HP Spectre Folio vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 6

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Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Microsoft created the modern Windows 2-in-1 market with the original Surface Pro, and that innovative device is now in its sixth generation. But the Surface Pro 6 doesn’t stand alone — there’s a host of excellent 2-in-1s available today.

Enter HP’s Spectre Folio, an innovative new 2-in-1 that’s constructed of high-quality leather. It’s the company’s attempt to “reinvent the PC,” similar to what Microsoft did with the Surface Pro 6. Does the Folio challenge the original?

Design

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Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

When thinking about the Spectre Folio, it’s important to note that the 2-in-1 isn’t just wrapped in leather. Rather, it’s literally constructed of a chrome-tanned variety of the luxury material that’s made via the same method as automobile seats. That means its both durable and beautiful, and HP ships the Folio in Cognac Brown and Burgundy colorways. The leather makes up the shell of the Folio’s chassis, with magnesium and aluminum insides that provide for its internal structure. The leather also facilitates the Folio’s very different convertible 2-in-1 form factor — the display splits in the middle and can then be pulled forward to transition from clamshell to movie and finally into tablet mode. Without the flexible leather, such a design would have required a complex metal hinge or swivel, and one advantage of the Folio’s is that the keyboard is covered in both 2-in-1 modes.

The leather does have one downside: The Folio isn’t as thin, light, or small as today’s smallest metal notebooks. It’s 0.6 inches thick, weighs 3.28 pounds. While the display bezels are thin, the leather sticks out along each edge. It’s not unwieldy, but it’s not incredibly svelte, either. At the same time, the keyboard enjoys lots of travel and has a snappy and precise mechanism. The touchpad is smaller than we like and relies on Synaptic drivers rather than Microsoft’s Precision touchpad protocol, but it supports all the usual Windows 10 multitouch gestures. The HP Active Pen provides 1,024 natural levels of pressure sensitivity for writing and drawing on the touch-enabled display. Finally, there are three USB-C ports, two with 4GB/s Thunderbolt 3 support, and a 3.5mm combo audio jack — that’s it for wired connectivity.

The Surface Pro 6, on the other hand, conforms to Microsoft’s now-iconic Surface design and aesthetic. It’s a silver-grey magnesium slate that’s incredibly light at 1.72 pounds and thin at 0.33 inches. It’s also very robust, looking and feeling in hand like a fusion of metal and glass. It’s one of the best-looking and built detachable tablets around, and it sports the best built-in kickstand. You’ll find a USB-A 3.0 port and mini-DisplayPort matched up with the usual Surface Connect port for power and docking — there’s no USB-C port or Thunderbolt 3.

The Surface Pro 6 gets its 2-in-1 status from its Type Cover keyboard, a $130 option with a precise key mechanism and attractive backlighting and enjoying a Microsoft Precision touchpad with reliable support for the full range of Windows 10 gestures. The $100 Surface Pen offers a superior 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, tilt support, and the quickest response times on a Windows device. And, of course, the PixelSense display is also touch-enabled.

The Surface Pro 6 is an excellent detachable tablet, but it can’t match the Folio for sheer warmth and luxury.

Performance

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The Folio doesn’t try to be a super-powerful portable workstation. Rather, it’s focused on providing solid productivity performance and on being as quiet as possible. To that end, it utilizes Intel’s latest 8th-generation dual-core low-power CPU, the Core i7-8500Y in the case of our review unit. Running at only five watts, this processor allows the Folio to be fanless and silent while providing solid performance for productivity workers.

The Surface Pro 6 also updated to Intel’s 8th-generation, only it utilizes the higher-power U-series with four cores and using up to 15 watts. The Core i5 and i7 processors support eight threads and provide superior efficiency and performance. That choice of CPU makes the Surface Pro 6 a good choice for users with more demanding productivity needs. The Core i5 version is also fanless, and so it’s as quiet as the Folio while also being a step quicker.

Our review Folio came with a new 1-watt Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 165PPI) display that not only uses about half as much power as other panels but also provides good brightness, contrast, and colors. There will also be a 4K UHD option at some point shortly. The Surface Pro 6, on the other hand, has a much sharper 12.3-inch IPS display (2,736 x 1,824 or 267PPI) that’s in the productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio. It offers superior brightness and contrast compared to the Folio’s display, but its color gamut and accuracy aren’t quite as good.

The Surface Pro 6 is faster, and it enjoys a sharper and brighter display. It wins this round.

Portability

Surface Pro 6 Review
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

As we mentioned, the Folio isn’t the thinnest, lightest, or smallest notebook around, whereas the Surface Pro 6 is incredibly thin and light. When you add the Type Cover, Microsoft’s slate loses some of its advantages, though, and in any case, neither of these notebooks will weigh you down.

Where these 2-in-1s differ most is in their longevity away from a charger. The Folio combines 54-watt hours of battery capacity with its low-power CPU and display, while the Surface Pro 6 makes do with 45 watt-hours to power its more powerful CPU and thirstier display. The results are predictable.

In our most demanding Basemark web benchmark test, the Folio ran for almost six and three-quarter hours and the Surface Pro 6 gave up at under four hours. Web browsing lasted for 10 hours on the Folio compared to nine and a half on the Surface Pro 6. Finally, the Folio lasted an astounding 17 hours and 18 minutes when looping our local test video while the Surface Pro 6 made it to 14 hours and 15 minutes.

The Surface Pro 6 is easier to carry around, but the Folio lasts longer on a charge.

The Folio is a luxurious and long-lasting 2-in-1

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Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

High-quality leather usually comes at a premium, and the Folio doesn’t buck that trend. It starts at $1,300 for the Core i7-8500U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and goes up from there to $1,608 for 16GB of RAM and gigabit LTE. Pricing for the 4K UHD version hasn’t yet been announced.

The Surface Pro 6 starts at a less expensive $900 for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD in its Platinum color scheme, but don’t forget the $130 Type Cover and $100 Surface Pen that completes its 2-in-1 functionality. You can also spend a whopping $2,300 for Surface Pro 6 alone if you opt for a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.

The Spectre Folio is not only a very lovely notebook with unusual luxury, but it’s also much more comfortable on a lap thanks to its more stable clamshell mode.

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