HP Spectre X360 15 (2019)
“The HP Spectre x360 15 AMOLED is first with the latest display tech, and it's worth a drop in power.”
- Truly spectacular AMOLED display
- Solid productivity performance
- Entry-level GPU provides some power for creative types
- Excellent keyboard
- Good battery life given the power-hungry panel
- Touchpad isn’t Microsoft Precision
- Too large and heavy for tablet mode
- Performance dip won’t please creatives
OLED displays aren’t new, but they’ve been on a bit of a hiatus over the last couple of years. A new crop of OLED laptops is now arriving, and the first we’ve tested is HP’s Spectre x360 15 convertible 2-in-1 sporting Samsung’s latest 15.6-inch AMOLED panel.
Compared to traditional LCD technology, OLED promises superior colors to go with tons of brightness and contrast, making the Spectre x360 15 a photo editing dream. HP sent us a $1,900 Best Buy configuration that equips an 8th-gen Whiskey Lake Core i7-8565U CPU (a 15-watt chip), 16GB of RAM, a 1TB solid-state drive (SSD) backed up by 32GB of Intel Optane memory, and an Nvidia GeForce MX150 CPU. Of course, that 15.6-inch AMOLED display is on board, in a 4K (3,920 x 2,160) resolution. You can configure the laptop at HP.com to select the color and SSD, with the price starting at $1,630 ($1,580 on sale) for 256GB of storage.
HP made a conscious decision to ship the AMOLED display exclusively in the less powerful version of the Spectre x360 15. If you want the “power” version with a 45-watt six-core Core i7-8750H CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Max-Q GPU, then you’ll have to live with the standard IPS 4K panel that’s good but not great. HP’s reasoning is sound – OLED can use more power and impact battery life, thus justifying the more power-efficient CPU and GPU. But does the Spectre x360 15 offer enough power for the creative types who will most appreciate that gorgeous display?
The display’s so good, it’s leading off
We usually start our reviews with a laptop’s design and input options before getting to the display. But that didn’t seem right — this version of the Spectre x360 has one standout feature in its huge 15.6-inch AMOLED display manufactured by Samsung. It deserves special attention.
AMOLED stands for active matrix organic light-emitting diodes, but technical details aside it’s just Samsung’s version of OLED. Why does OLED matter? Because unlike displays that shine a backlight through liquid crystal diodes (LCDs), every OLED element individually lights up. This has several effects, not the least of which is that a black OLED screen is truly off and completely dark. OLED displays are also bright, provide luscious colors, and enjoy vastly superior contrast over LCD panels.
Does the Spectre x360 15’s display live up to AMOLED’s promise? According to our colorimeter, it sure does. Brightness was excellent at 520 nits (we consider 300 nits to be our baseline), and contrast came in at a whopping 519,950:1. Compare that to a great IPS LCD display like the one on the Surface Book 2 that “only” hit 1400:1 and 428 nits. The difference in contrast is so stark that it’s hard to represent in our usual chart.
The display’s color gamut was also very wide, at 100 percent of sRGB and 97 percent of AdobeRGB. That beats out the best displays we’ve tested, such as the excellent Apple MacBook Pro 15 that hits 100 percent and 91 percent, respectively. Accuracy was also very good at 1.29 (1.0 or less is considered excellent), competitive with the Dell XPS 15 at 0.6 and the MacBook Pro 15 at 0.61. Note that the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme’s 4K LCD display came in at 2.28.
The only metric where the Spectre x360 15’s display fell short was in its gamma, which at 2.4 (2.2 is perfect) means video and images will be a little darker than they should be. But it’s not egregious, and as we’ll get to in a minute, that doesn’t detract from the display’s overall experience.
The elegant gem-cut aesthetic catches the onlooker’s eye and stands out in a crowd.
And wow, what an experience it is. This is a spectacular display, and frankly, it’s enough to spoil the viewer on other displays. Colors pop without being unnatural, and black text on a white background is incredibly sharp (thanks, 4K) and simply jumps out from the page. It’s a great display for a writer. But images and video are also rich, detailed, and true to life — if you edit photos and video for a living, then you’ll love this display as well.
