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HP Spectre 13 review: This stylish ultrabook conceals real power
- Surprisingly excellent performance, at least in general computing
- Lightweight, yet sturdy
- Good value for the money
- Battery life falls short of the competition’s
- 1080p display is rather basic
- Quirky keyboard could use some improvements
HP’s Spectre Laptop 13 makes some smart choices, building top-tier performance inside a stylish, lightweight chassis. Only the display and battery life are average.
Best Prices Today: Spectre Laptop 13 (af0xx)
HP’s Spectre 13 was designed for tablet lovers who don’t buy tablets. It’s a lightweight though sturdy ultrabook designed with a powerful Intel 8th-generation Core chip inside and an eye toward the future. HP’s stylish Spectre offers excellent performance for an ultrabook at a good price, making this a recommended choice.
At a light 2.4 pounds, though, the Spectre 13 is forced to make some compromises. It falls short of the “all-day” battery life that some demand, delivering about six hours in our tests. HP probably dialed down the display resolution to preserve battery life, too, so the Spectre includes a 1080p touchscreen display. The Spectre 13 also commits wholeheartedly to USB-C/Thunderbolt. You’ll need a dongle if you own older peripherals.
HP Spectre 13 specs and features
iThe Spectre 13 sandwiches a decent stack of features between its slender panels. There’s no discrete GPU, and the storage and battery are a bit spare, but Its 8th-gen Core CPU is the star.
- Display: 13.3-inch, 1920×1080 IPS touchscreen with Corning Glass NBT
- CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U ( Kaby Lake-R )
- Memory: 8GB LPDDR3 SDRAM
- Graphics: Intel UHD620 (integrated)
- Storage: 256GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
- Ports: 2 USB-C/Thunderbolt (40Gb/s data, power, DisplayPort 1.2); 1 USB-C 3.1
- Wireless: 2.2 802.11ac, Bluetooth
- Battery: 4-cell 43.7Whr lithium-ion polymer
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home
- Dimensions and weight: 12.1 x 8.9 x 0.4 inches, 2.4 pounds (3.18 pounds with adapter)
- Price: MSRP $1,310, on sale for $1,110 at press time
Note that HP also includes a range of options: up to a 1.8GHz Core i7-8550U (an additional $180), 16GB of memory ($70 more), up to a 1TB SSD ($370 additionally) and a 4K display (an additional $150).
HP Spectre 13: Build quality and display
Whether open or closed, the Spectre 13’s elegance shines through. It’s a beautifully architected notebook PC, with metallic accents that complement the understated white of the chassis. (Normally, the Spectre 13 ships in black; the Ceramic White option our test machine included is an extra $10—and worth it.) Would I have chosen a series of circular holes to replace the hexagonal slits of the fan grille? Maybe. A narrow power button to one side also feels a bit out of place. But these are just nitpicks.
The Spectre Laptop 13’s hinge, which “floats” the display above the keyboard, is a stylish touch.
Otherwise, though, the Spectre 13 inspired a round of admiring remarks as we opened it up. For some reason Apple is still held up as the model of aesthetic excellence within the computer industry, and the Spectre 13 proves.that adulation is misplaced. HP, at least, has passed it by.
At 2.4 pounds, the Spectre 13 is light, yet solidly constructed. Many aspects reminded me, though of a tablet: its weight; the power-efficient, 1080p display; and the pair of silver hinges that conceal the I/O and electric connections, slightly lifting the display above the keyboard. HP also includes a pleather laptop sleeve to protect the Spectre Laptop from nicks and scratches while in your bag.
A laptop sleeve comes standard, HP says.
The HP Spectre Laptop 13’s 1080p display pumps out 291 lumens, just above the 265 lumens or so that we normally consider ideal for average use. There’s no automatic brightness compensation, however, so you’ll need to dive into the Windows Settings menu to make any needed adjustments. About the only complaint I have about the display is the massive bottom bezel HP added too equalize the size of the display to the keyboard when closed. On one hand, it’s a jarring throwback to the laptops of the 1980s. On the other, it’s the mole that sets off the rest of the Spectre Laptop’s face.
