HP Spectre x360 13 (2019) review

With its gem-cut design, HP’s near-perfect Spectre x360 2-in-1 is a shining jewel

HP’s gem cut Spectre x360 13 is a gorgeous jewel of a 2-in-1, with speed and longevity to match.
HP’s gem cut Spectre x360 13 is a gorgeous jewel of a 2-in-1, with speed and longevity to match.
HP’s gem cut Spectre x360 13 is a gorgeous jewel of a 2-in-1, with speed and longevity to match.

Highs

  • Solid productivity performance
  • Spectacular battery life
  • Exotic good looks and an excellent build
  • Precise and comfortable keyboard
  • Excellent power-saving Full HD display

Lows

  • Touchpad still isn’t Microsoft Precision

I’ve reviewed over 50 laptops for Digital Trends over the last couple of years. Take it from me: reviewing a great laptop is so much more fun than reviewing a mediocre one. A case in point was the late 2017 HP Spectre x360 13, which I considered the best 360-degree convertible 2-in-1 around. Ironically, that meant I approached my review of the 2019 Spectre x360 13 with some trepidation. How could it be better?

HP sent me a review unit with a Whiskey Lake 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8565U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). The configuration retails for $1,350 at Best Buy (on sale right now for $1,150) but you can spend as much as $2,240 at HP.com if you max out the components with 16GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, and an LTE modem.

This new model makes major changes to my favorite 2-in-1, and HP is asking a premium for it. Did they manage to make something great even better, or did they kill the magic?

An exotic design that’s built well and turns heads

HP has nicknamed this Spectre x360 the “gem-cut” model, and that’s for a good reason. Every facet has been shaped to reflect light from as many angles as possible. I’m not exaggerating. The edges of the lid, the chassis sides, the border around the keyboard deck, the chassis bottom – they’re all angled, in much the same way as a precious stone. Even the speaker grills have an angular pattern.

I love the look, though I recognize that some people might consider it a bit much. There’s nothing else like it and other 2-in-1s, such as the LG Gram 14 and the Lenovo Yoga C930, look downright boring with their simplistic designs and muted colors.

Speaking of hues, the Spectre x360’s colors have been reworked with a new Poseidon Blue replacing the older silver and joining the Dark Ash Silver that becomes the more “conservative” option. My 13-inch review unit sports the latter, but I also have the 15-inch model in for review, and I love the striking blue color.

Next, the rear edge of the chassis and the bottom of the display have notches cut out to add even more flair. But they’re also functional – the left notch houses the power button in a convenient location that’s easy to find yet hard to press accidentally, while the right notch is home to one of the two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Attach a cable, and it’s angled away from the side of the laptop (and your mouse, if you use one) while still allowing the display to flip around into tablet mode.

The new Spectre x360 is nicknamed the “gem-cut” model, and for a good reason.

Another functional change is that HP made the Spectre x360 0.9mm thicker, which isn’t enough to notice but allows for better thermal performance. The laptop is now 0.57 inches thick, compared to the Yoga C930 at an identical 0.57 inches and the LG Gram 14 at 0.70 inches. Both of those 2-in-1s sport 14-inch displays, but they’re nevertheless the best comparisons.

The Spectre x360 remains light enough at 2.92 pounds compared to the Lenovo at 3.0 pounds and the Gram 14 at a featherweight 2.5 pounds.

Of course, this is a 2-in-1, so while its side bezels are relatively thin, the top and bottom bezels can’t compare to the ones on more diminutive clamshell laptops like the Dell XPS 13. HP seems to think you’ll want something to hold onto in portrait tablet mode, and they’re not wrong. And while you can bend the lid a bit if you try hard enough, there’s no flex in the keyboard deck or chassis bottom, ranking it close to the tank-like Yoga C930 in rigidity.

As if that wasn’t enough, HP has also improved the Spectre x360’s security features. You’ll still find two ways to login via Windows 10 Hello, an infrared camera for facial recognition and a fingerprint scanner. Now, though, the latter has been moved from the side to the keyboard deck, where it’s easier to find and use. Both worked perfectly.

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

HP has joined the trend to keep the laptop’s video secure from hackers. Rather than enable physical security as with Lenovo’s ThinkPad’s ThinkShutter switch and the Huawei Matebook 14’s pop-up webcam, the Spectre x360 has a switch on the side. When flipped, the switch kills the webcam electronically and makes it disappear from the system completely. Note that it also turns off the infrared camera, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve logged a fingerprint if you want to avoid entering your password or PIN while the cameras are shut off.

Connectivity is the one thing that hasn’t changed from the previous model. There are still two USB-C ports with full-speed 40 Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 support, a USB-A 3.1 port, and a microSD card reader. That’s augmented by an Intel Wireless-AC chip providing 2X2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi along with Bluetooth 5.0. An Intel gigabit LTE radio for always-connected internet is an option.