The display is also good for you. Samsung designed this iteration of AMOLED to limit the blue light that’s linked to eye fatigue, and that keeps you up at night. It’s not a filter or software calibration, mind you. The display literally minimizes the emission of blue light while avoiding the “yellowing” effect that you’ll find on displays that simply limit the color palette. If you’re sensitive to a display’s white point, then chances are you dislike the various so-called “night modes.” This display doesn’t suffer the same effect.
And then we get to high dynamic range (HDR), which the Spectre x360 15 fully supports. Unlike most laptop displays, the AMOLED panel offers a full 10-bit color depth and can be recognized by Windows 10 as an HDR display. Most laptops equip 8-bit, standard dynamic range (SDR) displays – even recent LCDs that tout HDR support.
But don’t get too excited, at least not yet. We’ll be covering this topic in more detail in an upcoming story, but simply put: Windows 10’s HDR support remains limited, and so the AMOLED display’s HDR experience isn’t quite the advantage that it might be. According to HP, Microsoft is constantly improving HDR support in Windows 10, and so the primary advantage of the AMOLED display is that it will continue to provide better HDR over time.
We won’t delve into the details here. But we will give you a hint: you’ll want to keep the laptop configured with HDR essentially turned off. If you head to Settings > System > Display > Windows HD Color settings, you’ll see a “Play HDR games and apps” toggle. If you flip that switch to on, then the display will “turn on” HDR, and you’ll see the full 10-bit color depth and HDR identification in the advanced display settings.
At the same time, the display’s quality will reduce, simply because Windows 10 can’t yet fully handle HDR. Contrast, brightness, and colors will be worse, and you likely won’t enjoy the results. That includes watching Netflix HDR content, which will appear very dark. And so, for now, you’ll want to keep that toggle switched off.
The great thing about the AMOLED display, though, is that HDR isn’t necessary for a great experience. Even with HDR turned off – in fact, particularly with HDR turned off – the AMOLED display puts out bright, dynamic, and vibrant colors and it pulls out copious amounts of detail from even the darkest scenes. We compared a few recent laptops that utilize Windows 10’s ability to stream HDR content on SDR displays, and the Spectre x360 15 AMOLED beats them all, hands down. It’s not even close.
The Spectre line retains its status as possessing some of the best laptop keyboards.
That makes this 2-in-1 among the best Netflix-binging devices around. Flip the display into media mode, fire up your favorite Netflix action movie or series, and enjoy – the display isn’t just good for creative professionals. And the great thing is that as Windows 10 HDR support improves, the experience will only get better.
Finally, as HP’s other Bang and Olufsen-tuned HP laptops, audio quality was also excellent. The Spectre x360 15 houses quad speakers (two downward-firing on the bottom of the chassis and two upward-firing beneath the display) with a smart amplifier that provides plenty of power. Highs and midrange are excellent, and bass is also surprisingly good for a laptop. Volume goes way up, and there’s minimal distortion – you can enjoy Netflix in style without needing to pull out your headphones.
Another gem-cut wonder with a solid but hefty build
The Spectre x360 15 AMOLED version is a member of the “gem-cut” generation of Spectre laptops. That means it enjoys the same chiseled edges with angles carved out from every facet. As we’ve described the other gem-cut machines, it’s an elegant and unique aesthetic that will catch an onlooker’s eye and stand out in a crowd. If that’s not what you’re looking for, then a simpler design like the Lenovo Yoga C930’s might be more up your alley. We reviewed the “power” Spectre x360 15 in Poseidon Blue and found the color more dynamic than the Dark Ash Silver on our AMOLED review unit.
You’ll also find the same trimmed corners housing the power button and the USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 port. As with the other laptops, we liked how easy it is to turn the power on and off whether the 2-in-1 is in clamshell or tablet mode, and we could plug in a USB-C dock and keep the right side of the laptop clean and uncluttered. It’s a great example of how a simple design change can create a very useful feature.
The Spectre x360 also remains a huge 2-in-1. It’s just a tiny bit lighter than the “power” model at 4.79 pounds versus 4.81 pounds, and that’s more than the Dell XPS 15 at 4.5 pounds. The HP is also thick at 0.75 inches compared to the XPS 15’s 0.66 inches and the Lenovo Yoga 730 15’s 0.67 inches. The Spectre x360 15 is awesome with its display flipped around into media mode for binging Netflix, but it’s best resting on a surface in tablet mode.
