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Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 vs. HP Spectre x360 13

Microsoft is most responsible for the advent of the modern 2-in-1, in which laptops can morph from clamshell to tablet (and even a couple of modes in between). That made the company’s refreshed Surface Laptop 3 an odd duck when compared to a 2-in-1 like the HP Spectre x360 13.

Both of these machines received updates at around the same time, with the Spectre being the more significant. Which one is better at its appointed tasks? In this Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 versus HP Spectre x360 13 comparison, we’re going to find out.

Design

HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2018)
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

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 it’s why HP dubbed this the “gem-cut” version. It’s an elegant look in Natural Silver, Nightfall Black, and Poseidon Blue, and it stands out in just about any crowd.

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. There are four color options split into two design styles: Sandstone and Matte Black with a metal keyboard deck, and Cobalt Blue and Platinum with a keyboard deck covered in Alcantara fabric.

You won’t find fault with either of these laptop’s build qualities. They both sport a rigid aluminum chassis with virtually no flexing or bending. The Spectre x360 is 0.67 inches thin, and the Surface Laptop 3 is 0.57 inches, so the laptops are similar in size and identical in terms of weight (2.8 pounds for the HP, 2.79 pounds for the Surface Book 3).

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 Thunderbolt 3 support and a USB-A port for legacy support. The Surface Laptop has one USB-A port, a USB-C port (no Thunderbolt 3), 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 just looks better and has better connections.

Performance

Microsoft Surface laptop 3
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 13-inch in Sandstone Joel Chokkattu / Digital Trends

The Surface Laptop 3 picked up Intel 10th-generation Tiger Lake quad-core processors released in the fall of 2020, while the Spectre x360 is built around Intel’s 11th-gen Tiger Lake silicon (although you’ll find 10th-gen variants for sale). Both laptops are fast, but the x360 benefits from having a newer CPU. At the same time, both also utilize fast PCIe solid-state drives (SSDs), and so they are quick at accessing and saving data.

The latest x360 is built around the i7-1165G7, which is a quad-core processor with hyperthreading that has a max turbo frequency of 4.7GHz. You can pair the i7 with either 8GB or 16GB of memory, though not 32GB, like the latest XPS 13 offers. Meanwhile, the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 comes with either an i5-1035G7 or an i7-1065G7, depending on your configuration, and up to 16GB of memory.

Comparing the i7 processors available on both models, the HP has a clear edge, at least right now. The 11th-gen i7-1165G7 boasts higher clock speeds and more cache than the i7-1065G7, plus it comes with Intel Xe graphics. Intel’s 11th-gen mobile chips have some of the best integrated graphics we’ve seen. Although still a far cry from a dedicated GPU, the x360, with its 11th-gen Intel chip, can handle light gaming better than the Surface Laptop 3 hands down.

There are other improvements outside of clock speed, cache, and graphics, however. Intel’s latest CPUs have a significant advantage in benchmarks like Cinebench R20 — by as much as 26% — and in real-world use, such as with the Adobe suite. The i7-1165G7 is a better processor than the 1065G7, both on paper and in real-world use. However, comparable Ryzen 4000 chips, like the ones featured on the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 and Acer Swift 3, can still match or beat Intel’s best in most benchmarks.

Display quality is one area where the Surface line has always excelled. The Surface Laptop 3 is no exception, with a 13.5-inch screen 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.

Portability

HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2018)
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Virtually every modern 13-inch laptop on the market is easy to carry, 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 $1,020 for a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. If you want the top Core i7 model with upgraded features such as 16 GB of RAM and 2TB of storage, then you’re looking at a maximum price of $1619. If you want a 4K display, you’ll need to select a 10th-gen model instead — at least, for now.

Costs for the Surface Laptop 3 are more straightforward. It starts at a lower entry-level price of $900 for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. The upgraded laptop maxes out at a much higher price than the Spectre x360 laptop at $2,399 for a Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. Luckily, prices have recently gone down to around $2,099.

Overall, HP’s convertible Spectre x360 is simply better than Microsoft’s more traditional Surface Laptop 3. Thie Spectre x360 beats out the Surface laptop in every aspect including storage capacity, operation quality, and mobility.

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