HP Spectre Laptop 13: Ports and keyboard
On the rear of the Spectre 13 sit three USB-C ports: a dedicated charging port, and two others that can either be used for charging (the Spectre itself, or external devices) as well as I/O. Placing them to the back of the laptop keeps the cords out of the way, including the 3.5mm headphone jack that the Spectre Laptop preserves.
The power button looks like it could support a fingerprint reader, but doesn’t. Nearby sits the useless “help” (“?”) key. Why couldn’t it launch the Windows 10 “Tips” app?
Importantly, two of the ports (marked with the appropriate logo) are Thunderbolt 3, meaning they’re capable of transferring 40 Gbps data, including DisplayPort 1.2, and delivering and receiving power. The other, standalone charging port is a more generic USB-C port, capable of receiving power and transferring 5 Gbps, including DisplayPort.
USB-C still remains a somewhat dicey proposition, if only because the standard still requires users to invest in dongles to connect older devices. What HP should have done is bridge the older I/O standards to the new by including dedicated USB-C adapters within the box. And it does so, somewhat, by bundling a USB-C to USB-A adapter in the version of the Spectre Laptop it ships to Best Buy. But HP’s shopping page for the Spectre fails to list either its $24 USB-C to HDMI 2.0 adapter or the $49 USB-C to ethernet adapter , proving that the company at least needs to put more thought into the experience.
A trio of USB-C ports (and a headphone jack, not shown) are the Spectre Laptop 13’s only physical I/O ports. The two right-hand ports support the Thunderbolt high-speed I/O connection.
The keyboard of the Spectre 13 feels of/8 tight and springy, but with shallower key travel than I’d normally prefer within a notebook. It feels like a tablet keyboard, though a bit roomier, spanning 11.5 inches from the left to the right-hand side of the keyboard. That’s about three-quarters of an inch wider than the Microsoft Surface Type Covers that I’ve used frequently, though each individual key still measures about 1.6 cm across—the wider keyboard provides a bit more space between keys, basically.
The keyboard also has its quirks. A dedicated “?” key in the top row of function keys serves as a dedicated help button, but the only thing it does is launch Edge with a preprogrammed “how to get help in Windows 10” query. There’s no intelligence, no contextual awareness from app to app, rather shocking in an age where digital assistants try to learn so much about you. Why not just make it a dedicated Cortana key or launch the Windows 10 “Tips” app? Also, though the keyboard is backlit, a dedicated backlighting key toggles it on and off—always on, or always off, with no intensity gradations or gradual timeouts.
The keyboard’s backlighting is adequate, though it’s simply on and off.
The narrow gap around the touchpad gives the impression that it was shoehorned in, though it felt smooth and responsive under my fingers. Gestures operated as you’d expect.
The Spectre 13 pumps out an impressive amount of volume through its Bang & Olufsen certified speakers, with decent (for a laptop) bass and midrange. Adjusting the bass and treble using the Bang & Olufsen app’s audio controls does zilch, though, turning on Windows’ virtual 7.1 audio slightly improved the sound. In all, the Spectre’s speakers, mounted behind the keyboard, aren’t that bad. I did notice some speaker crackle crept in near the end of my review period, though.
The Spectre 13 lacks a rear camera, though the grainy front-facing TrueVision HD IR camera includes Windows Hello biometric login capabilities which worked well. A pair of IR LED lights help illuminate your face.
HP’s Spectre ships with a free trial of Minecraft for Windows 10, plus a few shovelware games apps preloaded onto the notebook. Netflix (which includes a free month’s trial) and a free promotion with Dropbox (30GB for a year, for new users) are also pre-loaded and appear on the taskbar. Microsoft’s Office 365 apps are also preloaded, though they’ll still require activation via Office 365 to be useful. (If you do subscribe, be aware that Microsoft gives you a free terabyte of storage via OneDrive, which might make the Dropbox deal extraneous.)
