Battle of the high-end laptops: HP Spectre x360 vs. Microsoft Surface Book 2

HP
One of the hottest high-end laptop comparisons we made in 2017 was when pitting the HP Spectre x360 against the Microsoft Surface Book 2. Both are seriously top-tier notebooks with a tonne of fantastic features and enough performance to rival even decently powerful desktops in a variety of applications. While the Surface Book 2 may have won the day, that may not be the case forever. In 2018, HP is back with a vengeance with a second generation of its Spectre x360 15.

Can the new Spectre x360 with uprated processor and graphics help it come out on top in a brand new head to head? Are the Surface Book 2‘s days numbered before it’s even had the chance to gloat? Let’s find out.

Specifications

Design

When you’re spending as much as a few thousand dollars on a laptop, you would expect it to look the part. Although these two notebooks have quite different aesthetic designs, they both have a premium look to them.

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Surface Book 2 is a little more generic, with a design that will be familiar to Apple fans, while HP has enhanced its new Spectre x360’s originally understated design with a more angular casing and slimmer monitor bezel — similar to the new Spectre x360 13. That gives it an arguably more modern feel, though those who prefer the original Dark Ash Silver and Copper Luxe color schemes will still be able to pick them if preferred.

Both devices are classed as 2-in-1s, so can operate in both laptop and tablet-mode. The way they each achieve this effect, however, is slightly different because of the difference in hinge design.

Both devices are classed as 2-in-1s but the way each achieves this effect is slightly different because of hinge design.

The Spectre x360 leverages the more typical 360-degree hinge found on many convertible laptops, which lets it fold completely flat to the back of the screen for tablet operation.

The Surface Book 2 has a “dynamic fulcrum hinge,” in the same fashion as the original Surface Book. That means you can completely detach the screen from the base, making for a much more lighter tablet solution — 1.6 pounds versus 4.6 pounds for the new Spectre x360.

Although your opinions of the aesthetics of these laptops will be very much up to personal opinion, in terms of functionality, the Surface Book 2’s more capable hinge design offers more for those looking for a versatile convertible laptop.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Performance

Performance comparisons between these two notebooks are a little difficult to make right now, as the new HP Spectre x360 isn’t available yet and we’ve not had the opportunity to get our hands on it. That said, while specifications would suggest that the Surface Book 2 will be the more powerful, there are certainly some interesting options in the Spectre’s lineup that could make it intriguingly competitive.

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Surface Book 2 is an established and understood piece of hardware, with an eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8650U CPU, a flat 16GB of memory and a GTX 1060 graphics chip with 6GB of VRAM. In our own testing, we’ve seen the Surface Book 2 handle 1080P gaming in a manner that’s comparable to midtier gaming laptops and business applications like that of a decently powerful workstation.

The new Spectre x360 is a little harder to pin down, because as well as not being available just yet, it has two specific hardware lineups. The first has an eighth-generation Core i7-8550 CPU with a choice of 8GB, 12GB or 16GB of memory, and a GeForce MX150 with 2GB of VRAM (effectively a mobile version of the desktop GT 1030). In that setup, as with our comparison of the previous version, the Surface Book 2 should be noticeably more powerful, especially in the graphics department.

Until the x360 is more available for testing, the Book 2 has the edge.

Things could be much more competitive with the second iteration. It comes with the new Intel eighth-generation Kaby Lake G processor, which combines one of the latest Intel CPUs with an on-die AMD graphics chip from its Vega lineup, known as the Vega M GL.

Although we will need to get some hands-on experience with the chip and the laptop itself to have a concrete idea of its performance, we would expect such a hardware design to have comparable performance to a seventh-generation Intel Quad Core HQ chip and a GTX 1050.

HP claims that this hardware configuration is about 40 percent quicker at editing and transcoding 4K video to 1080P than the i7-8550u/MX150 design. In terms of raw power, though, it still seems unlikely to eclipse the Surface Book 2.

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Although the Microsoft 2-in-1 is likely to exhibit greater performance than the Spectre x360, the new additions to the HP offering certainly give potential buyers more choice and it may well be that the Intel/AMD combi-design delivers performance that’s not much weaker than what the Surface Book 2 is capable of.

Until we know more, the Surface Book 2 has the competitive edge.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Display

The displays that Microsoft and HP have integrated with these premium laptops are both well beyond the 1080P standard of recent years, but their visuals and resolution offerings are quite different. The Surface Book 2 comes equipped with a 15-inch PixelSense display running at a resolution of 3240 x 2160. That’s a step back from full 4K resolution, but the dense pixel-per-inch count of 260 means it still has lots of high-definition clarity.

