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Microsoft Surface Book vs. HP Spectre x360: The PC laptop showdown

Microsoft has expanded its Surface line of devices, and is at last ready to take on the likes of Apple, HP, and Dell with its own laptop. The company’s Surface Book looks to be a high-performance machine equipped with a detachable touchscreen, a sleek Macbook-esque design, NVIDIA discrete graphics, and a 360-degree display outfitted with a fulcrum hinge. That said, how does the new Microsoft laptop shape up to other Macbook-like PC laptops, such as the HP Spectre x360? Here’s our take on how these two convertible laptops stack up against one another on paper.

Related: Everything Microsoft revealed at its Windows 10 devices event in a single list

Microsoft Surface Book

Surface Book Thumb

HP Spectre x360

HP Spectre X360 Thumb copy

Size 12.3 x 9.14 x .51-.90 inches 12.79 x 8.6 x 0.63 inches
Weight 3.34 pounds 3.26 pounds
Display 13.5-inch PixelSense touch display 13.3-inch Quad-HD touch display
Resolution 3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi) 1080p or 2,560 x 1,440 (up to 227 ppi)
Operating System Windows 10 Windows 10
Storage 128, 256, or 512GB SSD 128. 256, or 512GB SSD
CPU Intel Core i5 or i7 Intel Core i5 or i7
RAM 8GB or 16GB 4GB or 8GB
Camera Front 5MP, Rear 8MP Front 720p
Connectivity  Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Dock Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort
Sensors Ambient light, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer Active Pen support
Battery Up to 12 hours of video playback Up to 12 hours 30 minutes of video playback
Price $1,500 base model $900 base model
Availability October 26 Available now
DT review Hands-on 3 out of 5

Performance

When it comes to performance, the two devices are (almost) a toss up, at least until you get into the higher-end Surface Book models. Both devices come standard with an Intel Core i5 processor, which can be bumped up to a Core i7 processor for an added fee. Both also feature 6th-generation Skylake technology, which HP took the time to add this fall when the new processors launched, meaning both devices enjoy the added processing power and battery life improvements afforded by the chipset.

Where the Surface Book really wins out is with its secret weapon: A dedicated NVIDIA graphics card built right into the keyboard of the unit. When you detach the screen into clipboard mode, the device switches over to Intel Integrated Graphics, much like those on the HP Spectre x360. But once you plug it back in, you harness the full power of NVIDIA graphics, enabling all sorts of performance-heavy tasks, such as video editing and gaming. This is an optional extra, however. The standard Surface Book doesn’t have it.

Beyond processing power, both devices come standard with relatively similar RAM and storage capacities. The Surface Book ranges from 8 to 16GB of RAM, while the Spectre x360 comes standard with 4 or 8GB of RAM. Storage starts at 128GB for both devices and goes up to 512GB on both as well. However, the Surface Book will feature PCI Express storage, which is much quicker than the HP’s SATA 3 storage.

Winner: Surface Book

Display

If you’re looking for high-resolution displays, both the Surface Book and Spectre x360 have you covered. The Surface Book features the same 3:2 ratio found on the Surface Pro — one that’s a bit taller from standard 16:9 displays — while managing to stuff in a 3,000 x 2,000-pixel screen with a solid 267 ppi. This is a PixelSense N-Trig touchscreen, too, meaning it’s designed for a fluid writing experience when using the new and improved Surface stylus. It’s even made of  Gorilla Glass to help prevent it from shattering.

HP Spectre X360 hero
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Spectre x360 is, in a lot of ways, like the Surface Book. While the base model features a standard 1080p Full-HD display, customers can upgrade to a Quad-HD display with 2,560 x 1,400-pixel resolution, offering up a decent 227 ppi for high-resolution viewing (much like the MacBook Pro). Unlike a MacBook, however, the Spectre x360 also touts a touchscreen with Synaptics Digitizer stylus support like the Surface Book.