Our test unit shipped with three adapters for the Spectre Laptop 13, most of which you’ll have to buy yourself.
HP includes a few extras, including its own HP JumpStart introduction to its services, and an HP ePrint app. Though Windows includes its own Windows Defender antivirus software, our machine also came with an activated copy of McAfee LiveSafe, an anti-malware, firewall and Internet protection app which normally costs $80 per year.
HP Spectre Laptop 13 performance: generally excellent
Though the 8th-generation Core chip inside the HP Spectre 13 offers more capabilities than the prior 7th-generation chips, you’re probably not buying this laptop for performance alone. Still, the Laptop 13 is one of the first to include a so-called Kaby Lake Refresh chip , the very latest Intel processor at the time of this review, and it pays off. This 4-core, 8-thread chip boosts from 1.8GHz to 4.0GHz when under load, though the integrated graphics chip means that 3D performance suffers somewhat.
Great performance in such a thin (0.4 in.) form factor is outstanding.
Essentially, the Spectre 13 is best suited for office tasks, along with some light gaming and video playback. As we almost always do, we used this laptop as our work machine for several days, and also to write this review.
At this point, the vast majority of machines can handle routine home and office tasks, including web browsing, Office work, and the like. I happened to have an even 30 tabs open in Google Chrome as I wrote this review, and I didn’t notice a smidge of slowdown—though when one browser tab sucked up all the available memory, the fan kicked in. Here’s how the Spectre Laptop 13 stacks up against a variety of recent thin laptops we’ve tested. We start off strong with PCMark’s Work benchmark, which measures basic Microsoft Office-like spreadsheets and word-processing tasks.
The PCMark benchmark measures office tasks, and its Kaby Lake-R chip propels the HP Spectre 13 to the top of the heap.
PCMark also measures Home and Creative tasks, including light gaming, photo and video editing, and the like. Once again, the Spectre 13 comes out ahead.
You’ll have no problems with 2D sprite-based games like Terraria . Even basic 3D games like Minecraft ran absolutely smoothly.
Again, the native performance of the HP Spectre 13 lifts it above all of the other recent ultrabooks and tablets we’ve tested.
We also test laptops and tablets using the Maxon Cinebench benchmark, which renders a complex 2D scene using all of the available cores and threads. It’s a somewhat abstract test, but the results speak to how well the Spectre 13 processes visual tasks.
Not only is the HP Spectre 13 on top, but its performance exceeds the others by a wide margin.
A somewhat similar task uses HandBrake, an open-source tool which we use to convert a Hollywood movie into a lower-resolution format for Android tablets. If you use the Spectre 13 for intensive processing tasks, this is another real-world example of how well HP’s laptop will fare.
In our video conversion test using Handbrake, the HP Spectre Laptop 13 comes out close to the top.
Finally, we also test using the 3DMark 3D graphics tests, which ask the laptop to render several scenes, which incorporate intensive 3D graphics, object physics, or both. In the real world, I like to run spot checks of how well the hardware plays some games I’ve accumulated over the years. Crysis 3 , a seven-year-old top-tier first-person shooter, delivered about 27 frames per second at 1080p resolution and Ultimate settings, a bit too low to be playable. Surprisingly, that’s about the same frame rate that Paradox Interactive’s city builder Cities: Skylines played at, a bit more acceptable for a slower-paced game. A top-down 2D shooter, Neon Chrome , played at 60 frames per second (the maximum my monitor allowed) with no issues. Again, Minecraft looked as smooth as silk. I wouldn’t even consider trying a recent 3D shooter like Destiny 2 with the Spectre Laptop 13, however.
Otherwise, though, the Spectre 13 fared somewhat average.
