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HP Spectre x360 15 2020 review: Smaller, yet more powerful

hp spectre x360 15 2020 review p1012378

HP Spectre x360 15

“The Spectre x360 15 packs a lot of power and a beautiful display into a more diminutive chassis.”
  • Tiny for a 15-inch 2-in-1
  • Spectacular good looks
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Solid productivity performance
  • Excellent OLED display
  • Modest performance in creative apps
  • Poor battery life
MSRP $1,400.00

The 2020 HP Spectre x360 15 is a 360-degree convertible 2-in-1 that is considerably smaller than its predecessor, but still has the option for reasonably powerful components and a lovely OLED display.

I reviewed the high-end model with a 10th-generation six-core Intel Core i7-10750H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB solid-state drive (SSD), an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q, and a 4K OLED display. This configuration comes in at $1,850 at HP.com and is intended for creative professionals who want the power of a 15-inch laptop with the flexibility of a 2-in-1. Let’s dig in.

Design

HP put the Spectre x360 13 under a scalpel in 2019, trimming off the fat and producing a truly diminutive 2-in-1 with a 90% screen-to-body ratio thanks to tiny bezels. Earlier this year, HP did the same with the 2019 Spectre x360 15, making for a much less unwieldy 15-inch 2-in-1. It also enjoys a 90% screen-to-body ratio, and it’s noticeably smaller than its predecessor. It looks far more modern, and it retains the gem-cut aesthetic that makes the Spectre line one of the best looking and most distinctive you’ll find.

I’ll note the size difference isn’t as striking as with the 13-inch model. While that laptop feels tiny in use, the 15-inch Spectre x360 merely feels smaller. HP says they’ve fit a 15-inch 2-in-1 into the chassis of a 14-inch model, but that seems like a bit of a stretch to me — especially since 14-inch laptops are slimming down, too. I love the Spectre x360 15’s size, but it still feels like I’m using a larger laptop.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Part of that has to do with thickness. It is 0.79 inches thick, more than the 2019 model’s 0.75 inches, and it doesn’t match the Dell XPS 15’s 0.71 inches, which feels quite a bit thinner. The HP weighs 4.24 pounds, though, which is less than the XPS 15’s 4.5 pounds, and much less than last year’s 4.81 pounds. Of course, any laptop over four pounds is going to come across as a large laptop. I stress this point to make sure nobody thinks they’re getting a thin-and-light 2-in-1 that’s going to be comfortable to use as a tablet — unless it’s propped up on a surface, that is.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the Spectre x360 15’s build quality. It is crafted from machined aluminum just like before, and HP takes care to ensure it exudes quality. The Spectre x360 15 has no flexing, bending, or twisting in the lid, keyboard deck, or chassis. It’s as solid a laptop as you’ll find. The hinge is a little stiff, meaning you’ll be using two hands to open it, but it’ll stay in place in whichever mode you choose — clamshell, tent, media, or tablet.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Connectivity also remains a strength. The Spectre x360 15 has a competent mix of legacy and modern ports, meaning that dongles are kept to a minimum. Along the left-hand side, you’ll find a full-size HDMI 2.0 port and a 3.5mm audio jack, and along the right-hand side, you’ll find two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3, a USB-A 3.1 port, and a microSD card reader (although a full-size reader would have been preferable for creative types). As with previous designs, one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports is located in a corner notch of the chassis, letting you plug in without a cable being in the way. It remains a nice touch. Wireless connectivity comes through Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.

Performance

The Spectre x360 15 is another laptop that mentions creative professionals as a target. Still, it doesn’t place the same emphasis on creative performance as some other 15-inch laptops. Dell’s XPS 15 and HP’s Envy 15 offer faster CPUs (and GPUs in the case of the Envy 15), more RAM, and more storage. Essentially, the Spectre x360 15 is a fast 2-in-1, but it’s not in the same class as today’s fastest 15-inch clamshell laptops.

I’d love to compare the Spectre x360 15 directly to the XPS 15, but we reviewed the Dell with a Core i7-10875H, meaning it benefits from two extra cores and four additional threads. The XPS 15 did have the same Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti, although the HP uses the Max-Q version. The Envy 15 is a more direct comparison in terms of its CPU, which is the same as the Spectre’s, but our review unit was equipped with an Nvidia RTX 2060 Max-Q.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Looking at Geekbench 5, the Spectre x360 15 scored 1,237 in single-core tests, and 5,013 in multicore. That’s well behind the Envy 15’s 1,274 and 5,542 score, and in fact, most laptops we’ve tested with the same CPU are faster than this HP.

The same holds in our Handbrake test that converts a 420MB video to H.265. Here, the Spectre x360 15 took a little over 2.5 minutes. The Envy 15 completed the test 21 seconds quicker, and 40 seconds less in Performance mode, using HP’s Command Center utility. Note this utility had virtually no impact on performance on the Spectre x360 15, something I saw in the previous version. The Spectre x360 15 didn’t perform poorly here, but it’s just not quite up to the same standard as other similarly-equipped laptops.

