HP Spectre Folio hands-on review

Wrapped in leather, the HP Spectre Folio looks, feels, and yup, even smells good

The Spectre Folio takes the Surface Pro concept up a notch.
The Spectre Folio takes the Surface Pro concept up a notch.
The Spectre Folio takes the Surface Pro concept up a notch.

Highs

  • Leather really is luxurious
  • Magnets lock screen in position smartly
  • Beautiful design

Lows

  • No 4K?
  • Slightly lighter would be slightly better

HP claimed it was “reinventing the PC” ahead of the launch of the new Spectre Folio convertible laptop. That’s hardly the case. Microsoft did that in 2013 when it rolled out the Surface Pro, a laptop that converted into a tablet (or was it the other way around?), worked with a digital pen, and was designed to be picked up, carried around, shared, and most important, drawn directly on.

What HP did do is take Microsoft’s idea and turn it up to 11. At an event in New York City Monday morning, HP unveiled the Folio, a laptop that replaced the soft fabric with beautiful pebbled leather, evolving the idea of a kickstand into a device that snaps smoothly into several different positions, and in general adding the polish and pizzazz you’d expect from a device that costs $1,300 or so.

That’s hardly reinventing the PC – but it may just be perfecting it.

Wrapped in leather or made of leather?

When he announced the new Folio, Stacy Wolff — global head of design at HP — stressed that the product may not be what you think it is. “I want to be clear, this is not a PC that is wrapped in leather. This is a PC that is made of leather. The leather that you see provides its flexibility, its versatility,” he told the crowd.

Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

And that’s mostly true. The Folio is composed of two parts, a keyboard that’s wrapped in leather and a screen that’s wrapped in leather. So, yeah, it’s a PC wrapped in leather. But to Wolff’s point about flexibility, a fulcrum at the screen’s halfway point allows the Folio to convert between several positions. It’s a traditional laptop; or the screen can sit in front of the keys at a sharper angle, ideal for movies; or it can fold flat in a Z shape to enter tablet mode. And a leather bound hinge does seem pretty damn integral to that folding.

Folded up like a traditional notebook, the Folio felt classy.

The Folio’s leather feels nice against the hand, and before you ask, yep, it does have that new leather jacket smell – officially making this the first laptop you’ll tell your friends to sniff. The leather comes in two colors, Cognac Brown and Bordeaux Burgundy. We checked out the brown one, which was almost exactly the color of melted chocolate.

Convertibles have switched modes in a variety of ways over the years, from the kickstands in Surface Pros that have locked into different positions to hinges that allow you to pick a variety of poses. The Folio really targets those three shapes mentioned earlier (four if you count “closed” as a position), and magnets in various places help it lock directly into position. There’s no click sound or anything, but it’s very satisfying to feel it lock in place. And overall, it switches between modes quickly and smoothly.

Folded up like a traditional notebook, the HP Spectre Folio felt classy. Most people have carried a laptop between conference rooms or meetings while open, held by one corner and poised to crash to the ground. We do this even though they fold up, because the act of closing the laptop means little — and we don’t want to lose our work, of course. Closing this laptop makes a statement: The leather doesn’t quite meet with the metal of the chassis, creating a channel for airflow and making it feel less like a computer and more like a work of art. It feels and looks great closed. More manufacturers should embraced the importance of looking good when closed; I use a Dell XPS 13, which doesn’t lock shut with magnets, the cover simply flops against the keys. It is not a great look.

Speeds and feeds

We didn’t have enough time to test the performance of the Folio, but we did spend some time typing on the keyboard, which has a reasonable travel. Given the overall depth of the product, the keys can only travel so far; go too far and they’d be coming out the back of the computer. So travel is notably shallower than on the XPS 13, but still surprisingly good. They also felt firm; typing was very comfortable.

hp spectre folio
Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

The Folio has a 13.3-inch Full HD 1,920 × 1,080 touchscreen with Corning Gorilla Glass 4; it  The maximum brightness is 400 nits. It looked great to our eyes: Sharp and colorful, with dark blacks, although we had very little time to study it. HP touted the Folio as coming with a 4K panel, which turns out to be an option that won’t be available until later this year – a shortcoming of this product. Yes, 4K doesn’t make that much of a difference when viewed from a foot or so away. But it does make a difference and would have matched the premium look this laptop’s trying to push.

Under the hood, there’s an 8th-gen Core i5 or i7 Y-Series processor (Amber Lake), 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage, all of which made it feel peppy. These are Intel’s latest dual-core processors, but offer some enhancements such as better battery life and optional 4G LTE connectivity. One other point of note: There’s no fan, making this a very quiet system. We look forward to some long term testing to ascertain whether leather helps dissipate heat or simply builds it up. Anyone wearing a leather jacket in the summer would tell you the material doesn’t breathe too well.

So, does it “reinvent” the PC? Hardly. This design is elegant and well thought out, and once you’ve touched the pebbly leather, you’ll wonder how (and why) you ever went without. HP may not have reinvented anything, but this is nonetheless one of the classiest takes on convertibles we’ve ever seen.

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