HP Spectre Folio vs. HP Spectre x360

It’s not that often that a new laptop is truly different. Microsoft’s Surface line has a couple of interesting options, but otherwise most new notebooks are variations on the same old theme. Not so much with HP’s new Spectre Folio. It’s a 2-in-1 with a leather chassis that the company says “reinvents the PC.”

It enters a crowded market, though, particularly in the 2-in-1 space. One of our favorite 2-in-1s, HP’s Spectre x360, stands firmly in its way. Does the Folio’s luxury design trump the Spectre x360?

Design

HP Spectre x360 13-ae002xx review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Spectre Folio is constructed of high-quality, chrome-tanned leather (like the kind used in automobiles) that not only looks great but offers good durability. The Cognac Brown or Burgundy leather isn’t just for show, either. It actually makes up the Folio’s shell, with a magnesium and aluminum scaffolding comprising notebook’s inner parts. The leather offers a flexibility that would require a complex metal mechanism to imitate, affording a unique convertible 2-in-1 design that morphs from stable clamshell to movie mode to tablet. The keyboard is covered and protected all the while.

The Folio isn’t the thinnest, lightest, or smallest 2-in-1 around, however. It’s relatively thick at 0.6 inches, heavy at 3.28 pounds, and although the bezels are reasonably thin, the leather extends beyond the edges to make for a rather wide device by modern standards.

The Spectre x360, on the other hand, is a more traditional aluminum design, with shiny angles to catch the eye instead of supple leather. The premium 2-in-1 comes in three distinct color schemes, and all of them are lovely — Dark Ash Silver, Rose Gold, and the more traditional Natural Silver. The Spectre x360’s design is angular and industrial, although some chrome accents add flair without being ostentatious. It’s more traditional than the Folio, including its 360-degree hinge that allows the display to spin from clamshell through tent and movie modes into a tablet (leaving the keyboard exposed), but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good-looking notebook.

hp spectre folio review 13
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The two HP 2-in-1s offer similar input options. Both have excellent keyboards, with the Spectre Folio’s being a bit more snappy and the Spectre x360’s a bit lighter. Both have similar touchpads (the Spectre x360’s is slightly larger) that eschew Microsoft’s Precision touchpad protocol for Synaptic drivers. And both use the same HP Active Pen with 1,024 native levels of pressure sensitivity.

Connectivity is another differentiator. The Folio is limited to three USB-C ports, two with 40Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 to go with a 3.5mm combo audio port, 1Gb Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, and gigabit LTE connectivity as an option. The Spectre x360 has two USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 ports, a full-size USB-A 3.1 port, an audio port, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.

HP has done a great job of designing both of these 2-in-1s, but the Folio is the more luxurious option. It feels so  better in hand than any other notebook we’ve used. We’ll note that HP has just released a new “gem cut” refresh of the Spectre x360 that we haven’t yet had a chance to review. We’ll plan to revisit this comparison when we’ve put the new model through its paces, but for now, the Folio has the better design.

Performance

hp spectre folio review 7
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Folio was designed for the typical productivity user, and it focuses on being beautiful to look at and completely silent in action. Therefore, it’s built around Intel’s 8th-generation Core i7-8500Y, a dual-core, low-power part that provides solid productivity performance.

The Spectre x360, on the other hand, utilizes Intel’s 8th-generation Core U-series CPUs. Those quad-core processors use more power and can run faster for longer periods, and so the Spectre x360 is capable of more demanding tasks like editing complex images and video that the Folio just can’t handle.

Both 2-in-1s utilize PCIe solid-state drives that are plenty fast at accessing and saving data.

In another nod to power savings, the Folio can be purchased with a 1-watt Full HD display that sucks about half as much juice as the typical panel. That’s the one we tested, and we can testify that it’s also a superior panel to boot. It offers better brightness, contrast, and color gamut and accuracy than the Full HD screen on the Spectre x360. Both notebooks can be purchased with 4K UHD displays as well, and the Spectre x360 also offers HP’s SureView privacy display option.

The Spectre Folio performs well enough for its intended productivity target audience, but it can’t keep up with the speedy Spectre x360. It has a better display, though. Once again, we’ll note that the Specre x360 refresh is coming soon, and it offers Intel’s absolute latest Whisky Lake CPUs and the same 1-watt display.

Portability

HP Spectre x360 13-ae002xx review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Spectre x360 is thinner, lighter, and smaller than the Folio, but neither of these notebooks will weigh you down. They’re both highly portable notebooks that you’ll be happy to carry from place to place.

Both also have good battery life, but the Folio’s longevity is something extra special. In our most demanding Basemark web benchmark battery test, the Folio lasted for almost five and three-quarter hours compared to the Spectre x360’s four hours and 14 minutes. The Folio browsed the web for over 10 hours compared to eight hours and 25 minutes, and it looped a local video for a whopping 17 hours and 18 minutes compared to 14 hours and 18 minutes.

Simply put, the Folio’s battery life is spectacular. Thanks to its low-power CPU and display, there are few notebooks that can keep up. The Spectre x360 is no slouch in this department, but it’s still outclassed.

Leather wins the day

hp spectre folio review 3
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Leather isn’t cheap, and the Folio isn’t either. It starts at $1,300 for the Core i7-8500U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and you can spend as much as $1,608 for 16GB of RAM and LTE connectivity. Pricing for the 4K UHD version hasn’t yet been announced.

The Spectre x360 is quite a bit less expensive, starting at $1,150 (often as low as $950 on sale) for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a Full HD display. With a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a 4K display, you’ll spend $1,800 ($1,600 on sale).

So, while the Spectre x360 is less expensive and a bit faster, the Folio sports a distinctive and luscious leather design and astounding battery life. If you’re a typical productivity user who doesn’t need demanding power, then we recommend you get the 2-in-1 that’s clad in leather and lasts forever.

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