One of the few tests where the HP Spectre Laptop didn’t perform all that well. Look closer, though, and you’ll see that the upper tiers consist of the 7th-gen Core i7 chips, which performed just slightly better in 3D applications. The two 8th-gen ultrabooks are neck and neck.
Finally, there’s battery life, always a key metric for a laptop or tablet. Again, I suspect that a larger, thicker laptop would have been capable of a higher-resolution display with longer battery life. At over six hours, the Spectre Laptop’s 43 -watt-hour will last you about the length of a plane flight from San Francisco to New York, playing videos the whole way—which is how PCWorld.com measures battery life. But if you’re looking for a mobile device with superior battery life, look elsewhere.
PCWorld loops a video continuously until the battery expires, with audio on and at what we consider to be a reasonable light intensity.
Should you buy the HP Spectre 13?
HP’s Spectre 13 doesn’t go all-out on any particular aspect of the computing experience, making tradeoffs that HP thinks you’ll tolerate. Its cutting-edge 8th-gen Kaby Lake-R chip puts it at or near the top of the heap in general computing performance. In CPU- or GPU-intensive tasks, it’s a bit more average:
Not every notebook has to shoot for the stars. The HP Spectre 13 certainly delivers on weight and aesthetic appeal. Though we obviously can’t speak to the long-term durability of the Spectre 13, this seems like a solidly performing ultrabook designed to address your needs both now and in the future.
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HP Spectre 13-3010ea Ultrabook review
It won’t break any speed records, but the HP Spectre 13 is a smart, attractive Ultrabook that can give Apple’s MacBook Air a run for its money. The HP’s slimline design, high-quality display and reasonable battery life help ensure that it earns its keep when you’re out and about. And, of course, there’s that over-sized trackpad, which is a small but worthy innovation that makes it just that little bit more comfortable to use than many of its rivals.
Someone at HP has obviously had on their thinking cap on. The company recently released its HP Envy 17 laptop with a built-in Leap Motion sensor that allows you to control the laptop with hand gestures. The HP Spectre 13 boasts a less exotic – but probably more useful – innovation in the form of a Very Big Trackpad™. See also: What’s the best laptop you can buy in 2014?
That’s not HP’s actual name for it, but given the US company’s Love of Capitals and trademark signs it might as well be. We realise a larger trackpad might not sound terribly exciting, but small details can often make a big difference, and the HP Spectre 13 turns out to be one of the most attractive Ultrabooks we’ve seen recently.
In most respects, the HP Spectre 13 looks very similar to its numerous predecessors in the Spectre range, based on the Apple MacBook Air design, with a slimline aluminium chassis that is both sturdy and elegant. It’s eminently portable too, with a weight of just 1.52 kg, and a smoothly tapered profile that measures just 15 mm thick.
HP Spectre 13 review: display
Its 13.3-inch display is excellent, with a bright, colourful image that is so crisp and sharp that we initially assumed it must have a pixel-packed Retina display similar that of Apple’s MacBook Pro.
In fact, it turns out to be a 1920 x 1080 resolution – which makes more sense given the Spectre’s £999 price tag – but it’s certainly one of the best displays we’ve seen on a laptop costing less than £1000. HP only refers to it as a ‘Radiance’ display, but the brightness and all-round viewing angles are what we’d expect from an IPS panel.
And, just to show off that excellent display, HP even bundles a copy of Adobe Lightroom so that you can admire your holiday snaps in all their glory.
The screen is touch-sensitive, but that seems almost irrelevant once you get used to that extra large trackpad. Measuring a full 140 x 67 mm, it’s the largest trackpad we’ve ever seen on a laptop. The surface of the trackpad has a very smooth finish that feels pleasantly tactile, and it responds very smoothly to the various multiple-finger gestures that are available. (See also: MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air comparison .)