Also, you’ll be glad for those large top and bottom bezels when you’re using it as a tablet. But they make the 2-in-1 larger in depth and width than some other 15-inch laptops with smaller bezels. Two examples are the Asus ZenBook 15 UX533, a particularly tiny 15-inch laptop, while the Acer Nitro 5 Spin is on the other end of the spectrum with even larger bezels.
You’ll also appreciate the Spectre x360 15’s durable chassis. There’s zero flex or bend in the lid, keyboard deck, and chassis bottom. It’s pretty darn close to our standard-bearer of rigid build quality, the Lenovo Yoga C930.
Of course, having such a large chassis implies that you’ll see a ton of connectivity. That’s not true, although HP did cover most of the bases. Youll find two USB-C ports, one with 40 gigabits per second (Gb/s) Thunderbolt 3 support (that’s less than the “power” version’s two Thunderbolt 3 ports), a full-size HDMI 2.0 port, a USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 port, and a microSD card reader. Wireless connectivity is very good, with an Intel combo card providing gigabit 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.
HP makes a great keyboard, but the touchpad still needs work
For any writer, a laptop’s keyboard matters. A lot. Writers need to be able to type thousands of words without fingers and wrists getting fatigued. So far, HP has done one of the best jobs of producing keyboards that keep fast typists from slowing down. The Spectre x360 15’s keyboard is a prime example — it has plenty of travel, the mechanism is snappy without requiring too much force, and there’s a firm bottoming action that’s precise and responsive. It’s excellent. The XPS 15 has a nice keyboard too, as does the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme, but the Spectre line retains its status as possessing some of the best laptop keyboards.
As we’ve mentioned before, though, the touchpad isn’t as strong. First, there’s plenty of room on the keyboard deck for a larger version of HP’s usual wide-format touchpad. Second, HP still isn’t using Microsoft Precision drivers, and the Synaptics drivers aren’t as smooth. Windows 10 multitouch gestures work, but the XPS 15 and every other laptop with Precision drivers is so much better. The good thing is, according to a recent presentation, HP is making that switch in upcoming laptops.
As a 2-in-1, the Spectre x360 15’s display is naturally a multitouch version, and it works perfectly. It’s great for swiping through long web pages and tapping the occasional button. An HP Active Pen ships in the box, and it provides 4,096 (interpolated from 1,024) levels of pressure sensitivity. You can upgrade to the $80 HP Tilt Pen if you need tilt support. The bundled pen works well enough for taking notes and making simple drawings, but the Surface Pen on Microsoft’s 2-in-1s like the Surface Pro 6 is more precise and responsive. The Spectre x360 15 is very large when converted to tablet form, of course, and you’re most likely to use it resting on a desk.
Windows 10 Hello support is extensive, with a choice between an infrared camera for facial recognition and a fingerprint reader that’s conveniently mounted on the keyboard deck. That’s a change from the previous Spectre x360 models that had the reader located on the side, where it was hard to find and use. Both password-less login methods were quick and accurate in our testing.
As on the other recent Spectre x360s, there’s a switch on the right-hand side that turns off the webcam, making it disappear from the system entirely. That’s a different approach from Lenovo’s ThinkShutter, which physically slides over the webcam to keep users hidden from view. We prefer HP’s approach of making the webcam completely invisible to hackers, but note that if you engage the security feature, then you won’t be able to use the infrared camera to log in. Make sure you’ve registered a finger or be prepared to enter your password or PIN.
Power is compromised but remains respectable
As we noted earlier, HP decided to offer the AMOLED display only with a less powerful model of the Spectre x360 15. That means you’re “limited” to an 8th-gen Whiskey Lake quad-core Core i7-8565U that runs at 15 watts, which is still very more than enough power for demanding productivity tasks and is more efficient than the 45-watt CPU on the “power” version.
Based on our benchmarks, the Spectre x360 15 AMOLED is still a very fast laptop. It scored a strong 5,314 in the Geekbench 4 single-core test and 17,355 in the multi-core test. The single-core result is faster than the Spectre x360 15 with the Core i7-8750H, although that version scored a stronger 21,076 in the multi-core test. The Dell XPS 15 was closer to the AMOLED version in the multi-core test at 19,033.
