Everyone wants their laptop to be as small and light as possible, and manufacturers are happy to provide such machines… to customers willing to pay for them, anyway. Apple wowed onlookers when it revealed the tiny redesign on its iconic MacBook last year, but now HP has caught up with a tiny laptop of its own. It claims the minuscule Spectre is the “thinnest notebook in the world.”
Both the MacBook and the Spectre make compromises to make themselves smaller, but only one of them can be the winner. OS X users will obviously prefer the Apple machine, while Microsoft fans would be better served by the HP. But assuming you’re agnostic when it comes to operating systems, which one is worth your hard-earned cash? Let’s find out.
Apple MacBook (2016)
HP Spectre (2016)
|Dimensions||11.04 x 7.74 x 0.14-0.52 (in)||12.8 x 9.03 x 0.41 (in)|
|Weight||2.03 pounds||2.45 pounds|
|Keyboard||Full size, backlit keyboard||Full size, backlit keyboard|
|Processor||Intel Core M3 (4M Cache, up to 3.1 GHz)||Intel Core i5-6200U (3M Cache, up to 2.80 GHz)|
|RAM||8GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3||8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 515||Intel HD Graphics 520|
|Display||12-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology||13.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology|
|Resolution||2304 x 1440||1,920 x 1,080|
|Storage||256GB/512GB SSD||256GB SSD|
|Networking||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2|
|Ports||USB Type-C/Thunderbolt, headphone jack||USB 3.0, USB Type-C/Thunderbolt (2), headset jack|
|Webcam||480p FaceTime camera||720p webcam|
|Operating System||Mac OS X El Capitan||Windows 10|
|Availability||Now – Apple Store||Now – HP.com|
|Review||Coming soon||Coming soon|
Though the MacBook and the Spectre have similar sizes and form factors, their hardware has some important differences. Primarily, the MacBook uses processors based on Intel’s Core M platform, while the Spectre offers the more powerful Core i-series. Even the most expensive version of the Apple laptop tops out with the Core M7-6Y75, a dual-core processor clocked at 1.3GHz. The base model of the Spectre uses a Core i5-6200U, which has a base clock of 2.3GHz. Even though the Core M processor offers a faster “turbo” speed and consumes less energy, the Spectre offers much more power at a lower cost.
Both laptops include 8GB of RAM, but the Spectre’s memory is slightly faster. Likewise, buyers have the option of either 256GB or 512GB SSDs for storage on both machines, but the Spectre offers a higher capacity at a smaller price. Both laptops offer similar integrated Intel graphics, and so are not particularly well-suited to intense games or graphical applications.
Neither the MacBook nor the Spectre boast industry-leading screens, now that 4K laptops are available. That said, the MacBook has a definite advantage over the Spectre: the former’s screen has a generous 2304 x 1440 resolution, while the latter has a more pedestrian 1920 x 1080 panel. The MacBook screen is also more dense, since it’s smaller at 12 inches versus 13.3. Neither laptop offers a touchscreen option; those looking for a high-resolution touchscreen in this form factor should check out the Dell XPS 13.
The MacBook’s integrated battery has a capacity of 41.4 watt-hours, while the Spectre offers slightly less at 38 watt-hours. All things being equal, the MacBook and its lower-power hardware should last a bit longer than the HP laptop, especially considering the generally more efficient OS X software. Things might be a bit closer if you plan to run Windows on the MacBook, but it should still edge out the Spectre by at least an hour.
Though it’s slightly thinner at just .42 inches, the Spectre is also more than an inch longer in both width and depth. The larger screen makes up for it, but if you want the tiniest possible computer, the MacBook wins out. It’s also almost half a pound lighter, and though both are on the extreme edge of the ultraportable curve, lighter is still lighter.
Neither design is particularly well-suited to extended time away from a power outlet, but the MacBook should do slightly better in that regard.
Both Apple and HP seem to be diving into USB Type-C support with both feet. But Apple’s almost fanatical dedication to minimalism makes its MacBook somewhat weak: the laptop comes with only one Type-C port (which must be filled by the power adapter when charging) and a headphone jack. The Spectre comes with three Type-C ports, two of which use the newer and faster 3.1 Gen 2 standard.
Neither laptop is especially ideal for extended work sessions, since they both require adapters for video-out (unless you happen to have a Thunderbolt 3 display) and standard USB ports, as well as anything more specialized like an SD card reader. But since the Spectre can charge and use accessories at the same time without an expensive adapter, it wins out here.
The MacBook’s design is timeless, taking Apple’s minimal aesthetics to the extreme. Its aluminum-clad body is barely wider than its keyboard, which is impressive, since it’s still “full sized” by laptop standards (which means that the letter, number, and modifier keys aren’t squashed). The MacBook comes in four colors: standard aluminum, a darker “space grey,” a gold finish, and “rose gold” (read: light pink).
HP’s Spectre is more unique, with a a gold-on-black color scheme that combines matte and shiny finishes for the carbon fiber and aluminum materials. The rear case a considerable “bump” that houses the USB-C ports and the cooling mechanism, allowing the screen and body to be squashed down into a tiny amount of vertical space.
Looks are subjective, but we think it’s safe to say that the MacBook’s simpler appearance is more classically appealing. That said, the Spectre gets more than a bigger screen with its unconventional design: Bang & Olfson speakers mounted on either side of the keyboard. If you want better sound, the HP machine is an easy pick versus the Apple.
Availability and price
The MacBook is available in two primary configurations: $1300 and $1600. The base model uses a 1.1GHz Core M3 processor and a 256GB SSD. The $300 upgrade gets you a 1.2GHz Core M5 and doubles the storage to 512GB. The only other option is a 1.3GHz Core M7 for an extra $150, bringing the highest possible configuration to $1750 (it’s a $250 upgrade from the base model).
The Spectre also comes in just two configurations, at $1170 and $1250. The only major difference is the Core i5 and Core i7 processors at the respective price points, though a 512GB SSD upgrade (on top of the base 256GB) is available for $200. Both the MacBook and the Spectre offer only the single screen option and 8GB of RAM.
On paper, the HP makes a better price proposition thanks to the more powerful processor and a cheaper 512GB upgrade. That said, the prices are close enough that it’s not unreasonable for a fan of Apple’s design sensibilities (or superior reputation for longevity and build quality) to spring for the MacBook.
The biggest difference between the MacBook and the Spectre, the performance, will probably be the deciding factor for those on the fence. The Core i5 and i7 chips in the Spectre are notably more powerful, and better-suited to intense applications or multitasking. The Spectre is also better for usability thanks to three USB Type-C ports, though you’ll still need an adapter for video or older USB accessories.
In other respects the two machines are more alike than different. The Spectre’s advantages in screen size and clearer speakers are balanced by the MacBook’s superior resolution, smaller overall size, and better battery life. The Spectre has a small price advantage, but Apple’s reputation for quality covers the gap. If you need pure speed, go for the Spectre, but style-conscious users or those who want the absolute lightest, smallest machine should choose the MacBook.
Related: Which MacBook model should you buy?