HP Spectre 13 review: trackpad
There’s a special control panel for the trackpad that allows you to divide it into three sections, with narrow ‘control zones’ on the far right and left edges that can be used to mimic touch-screen controls such as a left-flick to activate the Windows 8 ‘charms’. This reviewer generally prefers the trackpad on my MacBook Air to that of most Windows laptops, but HP’s twist on the trackpad theme could teach even Apple a few tricks.
HP Spectre 13 review: specs and performance
The Spectre 13 is currently only available in a single configuration, priced at £999 with a dual-core Intel Core i5 running at 1.6 GHz, 8 GB of memory and 256 GB solid-state drive. The Spectre 13 outgunned the similarly-priced MacBook Air when it came to PCMark 7 performance.
That combination achieved a respectable mid-range score of 5006 points when running PCMark 7, compared to around 4200 points for the recently updated 13-inch MacBook Air.
The Home and Work suites on PCMark 8 didn’t fare quite so well, though, with scores of 2260 and 2651 points.
Gaming performance is poorer too, as the integrated HD Graphics 4400 couldn’t sustain decent framerates until we dropped resolution right down to 1280 x 720 pixels, where it then averaged a more a playable 31 fps in our Stalker: Call of Pripyat casual gaming test.
But, to be fair, there’s always a trade-off between performance and portability with Windows Ultrabooks such as this, and the Spectre 13 was still adequate for routine tasks such as web browsing and running Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, the other trade-off is reduced connectivity, with one pair of USB 3.0 ports and lack of ethernet. (See also: Surface Pro 3 vs MacBook Air comparison review .)
HP Spectre 13 review: battery life
However, the Spectre 13 compensated with usable battery life, giving us 7.5 hours (450 minutes) of streaming video via the BBC iPlayer, even if the 13-inch MacBook Air can manage over 12 hours here. (See also: 20 best budget laptops of 2014 .)
HP Spectre 13-3010ea: Specs
- 13.3-inch (1920 x 1080 pixel, 166 ppi) LCD display, glossy, touch-sensitive
- 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5-4200U (2.6 GHz Turbo)
- Intel HD Graphics 4400
- Windows 8.1 (64-bit)
- 8 GB DDR3L SDRAM
- 256 GB solid-state drive
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 1x HDMI 1.4
- 1x Mini DisplayPort 1.2
- 2 x USB 3.0
- SDXC card slot
- 1080p webcam/microphone
- 1x headphone/microphone socket
- 51 Wh lithium-ion battery
- 324 x 220 x 15 mm
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Hp spectre 13 review: the laptop that wants to be king of the ultrabooks.
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Can you combine power and capability with thin and lightweight design cues in a laptop? HP challenged itself to do just that, and the result is the Spectre 13 . At 10mm in depth and weighing just 1.1 kg, is this ultrabook the ultimate portable laptop?
HP Spectre 13 (image: Ewan Spence)
The obvious comparison is with Apple's laptop range, especially the MacBook Air and the new twelve-inch MacBook. When you are leaning heavily on being as thin and as light as possible, it's hard to draw any other conclusion.
But HP has something on its side that Apple's ultra-portable do not have - the ability and belief to push the design away from the 'basic two sheets of hardware with a hinge at the very back.' HP uses the word artisan in the marketing, and that's a wise choice. From the two distinctive curved hinges that hold up the screen (and lift it a little higher above the keyboard - always a bonus) to the use of dark ash and copper coloring, the Spectre 13 is a laptop that stands out with a unique blend of subtle colors.
Design wise, the Spectre 13 is fabulous.
The screen is gorgeous, although HP seems to have held back a touch on ultimate specifications to ensure it can get as much value and impact out of the screen. By going with an IPS LCD screen (unlike the OLED screen of HP's larger Spectre x360) that runs at 1920x1080, the Spectre 13 resolution is comfortably in the middle of the pack. Where it wins out is in the colour and contrast. HP has tweaked the screen towards more natural colours rather than popping saturation, and has focused on creating high levels of contrast. This combination works really well.