We then ran our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265. Here, the U-series CPU in the Spectre x360 15 AMOLED was exposed as more significantly slower than the 45-watt H-series laptops. It finished the test in 272 seconds, compared to the “power” Spectre x360 15’s 153 seconds and the XPS 15’s 150 seconds.
However, that’s with the laptop’s HP Command Center, which lets users tune performance and fan noise, set at its Recommended mode. If you switch to Performance mode, then the Spectre x360 15 AMOLED finished the handbrake test at 212 seconds. That’s significantly faster and closes some of the gap with the 45-watt machines. It’s easy enough to flip that switch, and while fan noise did get much louder, that’s a fair tradeoff for significantly better performance.
When we first reviewed the laptop, thermal performance overall was a mixed bag. We found that the fans spun up more often than they should, even when the laptop was completely idle. The “power” and 13-inch Spectre x360 versions didn’t have that problem, and so we expected – or at least hoped – that it’s something HP would fix in firmware. Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened — HP released a new firmware that resolved the problem completely. The laptop is now completely silent unless the CPU and/or GPU are being stressed.
One thing that’s new and improved in the AMOLED version over the “power” version is the new Intel 1TB Intel Optane PCIe SSD. It has 32GB of Intel Optane memory backing it up, meaning that it should be quicker in reading back data that’s been written to this very large and fast cache. The laptop is very fast at booting, opening apps, and accessing data, but the Intel Optane benefits didn’t show up in our benchmark test. It scored 1,369 megabytes per second (MB/s) in read mode and 503 MB/s in write mode, which is slightly less than the Toshiba PCIe SSD in the “power” version at 1,666 MB/s and 964 MB/s, respectively.
The bottom line is that the Spectre x360 15 AMOLED is a very fast 2-in-1 given its U-series CPU, and it’s likely fast enough for most photo editors and many video editors who aren’t editing and encoding 4K video. It’s certainly more than fast enough for any and all productivity and home users. At the same time, the XPS 15 and the ThinkPad X1 Extreme both offer great 4K displays for creative pros, as well as faster components. We’ll reserve our final judgment on HP’s decision to skip the H-series CPU until we look at the 2-in-1’s battery test results.
Good enough for light gaming and a boost to creativity
This version of the Spectre x360 15 equips Nvidia’s entry-level GPU, the GeForce MX150. That’s a step down from the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Max-Q that’s in the “power” version of the 2-in-1. Typically, the MX150 is good enough for entry-level gaming and for a lesser – but still significant – boost to creative application performance.
In running our usual benchmarks, the Spectre x360 15 made good use of its components. In the 3DMark Fire Strike synthetic benchmark, for example, it scored 3,247. That’s among the best we’ve seen from this GPU, and it compares to the Asus ZenBook 14’s score of 2,553. There’s a faster version of the MX150 available, such as the one in the Razer Blade Stealth, that didn’t perform as well at 3,019.
We also ran a couple of our gaming tests. Here, the Spectre x360 15 also did well for its GPU, managing 35 frames per second (FPS) in Fornite at 1080p and high settings and 33 FPS at epic settings. In Civilization VI, the Spectre x360 15 managed 45 FPS at 1080p and medium settings and 22 FPS at ultra settings. We didn’t bother to test in 4K, where performance was likely to be unacceptable.
Those results are equal to or better than similarly equipped laptops, while being lower (natch) than with the faster GPU on the “power” version of the 2-in-1. In the end, the Spectre x360 15 is good enough for entry-level gaming and for running modern titles at lower resolutions and graphical detail.
Perhaps more important, the Spectre x360 15 will also be faster at running creative tasks like photo and video editing than laptops that are limited to integrated graphics — albeit not as fast as some competitors like the XPS 15 and ThinkPad X1 Extreme that will be significantly faster. Judging from our battery tests, though, which come next, we can understand by HP wanted to balance that spectacular display against somewhat lesser performance.
Battery life will vary based on what you’re looking at
OLED (including Samsung’s AMOLED variant) is an odd beast when it comes to battery life. An OLED display uses less power than the typical LCD when displaying darker images because fewer individual pixels are lit and drawing electricity. The opposite is true, though, when displaying lighter images where most of the pixels are energized – an OLED display can be a real power hog when it’s displaying screens showing a great deal of white.