An excellent keyboard struggles with a stubborn touchpad

A laptop’s keyboard matters if you spend hours typing thousands of words. In fact, it’s one of my most important factors when evaluating a machine, and the Spectre x360 has always been one of my favorites. That hasn’t changed, meaning it’s just as snappy and precise as always without requiring too much pressure. It has more travel than the Yoga C930, the Gram 14, and the XPS 13, and it lets me type accurately at full speed. In an improvement over the previous generation, the backlighting now enjoys two brightness levels rather than just on and off.

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

The touchpad, on the other hand, remains hobbled by HP’s stubborn refusal to adopt Microsoft’s Precision drivers. The Synaptics drivers aren’t terrible, mind you, and the wide-format touchpad is large enough. But while most Windows 10 multitouch gestures work fine, the three-finger swipe to move between apps is unreliable. I like the XPS 13’s touchpad a lot better.

Finally, there’s an active HP Pen in the box, and it works fine thanks to 4,096 (interpolated from 1,024) levels of pressure sensitivity. It’s not quite as good as the Microsoft Surface Pro 6’s Surface Pen, and if you want tilt sensitivity you’ll need to spend $80 extra and upgrade to the HP Tilt Pen. One nice feature of both pens is they use built-in rechargeable batteries that charge via USB-C.

The display not only looks great, it’s also a battery-saving secret weapon

HP has pulled in the same Intel low-power 1-watt Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) panel used by the leather-bound HP Spectre Folio, and that’s a good thing. With the Folio, we found the display offered a great experience while also extending battery life. You can also opt for a 4K display and a Full HD version with HP’s SureView privacy technology.

According to our colorimeter, the Spectre x360’s display quality carries over. Contrast is excellent at 1040:1, better than most comparable 2-in-1s and exceeding the 1000:1 threshold of the Surface Pro 6 and ThinkPad X1 Yoga displays. Color gamut is 73 percent of the AdobeRGB gamut, comparable to the Yoga C930 and Surface Pro 6 but behind the Thinkpad X1 Yoga. Color error was low at 1.27 – lower is better in that test.

Brightness was good at 333 nits, although better displays in our comparison group were close to 400 nits (and sometimes above). The gamma curve was perfect at 2.2, meaning the display looks just as bright as it should. Images aren’t too dark or washed out.

The display looks great, is plenty bright, has excellent contrast, and saves on battery life.

These numbers combine to paint a meaningful picture. This is a great display that will be a pleasure to use for any productivity or content-consumption task. The color gamut isn’t wide enough for creative professionals, but that’s true of most laptops not specifically intended for that kind of use. I love this display, and I’m even happier knowing that it’s sucking down less power and making my battery last longer.

The audio is provided by four speakers, two downward firing on the bottom of the chassis and two firing up from the speaker grills below the display. The sound is tuned by Bang and Olufsen, and we enjoyed the high volume and the strong midrange and highs. Bass was better than many laptops but still not strong, and we did note some slight distortion in high notes at full volume. Overall, it’s an impressive amount of sound for a small laptop, and it’s good enough for Netflix.

Performance is good, and (somewhat) under your control

Inside the latest Spectre x360 you’ll find Intel’s latest Whiskey Late 8th-generation Core processors. These are great performers that also promise efficient operation. Our review unit equips the quad-core i7-8565U, a great choice that I’ve always found meets my productivity needs.

The Spectre x360’s performance was strong but not exceptional, at least out of the box. It scored 5,256 in the Geekbench 4 single-core test and 14,417 in the multi-core test. That’s a bit slower than some of the 2-in-1s in our comparison group, including the Gram 14 and the Yoga C930, but it’s generally in line with the class of CPU.

On our more real-world Handbrake test that converts a 420MB video to h.265, the Spectre x360 took 298 seconds. That’s close to the Gram 14’s 283 seconds and XPS 13’s 270 seconds, meaning it’s not as fast as the impressive Yoga C930, but it’s still quick for a thin and light 2-in-1.

Like I said, however, that’s out of the box. If you run the HP Command Center app, you’ll see that it defaults to the HP Recommended option, with Performance, Comfort, and Quiet modes as the alternatives. The utility works well, and the default mode does a great job of managing performance, temperature, and fan noise.

If you need an extra boost of performance, you can select Performance mode and the CPU will ramp up and the fans will blow – but never so loud that it bothered me except when running a 3DMark stress test. Performance mode improved the Handbrake score to 255 seconds, which is more competitive. When I put the thermal profile to Quiet, the fans never came on, although I never felt the need given that the laptop acted a lot like a fanless machine when set to HP Recommended.