Part of the quality of the display is down to the lack of touchscreen. This takes away a few layers that can dull the vibrancy shining through, which has the added benefit of reducing the depth of the machine, which is one of the design goals of the Spectre 13. While it should not be a deal-breaker - Windows 10 can run comfortably without a touchscreen (unlike Windows 8) - I've grown accustomed to it on other high-end Windows 10 devices. I occasionally found myself tapping the screen, but those moments are few and far between. Anyone purchasing the Spectre 13 will be focused far more on the design, and this is the correct compromise to make for the screen.
As with many ultrabooks that focus on thin, some smart engineering has gone into the keyboard. The pressure required to make a keystroke works well with my style of typing. With minimal travel I found that the keys hit the limit of their travel very quickly. There isn't a huge amount of 'bounce' in the keys, but they spring up at a good speed so the keyboard does not feel dead - the key is always at the top of its travel and ready to be pressed, no matter how fast I type.
It's nice to see a backlight under the keys, but it's either on or off. Some intermediate levels would have been nice. I'm also not sold on the rounding of the keys at the four corners of the keyboard, it notably reduces the target area of the already small escape and delete keys. I can see why the designers have decided to round off the keys to match the curve of the recessed tray, but this is one area I would have wanted practicality to win out.
The trackpad is a touch too small for me, needing multiple swipes to traverse the screen while retaining the accuracy that I like. Yet it picks up finger taps and clicks with ease. Again HP's engineers have found a sweet spot between a smooth surface and the tactile nature required. But with a lot of spare space above the keyboard I wish it could have moved up to give more vertical space on the trackpad.
Next page: hardware, connections, and audio...
The Spectre 13 puts its emphasis on hardware ports and cables onto the rear spine of the machine, as opposed to the side edges. This allows for cleaner lines on the side of the machine, and puts any unsightly dongles and charging cables out of sight behind the screen when in use. Just as Apple's new MacBook machines, it only has USB-C ports. These are used both to charge the machine and provide connectivity and power to external devices. Three USB-C ports are supplied so you're not going to run out of them in a hurry, but as with other new laptops, you're going to be relying on dongles to allow USB-A cables, SD card readers, and connect to countless other peripherals. That puts a serious crimp on portability, and I need to remember to throw in adaptors and new connector cables to hook my audio equipment into the machine whilst travelling.
Also being thrown out of the back of the Spectre 13 is a huge amount of heat. That's down to HP's decision to go with a more powerful processor. The Spectre uses Intel's seventh-generation core i5 or i7 processors rather than the more power-efficient but slower Core-M range. You've got the power to do a lot with this machine (although 8GB of RAM can be limiting if you start really hammering it for video editing) but you will become familiar with the noise of the fan.
HP notes that the fans are used to create 'hyperbaric cooling'. In essence the low pressure created around the fans draws in air through the vents at the bottom of the machine, pulls it across the processor and other heat-generating components, before pushing it out through the vents at the rear of the machine.
These vents are paired left and right, which leaves the centre portion of the machine - the area where I was most likely to hold it - which meant the hot air was never directly blowing on me. And while the base of the Spectre did get warm it was never so hot as to be uncomfortable on my lap. Just to make sure, HP has added three shallow rubber rails that lift the laptop's base up from a table or lap to give more airflow under the machine. In terms of thermal management, I love what the designers have done with the Spectre.
Finally, I want to make a point about the speakers. The Spectre 13 uses HP's Audio Boost to maximize the volume of the audio coming out of the machine - think of it like a graphical equalizer than gives more body to the mid tones while jacking everything else up a touch and you'll get a feeling of what is going on. The stereo speakers sit either side of the keyboard, offering as much separation as possible. Tuned by Bang and Olufsen, what surprised me here was listening to music I could clearly hear stereo effects as if I was wearing high-end headphones. That's surprising for me, most laptops end up sounding like a single source of music. The Spectre lifts and separates music in a surprisingly light way.