In Cinebench 20, the Spectre x360 15 scored 469 in the single-core test, and 2,523 in the multi-core test. Here, the Spectre almost matched the Envy 15, which scored 436 and 2,593 (487 and 2,830 in Performance mode). That was a surprising result, and might have something to do with the extensive work HP did to improve the Spectre x360 15’s thermal design.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Finally, I also ran our Premiere Pro test that renders a two-minute 4K video. In this test, which utilizes the GPU to accelerate the process, the Dell XPS 15 took five minutes to finish compared to the Spectre x360 15’s almost 7.5 minutes — those extra cores matter. The Envy 15 finished in under four minutes in Performance mode, showing off the power of the RTX 2060.

Overall, the Spectre x360 15 is a fast productivity laptop that can do some creative work on the side. It’s not as quick as its 15-inch competitors at demanding creative tasks like editing photos and video. However, it’s still a capable machine if you’re not looking for the absolute best creative application performance.

Gaming

With a GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q on board, you’ll naturally be tempted to do some gaming on the Spectre x360 15. I ran it through our suite of gaming tests, and generally speaking, it’s a step or two behind other laptops with the same GPU.

For example, in the 3DMark Time Spy test, the Spectre x360 15 scored 2,963. That compares to the Dell XPS 15 at 3,860 (although the Dell might have the standard GPU, it’s not always clear). The Microsoft Surface Book 3 13 scored 3,214 when tested with Nvidia’s GTX 1650 Max-Q.

Looking at real-world games, the Spectre x360 15 managed 89 frames per second (FPS) in Civilization VI at 1080p and medium graphics, compared to the XPS 15 at 114 FPS, and the Surface Book 3 13 at 68 FPS. The Spectre maintained 60 fps in ultra graphics compared to the XPS 15 at 64, and the Surface Book 3 at 41. In 4K, the Spectre x360 15 high 55 fps in medium graphics and 30 fps in ultra, where the XPS 15 hit 51 fps, and the Surface Book 3 hit 30 fps.

Ultimately, the Spectre x360 15 can play modern titles at 1080p and medium to high graphical detail at decent frame rates.

In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the Spectre x360 15 hit a playable 40 fps in 1080p and high graphics, but dropped to 25 fps at ultra-high. The XPS 15 was at 47 fps and 26 fps. Neither laptop is fast enough for 4K in this title.

Switching to Fortnite, the Spectre x360 15 ran at 67 fps in 1080p and high graphics, and 47 fps at the epic graphics preset. That compares to the XPS 15 at 74 fps and 60 fps, respectively, and the Surface Book 3 at 55 fps and 43 fps. Again, the laptops dropped off significantly at 4K.

Finally, in Battlefield V, the Spectre x360 15 managed 55 fps in 1080p and medium graphics and 44 fps in ultra. The XPS 15 hit 60 fps and 50 fps, and the Surface Book 3 was at 41 fps and 32 fps. As has been the story so far, 4K was out of reach.

Ultimately, the Spectre x360 15 can play modern titles at 1080p and medium to high graphical detail at decent frame rates, which isn’t bad for a 2-in-1. Its overall performance is shy of the Dell XPS 15, but the Spectre x360 15 generally outruns the Surface Book 3 in real-world gaming.

Display

HP offers the Spectre x360 15 with three display options, all 4K. The entry-level is the same 340-nit display they’ve provided on the 2-in-1 for a few cycles now. The middle option is a new 400-nit low-power (2-watt) panel. The premium option is a 400-nit OLED display. I reviewed the latter, and as has been the case with all of the OLED displays we’ve tested, it largely excelled.

First, according to my colorimeter, it was very bright at 426 nits, exceeding HP’s specifications. That’s not as bright as the excellent IPS display on the Dell XPS 15, which came in at 442 nits, but HP uses an anti-reflective glass, and so the Spectre x360 15 makes the most of its brightness. Next, the contrast was unworldly, as always with OLED, at 426,180:1 compared to the XPS 15’s (excellent for an LCD screen) 1480:1. The difference isn’t as dramatic as it seems on paper, but the OLED display is significantly better at offering deep blacks and punchy contrast.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The Spectre x360 15’s color gamut was plenty wide at 98% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB, close to the XPS 15’s 100% of both gamuts. The HP fell behind a bit in color accuracy, though, coming in at DeltaE 1.21 (the human eye generally can’t perceive an error below DeltaE 1.0) while the XPS 15 managed a 0.65 score. Both laptops are excellent for creative professionals who crave wide and accurate colors, but the Dell is a little bit better.

