got a unit in to test out just how well the HP Spectre Folio can live up to the hype.
Here is the HP Spectre Folio configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: 1.5GHz Intel Core i7-8500Y (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 4.2GHz)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615
RAM: 8GB LPDDR3
Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD
Ports: 3 x USB-C (1 x USB 3.1, 2x Thunderbolt 3), headset jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac (2.4 & 5GHz); Bluetooth 5, Intel XMM 7560 LTE-Advanced Pro
Weight: 3.3 pounds (1.50kg)
Size: 12.60 x 9.21 x 0.60 inches (320 x 234 x 15.2mm)
(W x D x H)
Price and availability
HP didn’t just make bold claims about he HP Spectre Folio, it’s also giving it a bold price tag: $1,299 (AU$2,799) for entry-level model. This comes with an Intel Core i5-8200Y fanless processor, 8GB of DDR3 memory and a 256GB M.2 SSD.
The screen is a 13.4-inch 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) WLED touchscreen that’s protected by Corning Gorilla Glass. While this version is available in the US and Australia, it's not available in the UK.
There is also a version with a Core i7-8500Y processor with an LTE modem attached for wireless connectivity anywhere, plus the same amount of RAM and storage as the version above. This costs $1,499 (£1,499).
Australia doesn’t get that model, but it does get a unique Spectre Folio with the Core i7-8500Y processor, along with 16GB of LPDDR3 RAM and a 512GB M.2 SSD for AU$3,399.
It’s a bit of a shame that this fully specced-out version isn’t available to buy worldwide, at least for the moment.
These prices pit the HP Spectre Folio against flagship laptops like the 12-inch MacBook and the Asus ZenBook 3. It’s also comparable in price with the Surface Pro if you buy one with the keyboard cover included.
It’s a pricey proposition, then, with fierce competition, which means HP needs to pull out all the stops to make the Spectre Folio worth the considerable sums of money it is asking for.
Perhaps one area the HP Spectre Folio can really claim to ‘reinvent’ the PC is in its design, with the Spectre Folio built directly into a piece of genuine leather. Now, this isn’t as revolutionary as many people may have hoped for, but it does give the Spectre Folio a unique look and feel that sets it apart from other premium laptops.
You see, this isn’t just a leather cover that slips over the laptop – the leather is a part of the laptop. So, when closed, the HP Spectre Folio closes much like a magazine or a book, hence the ‘Folio’ moniker.
You can also use the HP Folio Spectre as a laptop, in a media mode and as a tablet, and the leather case slides into various positions with ease, supporting the screen depending on which mode you use.
Behind the screen is a seam in the folio case that allows the device to transform into various modes. Pull the screen toward the touchpad for a convenient way to watch movies and videos.
This covers the keyboard with the screen, but still gives you access to the trackpad for controlling media playback (as well as using the touchscreen). Pull the screen even further toward the device’s base, and it will rest on top of the keyboard for a pure tablet mode.
When adjusting the Spectre Folio into these different modes, the laptop feels sturdy and solid. Banish any thoughts of flimsy 2-in-1 laptops with material covers, as the Folio really feels like a robust and well made bit of kit. It’s also here where you see how HP has fully integrated the leather into the design. The hinge is also strong enough for the screen to be angled when in laptop mode without the whole device tipping over. It certainly feels like a premium device.
The brown leather feels pleasant to the touch and helps keep the device in one place on otherwise slippery surfaces, like glass, marble or granite.
The WLED backlit screen is impressively vibrant, and the IPS panel offers wide viewing angles, which is useful when adjusting the screen to various modes. The screen is impressively thin, though the bezels, especially at the top, which houses a webcam, and at the bottom, which displays the HP logo, are quite thick. We’ve been spoiled by thin bezels in premium laptops like the Dell XPS 13, so they feel a little cheap and old fashioned here.
Unlike some premium devices (we’re looking at you, Surface Pro), the Spectre Folio includes a stylus, which makes the price a little more palatable. It’s got a nice heft to it when in use, and the screen reacts quickly and smoothly to drawing and writing with it. Windows 10’s robust support for stylus input must be commended here as well, as it’s put to good use by the Folio Spectre.
But, what of the keyboard? Many 2-in-1 devices that offer laptop and tablet modes often make compromises when it comes to keyboards, as they are often overly thin to make tablet mode more comfortable to hold.
The good news is that the keyboard is large and evenly spaced between keys, which makes it more comfortable to type on, and means you’re less likely to hit the wrong key, especially if you type quickly. However, as is often the case with 2-in-1 devices, the key travel is shallow, which means it doesn’t feel very responsive when typing. We much prefer keyboards that have a bit more travel, and therefore a more satisfying typing experience, but that’s the price you pay for having such a slimline laptop.
The spaces between the keys are also backlit, which offers a pleasant effect, and can help you type when in low light conditions. However, the letters themselves are not lit, so unless you can touch type without looking at the keys, it won’t be that useful in the dark.
Port-wise, you only get three USB-C ports, which can double as a power supply. It keeps the body slim, but it means if you have lots of legacy USB devices you’ll struggle for ports, and there’s no microSD slot either. It's important to note that while two of these USB-C ports are Thunderbolt 3, one is USB 3.1, which means it has a slower data transfer speed.
A standard USB to USB-C adapter is included in the box, which is a nice touch. The USB-C power adapter also has a braided fabric cable, further giving the Folio Spectre a premium and stylish look.
At 320 x 234 x 15.2mm (12.60 x 9.21 x 0.60 inches) and weighing 1.50kg (3.3lbs), this is an impressively-compact and light laptop that you can easily carry around with you. When closed, you can slip it under your arm, and in tablet mode it’s light enough to hold easily in one hand.
Combine that with its unique leather design and you’ve got a premium looking – and feeling – laptop quite unlike anything we’ve seen before. It certainly makes a statement.
It’s also worth noting that at the moment it only comes in genuine leather, so if you have ethical concerns about using leather, you’ll want to steer clear of this device.
Another feature we’re pleased to see in the HP Folio Spectre is a SIM port for mobile LTE data. This allows you to insert a SIM card into the laptop and connect to the internet via a cellular connection.
Not only does this mean you can access the internet from almost anywhere, as long as there is network coverage, but it also means you don’t have to rely on public Wi-Fi hotspots, which can often come with security implications.
While a growing number of laptops come with LTE connectivity, it’s still relatively rare, and certainly helps the HP Folio Spectre stand out among its competitors. HP also claims this is the world’s first gigabit class LTE Intel-based laptop, offering speeds comparable (and even above) home broadband connections.
Windows 10 does a great job of integrating LTE connectivity, and our review sample came with a Vodafone SIM card already installed. This meant that after setting up Windows 10 for the first time, we were able to access the internet immediately without having to connect to a Wi-Fi network and enter in a password. It’s a very handy feature that will certainly appeal to a number of people.
Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.