HP's designers have gone to town on the Spectre 13, but one decision seems to have been the biggest concern - make this feel like a laptop that has strong desktop functionality, rather than a powerful tablet with an attached keyboard. There are no concessions to modern touch-based computing, this is a laptop that is very much focused on being a portable, lightweight, gorgeous-looking workhorse.
The package doesn't come cheap, with prices starting at £1,150 in the United Kingdom for the i5 variant and £1,299 for the i7. What it does cement is a new approach from HP to move into the high-end design-led stakes of modern ultrabooks. The Spectre 13 packs a punch, looks the part, and is one of the most accomplished lightweight laptops on today's market.
Disclaimer: HP supplied a Spectre 13 for review purposes .
Now read about a few more Ultrabooks you might want to consider...
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HP Spectre 13t-3000 Ultrabook review: A slim laptop that gives you more touch pad
This slim, reasonably priced ultrabook adds new touch-pad design to stand out from the crowd.
- Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
On paper, HP's new Spectre 13 ultrabook looks like just another slim 13-inch laptop, with the same basic components and design as dozens of other options in the around-$1,000 category. Its main selling point is a wider-than-normal touch pad, which includes left- and right-hand strips, called "control zones," allowing easier interaction with Windows 8.
HP Spectre 13t-3000 Ultrabook
The bottom line.
I'm pleased to say that this is one of those rare products that comes off better in person than on paper (a phrase I first used for the original Apple iPad). Despite average looks and hardware, the $999.99 starting price for a 1080p screen, Intel Core i5 processor, and 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) is reasonable, given the excellent build quality. The backlit keyboard is especially good, very well balanced and leaving little dead space on the system interior. The extra-large touch pad is welcome, and makes Windows 8 a little easier to wrestle with, although the extra controls offered by the edge-of-pad zones aren't explained as well as they should be, or implemented intuitively. But I was still glad to have the extra surface areas for tapping and swiping.
Still, it's a crowded market. Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air starts at only $100 more, as does Lenovo's excellent Yoga 2 Pro . The latter gives you a better-than-HD 3,200x1,800-pixel-resolution display, but the Spectre 13 can upgrade to 2,560x1,440 for an extra $70. The Yoga 2 can also transform into a kiosk or tablet, while the Spectre 13 is merely a clamshell laptop with no hidden contortionist capabilities.
The HP Spectre 13 (our review unit's specific model number was 13t-3000) doesn't break a lot of new ground, and its wider touch pad is held back a bit by gimmickry, but it manages to capture just the right feel for a 13-inch laptop, which is an elusive X factor so many other laptops miss out on.
Design and features The outer silhouette of the Spectre 13 screams MacBook Air, but the same can be said of most ultrabook-style laptops from the past couple of years. Where the Spectre 13 differs is in its dark brushed-metal lid, which nicely sets off the lighter brushed-metal interior. Combine that with the jet-black screen bezel, it leaves you with a tri-toned laptop. I'd admit to being partial to monochromatic designs, but the Spectre 13 is still sharp-looking.
It's an interesting evolution from the first time we saw the Spectre brand from HP, in the form of the 2012 Envy Spectre 14 . That unique laptop design featured a flat black lid covered with an outer layer of Gorilla Glass, as well as an awkward Gorilla Glass overlay on top of the wrist rest. We haven't seen that exact combination since (although a handful of laptops since have tried the glass lid look), but now the Spectre brand pops up occasionally in HP's catalog to represent something high-end, but perhaps a bit edgier than HP's other premium brand, Envy.
While it's not fundamentally different from other HP keyboards, or even from other 13-inch slim laptop keyboards, typing on the HP Spectre 13's backlit keyboard is just short of fantastic, thanks to the right combination of key size, depth, and spacing. The keys are large and widely spaced, and important keys -- Enter, Shift, Tab, and so on -- are very generously sized. There's little dead space to the left and right of the keyboard, something that always bothers me on laptops of any size.
