One of the more striking developments in PCs has been the continued evolution of the Windows 10 thin-and-light notebook. Once dubbed “Ultrabooks,” these machines started out as a response to both the Apple MacBook Air and the modern smartphone and tablet — and they’ve gotten increasingly excellent over time. While 2-in-1s have gained some attention lately, manufacturers are still pumping out great notebooks that are easy on the back and slide easily into a backpack.
One of the most striking recent examples is the HP Spectre 13, a very thin and light notebook that’s notable for its exceedingly good looks. But Asus has a trick up its sleeve with its latest ZenBook 13 — a discrete GPU that pumps up the graphics performance. We put together an Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN vs HP Spectre 13 cage-match to see if elegant design can trump pure performance.
Asus ZenBook 13
HP Spectre 13
|Dimensions||12.2 x 8.5 x 0.55 (in)||12.03 x 8.83 x 0.41 in|
|Weight||Starts at 2.47 pounds||2.45 pounds|
|Keyboard||Full-size backlit keyboard||Full-size backlit keyboard|
|Processor||Eighth-generation Intel Core i5||Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7|
|RAM||8GB RAM||Up to 16GB|
|Graphics||Intel UHD 620
Nvidia GeForce MX150
|Intel UHD 620|
|Display||13.5-inch IPS Display||13.3-inch IPS display|
|Resolution||Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 160 PPI)||Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 160 PPI)
4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160 or 331 PPI)
|Storage||256GB SATA SSD||Up to 1TBGB PCIe SSD|
|Networking||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Connectivity||2 x USB-A 3.0, 1 x USB-C 3.1, 1 x HDMI, microSD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack||2 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, 1 x USB-C 3.1, 3.5mm combo jack|
|Windows Hello||Fingerprint reader||Infrared facial recognition
|Operating System||Windows 10||Windows 10|
|Battery||50 watt-hour||43.7 watt-hour|
|Review||Full review: 7/10||Full review: 8/10|
With the latest HP Spectre 13, the company took an already sleek, modern notebook and turned up the aesthetics while shaving off some millimeters. The result is a very thin (0.41 inches) and light (2.45 pounds) machine with tiny bezels and a svelte chassis, and a design that’s incredibly striking. It’s available in two colors, the previously available Ash Silver (really dark gray) and Chrome Luxe scheme and the new Ceramic White and Pale Gold, and both are simply lovely.
The ZenBook 13 follows along with its other ZenBook siblings, adopting a similar Royal Blue color and iconic concentric circle pattern on the lid. This time, though, Asus utilized a special nano-imprinting lithography (NIL) technique to lay on a special ultraviolet coating that’s cured to a hard, glass-like finish over the anodized metal surface. The result is an attractive notebook that’s still relatively conservative. It’s a bit thicker than the HP at 0.55 inches, but it’s almost identically weighted at 2.47 pounds.
Where the two machines are somewhat similar is in their build quality. They’re both nicely made, and they’re both a bit bendy in the lid. The HP, however, manages to remain more rigid in the keyboard deck thanks to the carbon fiber bottom complete the otherwise all-aluminum chassis. The all-aluminum ZenBook 13, on the other hand has far more keyboard flex and the bottom can also be depressed with relatively light pressure.
That makes the HP Spectre 13 not only the more rigid notebook but also the more handsome. It wins this round handily.
Winner: HP Spectre 13
Both the HP Spectre 13 and the ZenBook 13 utilize the quad-core eighth-generation Intel Core processor, with Asus choosing the Core i5-7250U and HP going with the Core i7-8550U. Regarding CPU performance, therefore, the Spectre 13 has the edge, but it’s not terribly significantly. Both machines are powerful productivity notebooks that can tackle both typical and more demanding tasks.
The ZenBook 13, however, has the distinction of being the “world’s thinnest notebook with discrete graphics,” as Asus puts it. Yes, the notebook has more than just the usual Intel UHD graphics you’ll find in such a thin and light machine — it also squeezes in an Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. While that’s a distinctly entry-level graphics chip, it’s significantly faster than integrated graphics and can run some modern titles on low graphics settings.
At the same time, HP opted for a much faster PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) for the Spectre 13, whic his significantly faster than the SATA SSD that’s in the ZenBook 13. That means opening and saving files will be faster on the Specre 13.
Overall, the ZenBook 13 is going to be able to act as a more performant gaming system, and it’s also going to be able to more quickly churn through creative tasks that can utilize the GPU, such as photo and video editing. It’s the clear performance winner.
Winner: Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN
Sometimes, an incredibly thin notebook like the HP Spectre 13 compromises on the keyboard, suffering from short travel and a typing-on-a-block-of-wood effect (MacBook, we’re looking at you). That’s not the case with the Spectre 13, though — the keyboard has 1.3mm of key travel that feels like more, and a light and precise bottoming action that provides plenty of snap. The touchpad is large and fits the display’s dimensions, but it’s not a Microsoft Precision version and so isn’t quite as responsive.