In real-world use, the OLED display is a dream. Colors pop but aren’t unnatural, black text on a white background is crystal clear, and movies are a sublime experience. I’ll note, though, that it doesn’t handle Netflix HDR as well as the Dolby Vision-enabled Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2, which also has an OLED display. That laptop is the king of Netflix HDR.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Audio was incredibly loud and undistorted at full volume. Mids and highs were excellent, and there was even a touch of bass. The Spectre x360 15 benefits from its two upward-firing speakers and two downward-firing speakers and Bang & Olufsen tuning. You don’t have to use headphones or external speakers to binge Netflix, although as with all but the MacBooks’ superior speakers, you’ll want to plug something in for the best musical performance.

Keyboard and touchpad

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, it should come as no surprise that the Spectre x360 has one of my favorite keyboards. I love the travel, the keycap size and spacing, and the light mechanism that nevertheless provides for a precise bottoming action. It’s the same keyboard on all of the Spectre models, and HP has apparently started dropping it into the Envy line as well. The only keyboard I like better is Apple’s new Magic Keyboard on the latest MacBooks, and that’s by a hair.

The touchpad isn’t quite as outstanding, primarily because of its small size. Dell managed to fit a larger touchpad on the latest XPS 15, and I’d love to see HP do the same. Dell benefitted from extra keyboard deck space thanks to its 3:2 display aspect ratio, but I still think HP could manage to fit in a larger version. The Spectre x360’s touchpad works well, though, being a Microsoft Precision touchpad after so many years using Synaptic drivers, and it supports Windows 10 multitouch gestures with aplomb.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The touch display is precise, as always. Windows 10 laptop makers have that one down pat. The 2020 Spectre x360 15 also benefits from an anti-fingerprint coating that’s welcome — I’ve noticed it remains cleaner than most other touch displays. The display supports HP’s active pens, which provide 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt support, but it’s an option on this particular model, and I wasn’t sent one to test.

Finally, Windows 10 Hello is provided by both an infrared camera for facial recognition, and a fingerprint scanner. I prefer the latter, but both worked quickly and accurately during my testing. Further security is provided by a physical switch that electronically removes the webcam from the system and therefore renders it invisible to hackers, and a dedicated keyboard button for shutting off the microphone.

Battery life

One statistic that suffered in the Spectre x360 15’s downsizing is battery capacity, which dropped from 82 watt-hours to 73 watt-hours. Toss in some powerful components and a very power-hungry OLED display, and battery life expectations should be tempered from the outset.

First, in our demanding Basemark web benchmark test, the Spectre X360 15 barely lasted past two and a half hours, which was 42 minutes less than the XPS 15, and one of the poorer scores we’ve seen from a productivity laptop. If you plan on doing any CPU-intensive or GPU-intensive work with this 2-in-1, then you’ll want to carry your power adapter along with you.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Next, in our web browsing test, the Spectre x360 15 shut down after just six hours. That’s an hour less than the XPS 15 and once again a poor score for a productivity laptop. This test gives an idea of how long the laptop will run when doing less demanding tasks, and you’re unlikely to make it through a workday even when merely browsing the web and running Office apps.

Finally, the Spectre x360 15 was just shy of six and a half hours on our video test, which loops a Full HD Avengers trailer until the battery runs out. The XPS 15 lasted an hour longer, and once again this score is less than we’re used to seeing in productivity machines.

The bottom line is that if you want the Spectre x360 15’s form factor with better battery life, then you’ll want to opt for the version with a 10th-gen quad-core Intel Core i7-10510U CPU and the low-power 4K display. You’ll get hours longer in each of these tests, but of course, you’ll give up performance and that gorgeous OLED. As it is, our review unit isn’t a great choice for road warriors.

Our take

The HP Spectre x360 15 is smaller and more powerful. It’s the most powerful 2-in-1 you can buy, and while it can’t quite match the fastest 15-inch laptops for creative professionals, it can meet the needs of all but the most demanding users. HP succeeded in creating a 2-in-1 that excels at productivity tasks while offering some creative chops on the side.

The laptop is well-built, gorgeous, and enjoys one of the best displays you can buy today. It’s also less expensive than some other laptops like the Dell XPS 15, making the HP a value choice.

Are there any alternatives?

The Dell XPS 15 is the most direct alternative to the Spectre x360 15, since there’s not another recent 15-inch 2-in-1 that matches the HP speed-for-speed. The Dell can be configured as a much faster laptop and offers its own excellent display, and it’s an excellent choice for more demanding creative types. It’s also more expensive, coming in at over $2,000 for similar specs, and only rising in price from there.

Another option is HP’s own Envy 15, which is less expensive than the Spectre but much more powerful. In fact, it’s tough to choose the XPS 15 over the Envy 15, and so if a clamshell meets your needs and you are a creative power user, then the Envy 15 is a great choice.

How long will it last?

The Spectre x360 15 is durable and has relatively modern components. It should last for years of productive service. We do wish the warranty was longer than a year, though.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you want a powerful laptop with the flexibility of a 2-in-1, then the Spectre x360 15 is your best choice.

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