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Dan Baker/Digital Trends
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The panel is very bright too, with powerful colors. In our testing we did find them a bit oversaturated and arguably too vibrant, with a slightly disappointing color accuracy rating.

That’s not to say it looks bad — it really doesn’t — but personal preference is an important point to consider. If you are buying a laptop to edit photos on and accuracy is at the top of your wishlist, the Surface Book 2 does lack a little in that respect.

To our eye, the Surface Book 2 offers the better option for potential buyers.

In comparison, the HP Spectre x360 features a true-4K display (3840 x 2160) with much more typical color accuracy for a laptop at its price point. It isn’t as bright as the Surface Book’s, and the contrast falls behind by a noticeable margin (720:1 versus 1,410:1).

Displays are as much about personal preference as the are about raw specifications, but to our eye, the Surface Book 2 offers the better option for the broadest segment of potential buyers.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Portability

Alongside the new internal hardware options for the 2018 version of the 15-inch HP Spectre x360, the other big changes come in the form of its physical design and battery life, both of which impact portability. The new version is ever so slightly thicker — by around 1.5mm — in order to handle the new graphics configuration, and that in turn has meant a slight increase in weight. The new version is 4.62 pounds for the Nvidia version and 4.72 pounds for the AMD version — an increase of around five percent.

dell xps 15 vs microsoft surface book 2
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

That’s not likely to be noticeable at this weight range, though it does mean there is a slightly greater disparity between the HP laptop and the Surface Book 2, which has a static weight of 4.2 pounds. Neither feels heavy, but due to the Microsoft 2-in-1’s ability to detach entirely from its keyboard, the weight difference when in tablet mode is far more stark. While the Spectre x360 will remain its full weight whatever configuration it’s in, the Surface Book 2 can become as light as 1.7 pounds when in tablet mode.

Another reason that the 2018 Spectre x360 is a little heavier is due to a slightly larger battery. It now comes with an 84 watt-hour battery, versus a 79.2 watt-hour version with its previous edition. Estimations peg it as lasting 13.5 hours with the Nvidia version and 12 hours with the AMD version, depending on usage.

It’s hard to beat the Surface Book 2’s battery life and sheer weight difference in tablet-mode.

While more juice is always good for those using their system on the move, it’s going to be hard to beat the Surface Book 2’s battery life, which was its most standout feature in our testing. We found that in some cases it was able to last as long as 20 hours when watching videos, a staggering amount of time for such a high-powered laptop.

With that kind of battery life and the sheer weight difference in tablet-mode, we need to give the nod to the Surface Book 2 for portability once again.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Pricing and availability

None of the above categories truly matter if the hardware is priced out of reach, and there is certainly an argument to be made for that here. While the Surface Book 2’s 13-inch version can be had for the much more reasonable price of $1,500, the 15-inch version in this comparison starts at $2,500. If you want more storage, you can spend up to $3,300 which is far from cheap, even if you do get a lot for your money.

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Dan Baker/Digital Trends
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The HP Spectre x360, on the other hand, benefits from its wider range of hardware options to come in at a much more reasonable price point. When it goes on sale, the 15-inch version will start at $1,370, a far cry from Microsoft’s pricing. That would be the weakest of the configurations, though, so if we look at the new version with the Intel Kaby Lake G chip with AMD graphics, the 16GB version with 512GB  solid-state storage is $1,700.

In pricing, therefore, the HP 2-in-1 has a clear advantage, especially considering how competitive it is with the Surface Book 2, despite falling behind throughout most of this comparison piece. But since it won’t become available until March, for now, the Surface Book 2 is your best (and only) option unless you opt for the previous edition of the Spectre x360.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Bottom line

Both the 2018 version of the HP Spectre x360 and Surface Book 2 are fantastic 2-in-1 laptops. We should all be so lucky to work and play with them. When it comes to which is the best option, however, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 is the winner, though not by any huge margin.

There’s certainly an argument to be made that the price of the Surface Book 2 ($2,500-$3,300) doesn’t justify its minor improvements in performance over the Spectre x360 ($1,370-$1,700), but its hinge system and greater battery life are an important part of that discussion. The fact that the HP notebook has yet to go on sale is also a sticking point.

If you want one of the best laptops we have ever tested right now, the Surface Book 2 is the way to go. If you are happy to wait a few months and find that your budget lines up more with the Spectre x360, you will still be a very happy new owner.

Overall winner: Surface Book 2

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