However, the Spectre still comes up short when it comes to pixel density, display thickness, screen protection, and even the stylus technology. The latter, for instance, isn’t as smooth or real-time as the Surface Book.

Winner: Surface Book

Portability

Both devices have roughly the same quoted battery life, and it’s likely after release we’ll confirm very similar actual run times on a single charge. That said, the dedicated GPU probably isn’t being used in the Surface Book’s quoted use time, and discrete graphics tend to be a huge drain on battery life. We already saw in our review that the Spectre x360 doesn’t necessarily exhibit the battery life as quoted by HP, though that may have improved with the addition of the Skylake chipset.

Both devices are almost identical in size and weight, to the point that the slight difference in size is almost negligible in the real world. It’s a fraction of an inch here or there, but you probably wouldn’t realize it unless handling the devices side by side.

One area of difference is the hinge each device uses to enable tablet use. The x360’s display folds back 360 degrees to enable tablet mode. It’s a simple design, but it means the keyboard is always attached, making tablet mode rather unwieldy.

Microsoft’s device solves that with a detachable display. The tablet alone is very light and easy to hold. However, the Surface Book’s design relies on a battery in the tablet and the keyboard dock, so the tablet alone has reduced battery life.

Neither design is perfect. Your choice will depend on what you want out of a 2-in-1 notebook.

Winner: Tie

Connectivity

Microsoft Surface Book

The Surface Book and Spectre x360 both offer almost the same connectivity. Both support USB 3.0, Mini-DisplayPort, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/c, Bluetooth 4.0, and even feautre a built in micro-SD port. The Spectre x360 also has an HDMI port for added compatibility, but that’s something a cheap adapter could easily solve.

One big win for the Surface Book is its Surface Dock. The docking station — which is also compatible with the Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4 — offers up additional ports, power, and other useful functions for powering your work desk. The added functionality comes at an added fee, though, and doesn’t really change much else for the laptop.

Winner: Tie

Pricing

The base model of the Surface Book runs $1,500, while the base model of the Spectre X360 starts at just $900. Saying “just $900” might be a misnomer when talking about PC laptops, but the $600 really speaks to the sort of premium price Microsoft is assigning its laptop. It’s also worth noting the base model for the Spectre lacks a high-resolution display, while all Surface Book models feature the PixelSense display.

If you want the dedicated GPU for your Surface Book, prepare to dig deeper into your pockets. That model starts  at $1,900, and the most advanced model will cost a mind-blowing $2,700. The Spectre, for comparison, tops out at just $1,200 and comes with a 512GB SSD, 8GB of RAM, and Quad-HD display. The$2,700 Surface Book — which is more than double the price of the Spectre — will come with little more than 16GB of RAM and a dedicated GPU for the added cost.

It’s certainly a very different experience for that price. Microsoft compares itself to the MacBook’s $2,700 price tag, but customers look for PC-like pricing will probably turn to the Spectre x360.

Winner: Spectre x360

You get what you pay for

A typical Windows device doesn’t cost $1,500. While Macbooks can easily climb up to that price, the HP Spectre x360 top outs around $1,200, which is still $300 shy of Microsoft’s base model for its monster of a laptop. And at a $1,500 starting price, the Surface Book doesn’t offer a drastically different experience, aside from a different display, faster SSD, and Surface Dock support. It isn’t until we hit $1,900 that the Surface Book really shines with its dedicated GPU, but that also renders it significantly more expensive than the Spectre x360.

Two-in-one laptops are not cheap. Customers pay a premium for combining the sleek, lightweight design of a tablet with the power of a dedicated laptop. For $900, most PC owners could buy a fairly powerful laptop, and that’s halfway to a Surface Book with a dedicated GPU, and just where the Spectre x360 base model resides. Both devices also come very close in functionality, from the 360-degree design to the high-resolution displays, powerful processors, and lightweight form factor. The Surface Book inches ahead in almost every category, but you’ll pay a hefty price for the added benefits. In the end, it comes down to what you think fits your needs in order to decide which device is best for you.