Microsoft is most responsible for the advent of the modern 2-in-1 in which laptops can morph from clamshell to tablet and a couple of modes in between. That made the company’s refreshed Surface Laptop 3 an odd bird when compared to a 2-in-1 like the HP Spectre x360 13. Note that there’s now a 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, but we’ll be talking about the 13.5-inch variant in this comparison.
Both of these machines received updates at around the same time, with the HP’s being the more significant. Which one is better at its appointed tasks?
Look at the Spectre x360 from just about any angle, and you’ll see a resemblance to a finely cut jewel. That’s no accident, and its why HP dubbed this the “gem-cut” version. It’s an elegant look in Dark Ash Silver or Poseidon Blue, or and it stands out among just about any crowd. Note that the Spectre x360 13 was also recently refreshed but we’re covering the version we reviewed. The Surface Laptop 3’s design is almost identical to the first generation, and it’s a rather typical thin and light laptop with a couple of exceptions. The aluminum chassis and Alcantara fabric on the keyboard deck come in one of four colors: Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and Black.
You won’t find fault with either of these laptop’s build quality. They both sport rigid aluminum chassis with virtually no flexing or bending. The Spectre x360 and Surface Laptop 3 are both 0.57 inches, but the HP is a little heavier at 2.92 pounds versus 2.79 pounds.
Input options are also excellent on both. The Spectre x360 enjoys one of our favorite keyboards, which just like the Surface Laptop 3’s version has excellent travel and a snappy and precise feel. However, the Surface Laptop 3’s Precision touchpad (slightly larger in this version) is much more pleasant to use than the HP’s touchpad with Synaptics drivers (something HP rectified in the latest version). Both laptops have touch displays and support active pens, and while the Surface Pen is better than HP’s Active Pen, the Spectre x360 is more comfortable to write and draw on when in tablet form.
Connectivity is a more significant area of differentiation. The Spectre x360 has two USB-C ports with 40 gigabits per second Thunderbolt 3 support and a USB-A 3.1 port for legacy support. The Surface Laptop has one USB-A 3.0 port, a USB-C 3.1 port (no Thunderbolt 3, unfortunately), and a Surface Connect port for charging and docking. That makes the Spectre x360 the preferable machine for connecting today’s peripherals, including multiple 4K displays and external GPU enclosures.
The Surface Laptop 3 is a fine laptop, but the Spectre x360 looks better and is much better connected.
The Surface Laptop 3 picked up Intel 10th-generation Ice Lake quad-core U-Series processors, while the Spectre x360 is built around Intel’s 8th-gen Whiskey Lake silicon. Both laptops are fast, but the Surface Laptop 3 benefits from having the most up-to-date CPUs. At the same time, both also utilize fast PCIe solid-state drives (SSDs), and so both are quick at accessing and saving data. The latest Spectre x360 13 also uses Ice Lake, so stay tuned for our review of that version, which will likely provide similar performance to the Surface Laptop 3.
Display quality is one area where the Surface line has always excelled. The Surface Laptop 3 is no exception, with a 13.5-inch display in the usual great-for-productivity 3:2 aspect ratio and a sharp 3,000 x 2,000 resolution. It has higher contrast and equal colors to the Spectre x360’s Full HD display, although the HP also has 4K and SureView privacy screens from which to choose (and an OLED display in the latest version). One benefit of the Spectre x360’s default panel, though, is that it’s a low-power variant that uses half the power of a typical Full HD screen. More on that in the next section.
The Spectre x360 is more current on its components, but the Surface Laptop 3 has a better display.
Virtually every modern 13-inch laptop on the market is easy to carry around, and these two are no different. Neither will weigh you down or take up too much space in a backpack.
However, the Spectre x360 is one of the longest-lasting laptops we’ve ever tested, in part thanks to Intel 1-watt display technology that uses about half the power of the usual 13.3-inch IPS Full HD panel. And, it’s almost certainly less power-hungry than the Surface Laptop 3’s display. We haven’t had a chance to do a deep dive into the Surface Laptop 3’s battery life just yet, but the previous version had significantly lesser battery life than the Spectre x360.
While the Surface Laptop 3 may or may not last you an entire working day on a charge, the Spectre x360 might take you well into a second day. That makes it the more portable option.
The Spectre x360 beats Microsoft at its own 2-in-1 game
The HP Spectre x360 is priced at $1,150 for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and it tops out at $2,240 with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, and a 4K display. You can find this laptop on sale, though, as HP rolls out the newest version at these prices.
The Surface Laptop 3 starts at a lower entry-level price of $900 for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD, but it has a higher top-end at $2,399 for a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.
The Spectre x360 is a better 2-in-1 than the Surface Laptop 3 is a clamshell, and it wins this battle.
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