The Spectre x360 15 has the same 82 watt-hours of battery capacity as the “power” version with its more power-hungry components. The question is: did HP make the right decision to limit the components to hold onto decent battery life?
As we evaluated the results from our usual battery tests, we paid more attention to the type of content that’s displayed on the screen and balanced that against the characteristics of the AMOLED display. For example, our most CPU-intensive Basemark web benchmark test naturally uses the most power because it’s pushing the CPU. Despite the test’s abundance of white backgrounds, the Spectre x360 15 AMOLED lasted longer in this test than the “power” version, at around four and a half hours versus just under four hours. That makes sense given the lower-power CPU.
Stepping up to our web benchmark, though, things evened out. The AMOLED version was slightly behind the “power” Spectre x360 15 at eight and a quarter hours versus eight and a half. This test balances CPU use against the display’s impact, and most of the content is light backgrounds where the AMOLED display pulls more power. Therefore, we’re not surprised to see the two laptops perform similarly with the AMOLED version lagging just slightly behind.
Then, we ran our video looping test that plays a local Avengers trailer at 1080p until the battery dies. The video is a mix of lighter and darker scenes, and so in some cases, the AMOLED’s power use is maximized, and in some, it’s minimized. Also, this test is the least impacted by the CPU as compared to the display. Here, the AMOLED Spectre x360 15 managed 11 hours compared to the “power” version at 12.5 hours.
The bottom line is that the AMOLED Spectre x360 15 performs similarly to the faster model, falling behind most when the display is the driving factor. That means that, like the “power” version, the AMOLED version will also a good part of a working day on a charge for productivity tasks but not as long for binging Netflix (except when you’re watching very dark shows). Had HP used the more power-hungry CPU, though, battery life may have dipped below an acceptable level.
Would enough users be willing to give up battery life for more power? That’s something that HP will have to figure out once it starts selling the 2-in-1 in volume. But HP did tell us that it’s aware that people want more power, and it’s going to be evaluating the technology over time to match the AMOLED display with the fastest components. In other words, stay tuned.
The AMOLED version of the Spectre x360 15 offers the best display you can buy in a laptop. That will change soon, as the Dell XPS 15 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme will also gain the same display. Simply put, the 2-in-1 makes for a spectacular video binging machine, if you’re into that, and it’s faster than the typical laptop for creative professionals.
Given the battery life results, we think HP made the right decision to limit the AMOLED display to the slower version of this excellent 2-in-1. Yes, the decision will likely limit the company’s sales, but it helps ensure that those people who lay down their cash on the machine won’t be disappointed. That’s the kind of consumer-friendly decision that we can get behind.
Is there a better alternative?
One 2-in-1 that competes with the Spectre x360 is the Surface Book 2. Microsoft did something very different with this 2-in-1, mating a very light 15-inch tablet with a keyboard base that offers some serious GPU performance. The Surface Book 2 also uses a 15-watt quad-core 8th-generation Core i7 and so it provides similar CPU performance, while its Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU is better at gaming and driving creativity apps. The Surface Book 2 is also much more expensive, at greater than $3,000 with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.
You’ll also likely consider the clamshell competitor Dell XPS 15, which uses the 45-watt six-core Intel Core i7-8750H and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Max-Q. It performs similarly to the “power” version of the Spectre x360 15 and so better than the AMOLED version. The XPS 15 is also more expensive, at $2,310 ($2,150 on sale) for the same 16GB of RAM, 1TB SSD, and 4K display – which is very good but not as good as the HP’s AMOLED display. Note that Dell will be releasing an XPS 15 with the same display in July.
Finally, you also might want to take a look at Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme, which is a very durable clamshell that has the same CPU and GPU as the XPS 15. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme can be equipped with a 4K panel that provides similar performance to the XPS 15, and also supports HDR (see our comments in the display section, though). The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is also more expensive for the same configuration, at $3,000 ($2,700 on sale).
How long will it last?
The HP Spectre x360 is well-built and evokes confidence in a long lifespan. Its components are up-to-date and connectivity supports all the latest Thunderbolt 3 peripherals (including external GPUs that can improve the laptop’s graphics performance). The industry-standard 1-year warranty is disappointing, as usual.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The AMOLED display is truly a spectacular piece of tech to have in an already great laptop.
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