HP Command Center works, letting users manage performance, temperature, and fan noise.

The point is, you can tune the Spectre x360 for either performance or quiet and cool operation. It’s slightly more effective than the Dell XPS 13’s similar utility, which also worked well in my experience. HP has improved the thermal performance over the previous version – during a stress test, the keyboard didn’t exceed 90 degrees Fahrenhetti, the deck 105 degrees, and the chassis bottom 108 degrees — and for most of my use I enjoyed an almost silent experience.

Regarding storage performance, HP opted for a Western Digital PCIe SSD that scored well in the CrystalDiskMark benchmark. Its read speeds were competitive with the other 2-in-1s in our comparison group, while its write speeds were significantly better.

In all, this is a speedy laptop for the kinds of productivity tasks which you’re likely to buy it. The ability to control performance and fan noise is a nice benefit, and when you need some extra power, it’s available at the flip of a virtual switch.

Even so, it’s not for gamers

The Spectre x360 13 is limited to the usual Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics, so it makes no pretenses around being a gaming laptop. Look to something like the Asus ZenBook Flip 14 that sports a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU if you need entry-level gaming.

The Spectre x360 13 performed exactly as expected in a couple of our gaming benchmarks. It managed 1,182 in the 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark, right in line with the competition. In Rocket League it achieved 53 frames per second (FPS) in 1080p with performance graphics selected, and 23 FPS at high quality. That’s good enough for less demanding games and older titles, but it won’t handle most modern AAA titles.

Where did all this battery come from?

The Spectre x360 has an efficient yet fast CPU in the Core i7-8565U, a 1-watt display that uses about half the usual power, and 61 watt-hours of battery capacity. I was expecting it to achieve excellent battery life.

I wasn’t disappointed. The 2-in-1’s battery life is spectacular, especially in tests where the display is more important than the CPU. For example, in our web browsing test that loops through a series of popular sites, the Spectre x360 lasted for almost 12 and three-quarter hours, an excellent result that beat out the very strong LG Gram 14’s just less than 12 hours, and the Yoga C930’s roughly 10 and a half hours.

Looping a locally stored Avengers trailer highlighted the impact of that low-power panel. The Spectre x360 lasted for a phenomenal 17 hours and 36 minutes, beating out every laptop we’ve tested except the 15-inch Surface Book 2. The LG Gram 14 managed 15 hours, while the Yoga C630 shut down after “only” just over 13 hours.

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

It was only in the CPU-intensive Basemark web benchmark test that the Spectre x360 fell back in the pack. It managed about four and a half hours, a good score that fell slightly behind LG and Lenovo 2-in-1s but beat out the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 and the late 2017 Spectre x360.

Simply put, the Spectre x360 13 will last you an entire working day on a charge, and you’ll still have time left in the evening for some Netflix. That is, unless you push the CPU, at which point it’s still a competitive performer. As I used the laptop as my primary system during this review, I routinely found myself getting a realistic 10 hours (or significantly more) of mixed usage.

Our Take

The HP Spectre x360 13 is a great-looking convertible 2-in-1 with several small but meaningful touches that make it a pure joy to use. It’s fast, it lasts a very long time on a charge, and it feels great in hand. HP knocked this update out of the park, one-upping the previous version in just about every conceivable way – and making me a very happy laptop reviewer in the process.

Is there a better alternative?

The Lenovo Yoga C930 is a great 14-inch 2-in-1 competitor. It’s more solid, but not so much that you would notice unless you go looking. It’s also still using last year’s 8th-gen CPU and can’t last for as long away from a plug. It retails for $1,200 for a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe SSD, $150 less than the Spectre x360’s retail price and $50 more than the Spectre x360’s current sale price.

If you don’t need a 2-in-1, then you could stick with a clamshell laptop. The latest Dell XPS 13 is a great option, with smaller bezels and a much smaller chassis. It offers similar performance and lesser but still strong battery life, and its looks are more conservative for those who appreciate that aesthetic. The XPS 13 is also a bit less expensive at retail $1,260 for the same configuration.

Finally, if you’d rather buy a detachable tablet, then you could always go with the Microsoft Surface Pro 6. It offers rock-solid build quality and modern good looks, and its performance and battery life are also great for productivity. To duplicate the Spectre x360’s functionality, you’ll want to opt for the $160 Signature Type Cover and $100 Surface Pen. That makes an equivalent configuration retail for $1,200 for the tablet portion alone and $1,360 fully outfitted with keyboard and pen.

How long will it last?

The Spectre x360 feels robust enough to last for years. Its components are cutting edge and future-proof. HP provides the industry-standard one-year warranty.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Spectre x360 is the best 13-inch convertible 2-in-1 on the market today, and nobody else comes close. In fact, it’s one of the best laptops you can buy. Period.

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