The standout feature on this system is an extra-wide touch pad. It's as wide as I've seen on a laptop, measuring 2.6 inches high by 5.5 inches wide. So far, so good. But, the extra room on either side isn't exactly the same as the middle of the pad. Instead, the wings, aka control zones, have a slightly different color and rougher texture than the rest of the touch pad.
So, what does a control zone do? They're designed to make it easier to interact with Windows 8, as Microsoft's current operating system is built with a touch screen, not a touch pad, in mind. That means simple things, such as accessing the Charms bar or app switcher, are a hassle if you're using a touch pad or mouse rather than a touch screen.
Click on the right control zone and you call up the Charms bar without having to swipe it in from the right edge of the touch pad. Then scroll your finger up and down the zone and you can select the different Charms bar options. Repeat that with the left-side Charms bar and you get the same effect, but for the app switcher. Just be sure to click near the bottom of the pad, where the hinge allows it to fully depress. Tapping does nothing, which I found counterintuitive.
Frankly, the bigger benefit is from having more surface area to navigate on, and the special control-zone functions are a thin overlay at best. Still, I'll take a bigger touch pad over a smaller one any day, and it's definitely interesting to see HP try and make up for some of the obvious flaws in Windows 8.
The keyboard and touch pad are both excellent, and so is the display. Our 13.3-inch screen had a 1,920x1,080-pixel native resolution, but an upgrade to 2,560x1,440 is available for a reasonable-sounding $70. The screen is especially glossy, but also very rich and bright, with deep blacks and colors that pop.
Like most recent HP laptops, this system is co-branded with Beats Audio, which basically means it has some sound-shaping software that adds bass and dynamics to music, either through the internal speakers or headphones. The speakers fire down from the bottom panel, so that helps create an illusion of bass, but you still won't be DJing a party with this.
Connections, performance, and battery With two video outputs, the Spectre 13 already has a leg up on most other ultrabooks. There are only two USB ports, but the Wi-Fi is of the faster 802.11ac variety, as in the latest MacBooks (note, however that 802.11ac is a $20 optional upgrade).
With a fairly common Intel Core i5-4200U processor, this system offers no real performance surprises. Apps ran smoothly, and switching between multiple Web browser windows, video playback, and other tasks was stutter-free. This sort of mainstream-level performance is more than enough for most users. If you plan on editing HD video or playing serious PC games, you may want to look for a larger laptop with a discrete video card.
An ultrabook lives or dies based on its battery life. In this case, the HP Spectre 13 lives up to the hype, running for an impressive 8 hours and 38 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. That's not quite the lofty level of a MacBook Air, but it's still more than enough for a typical workday, depending on your workload.
Conclusion The HP Spectre 13 is built around a gimmick, an extra-wide touch pad with control zones that offer some (very limited) extra Windows 8 functionality. Interestingly, the gimmick is entirely unnecessary, as the Spectre 13 is excellent in its own right.
There's nothing especially ground-breaking here, but each individual component and feature is top-notch, including the backlit keyboard, large touch pad, bright display, and long battery life. For a starting price of $999.99 (I'd add the 802.11ac Wi-Fi and the higher-res display for about another $100), you get a very solid laptop, with no deal-breaking flaws, at a very reasonable price.
QuickTime and iTunes multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
Adobe photoshop cs5 image-processing test (in seconds), apple itunes encoding test, handbrake multimedia multitasking test (in seconds), video playback battery drain test (in minutes).
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HP Spectre 13 Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 128GB LiteOn-IT SSD
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,749MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 128GB SSD
MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013) OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 1.6GHZ Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD 4400 Graphics; 128GB Samsung SSD
Dell XPS 11 Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.5GHz Intel Core i5-4210Y; 4GGB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz, 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4200; 256GB Samsung SSD
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