HP Spectre x360 vs. Microsoft Surface Book 2

One of the hottest high-end laptop comparisons we made in 2017 was pitting the HP Spectre x360 against the Microsoft Surface Book 2. Both are seriously top-tier notebooks with a ton 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 came back with a vengeance with a second generation of its Spectre x360 15 and further built upon that design in late 2019.

We’re covering the 2018 Spectre x360 in this comparison. If you want to check out the latest versions of both of these laptops, make sure to read our HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2019) review and Microsoft Surface Book 3 review.

If you’re interested in what the older Spectre x360’s and Surface Book 2 can do though, here’s how they compare.

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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The Surface Book 2 is a little more generic, with a design that will be familiar to Apple fans, while HP enhanced the Spectre x360’s originally understated design with a more angular casing and slimmer monitor bezel. 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 the same dynamic fulcrum hinge 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 2018 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.

Performance

Just looking at the specifications would suggest that the Surface Book 2 will be the more powerful of the two devices, but there are certainly some interesting options in the Spectre’s lineup that could make it intriguingly competitive for your needs.

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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 older mid-tier gaming laptops and business applications like that of a decently powerful workstation.

The Spectre x360 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 is noticeably more powerful, especially in the graphics department.

HP also offers a version with a more expensive i7-8705G paired with Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics. Our test unit arrived in this configuration, and the Vega graphics inside offered some noticeable improvements over the configuration with a MX150. Graphical performance is similar to a GTX 1050, falling just short of the GTX 1060 inside the Surface Book 2.

That makes the 2018 Spectre x360 just good enough for gaming at 1080p (4K is out of the question). We were able to achieve around 35 to 45 frames per second in demanding titles like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Battlefield 1 at full HD, while pushing simpler games like Rocket League far higher.

As far as the processor goes, the i7-8705G available in HP’s Spectre x360 is more powerful than the i7-8650U inside the Surface Book 2. However, the cheaper x360 configuration with a i7-8550U still falls short of Microsoft’s 2-in-1.

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 3,240 x 2,160. 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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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 (3,840 x 2,160) with much more typical color accuracy for a laptop at its price point. It isn’t as bright as the Surface Book 2, and the contrast falls behind by a noticeable margin (720:1 versus 1,410:1).

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

Portability

Alongside the internal hardware options for the 2018 version of the 15-inch HP Spectre x360, the other big changes come in the forms of its physical design and battery life, both of which impact portability. This version is ever so slightly thicker — by around 1.5mm — in order to handle the new graphics configuration, and that means a slight increase in weight. The new version is 4.62 pounds for the Nvidia version and 4.72 pounds for the AMD version — about a 5% increase.

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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. Those estimations must have been accounting for a 1080p display, however. In our web browsing loop, the battery lasted six and a half hours at 4K. Lowering your resolution will significantly improve battery life.

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 not enough 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 of its generation.

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. Neither of these models are available brand new in 2020, but you can find them on secondhand sites priced between $500 and $1,000.

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There is a wider array of specification options for the Spectre x360, which may make it easier to find a model that is more to your liking in both performance and price. Compare the cost of a secondhand model with what you can get with the newer models, as they are significantly faster and more efficient.

Two great laptops, but the Surface Book 2 is better

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 — even if their newer models are better. When it comes to which is the best option, however, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 is the winner, though not by any huge margin.

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