The ZenBook 13’s keyboard has a similiar 1.4mm of key travel, but it feels like less. It’s saved somewhat by a firm bottoming action that avoids a mushy feel and allows for some accuracy. It’s a good keyboard, but not as comfortable as the Spectre 13. The touchpad, though, is both larger and, as it supports the Microsoft Precision protocol, more precise.
Both notebooks have touch displays, but only the ZenBook 13 supports an active pen. Whether that’s a huge advantage depends on whether you like writing on an upright notebook display. In terms of Windows 10 Hello password-less login goes, the Spectre 13 supports both infrared facial scanning and a responsive fingerprint scanner, while the ZenBook 13 relies on your fingerprint alone.
We do like a good keyboard, and here the Spectre 13 is a standout — it really does have a nice keyboard for such an incredibly thin notebook. The ZenBook 13’s touchpad is better, but not nearly as much so, giving the HP the win.
Winner: HP Spectre 13
The HP Spectre 13 has every port you could want, as long as it’s USB-C. Yes, that’s right: if you want to plug in any kind of legacy device, you’ll need a dongle. However, two of the ports support Thunderbolt 3, and so you have tremendous options for connecting external displays, superfast accessories, and external GPUs. That’s a real plus.
The Asus ZenBook 13 is far more legacy-friendly. It has two USB-A 3.0 ports and a full-size HDMI port to go with a single USB-C connection that does not support Thunderbolt 3. And so in a sense, Asus took the opposite approach to HP in terms of legacy versus future peripheral support.
Both notebooks support 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac W-Fi and Bluetooth support, of course, while only the ZenBook 13 has a microSD card reader. In the end, we’re challenged to award a winner here. We like Thunderbolt 3, and we like lots of ports with legacy support. Neither notebook has both, though, and so we’re going to take the easy way out and assign this one a tie.
Both the Spectre 13 and the ZenBook 13 have 13.3-inch Full HD displays, and so they’re equally sharp. Both are also relatively closely matched in terms of color gamut, color accuracy, and gamma (how light or dark the display is compared to source material). The only material differences between the two according to our colorimeter are brightness, where the ZenBook 13 slightly wins out, and contrast, where the Spectre 13 is a little bit better.
In real-life use, you’d have a difficult time picking out which display belongs to with notebook. They’re both average for the premium notebook space, but that’s actually a good thing given how great displays have become over the last several years. However, here’s the kicker: HP offers a 4K UHD display option for the Spectre 13, meaning that if you’re a pixel peeper and you want extremely sharp text and graphics, then HP has you covered. Asus, unfortunately, only offers the ZenBook 13 with a Full HD display, to its detriment. That’s worth a win for HP in our book.
Winner: HP Spectre 13
As mentioned in the design section, the Spectre 13 and the ZenBook 13 are almost exactly the same weight. However, the HP is significantly thinner, and it has very small bezels and so its chassis is also slightly smaller. Neither notebook takes up too much space in a backpack, but the Spectre 13 just takes up less.
But that’s only half the battle. The other half is how long each notebook can last away from a charger. That’s determined by a few factors, including battery capacity, and here the ZenBook 13 wins out with 50 watt-hours of capacity versus the Spectre 13’s 43.7 watt-hours.
In testing, the Asus’s larger battery generally wins out. At least, that was the case on our most aggressive web benchmark test where the ZenBook 13 lasted an hour longer and in our web browsing test where it lasted for three hours longer. The Spectre 13 was able to last for a half hour longer when looping our test video.
In the end, we think that battery life trumps a design that’s only thinner and slightly smaller in overall dimensions. The ZenBook 13 is going to keep you working longer, and that’s well worth a real win for Asus.
Winner: Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN
HP has a variety of configurations avaialble for the Spectre 13, ranging from a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe SSD for $1,300 (currently $1,080 on sale) up to a Core i7-8550U, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe SSD, and an upgrade to 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160) display for $2,210 (currently $1,900 on sale). That’s firmly in premium notebook territory.
The ZenBook 13 only has one configuration at the moment, however. That’s a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SATA SSD for $1,000. That, too, is premium notebook territory — though with a discrete GPU, that’s not such a bad deal.
We’re disappointed with the lack of options that Asus is providing with the ZenBook 13. Having options for 16GB of RAM and a larger SSD, not to mention a 4K display, would let users take much better advantage of that discrete GPU. While ZenBook 13’s retail price is lower than the Specre 13’s entry-level price, HP often has sales that bring the prices much closer together.
We like options, and we like the ability to flesh out a more powerful notebook. Therefore, HP gets the win for giving us what we want.
Winner: HP Spectre 13
This was a tough one. The HP Spectre 13 is a gorgeous notebook that performs very well and has an excellent keyboard. It’s also highly configurable, up to all of the RAM, storage space, and display sharpness that you could want in such a machine.
The ZenBook 13 has better battery life and it also sports a useful discrete GPU that makes it the more powerful notebook overall. It’s also well designed and very thin and light, even if it slightly falls behind the HP in this regard.
We’re not happy with being unable to choose a ZenBook 13 with just 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. But nevertheless, we have to give some kudos for Asus for packing in more power at such a low price point — so we’re giving it the slightest of wins in this shootout.
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