HP Spectre x360 15-inch (2018) hands-on review

HP’s Spectre x360 15 is a little new-school, a little old-school, and all power

HP’s gorgeous Spectre x360 15 is a do-it-all powerhouse.
HP’s gorgeous Spectre x360 15 is a do-it-all powerhouse.
HP’s gorgeous Spectre x360 15 is a do-it-all powerhouse.

Highs

  • Powerful hardware, including Intel with Vega
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Lots of connectivity
  • Bright, sharp display

Lows

  • Heavy and thick for a 2-in-1
  • 4K screen might suck down battery

Some people buy 2-in-1s because they want a versatile, portable PC that that can be used for the kind of lifestyle PC marketers dream of— creative, busy, constantly on the go. Yet others — perhaps even most of us — just want a laptop that can, on occasion, be used to jot down a note.

Those in the latter group have long adored the HP Spectre x360 15-inch for its big, sharp display, and powerful hardware. The newest refresh, revealed at CES 2018, doubles down on those strengths.

The Spectre x360’s is built from a block of machined aluminum and its internals are drool-worthy.

Let’s talk hardware. The Spectre x360 15-inch comes standard with an 8th-gen Intel Core processor, as you’d expect, and it can be paired with Nvidia’s capable MX150 graphics chip. That’s fast — but what if you want more? Then HP has you covered with the new Intel Core 8th-gen with Radeon RX Vega graphics. It’s the Intel Core i7-8705G with Radeon Vega GL, to be specific — not the most powerful version available, but certainly quicker than the MX150 on its own.

We couldn’t benchmark the Spectre x360 15-inch during our hands-on, of course, but that’s not needed to tell you it’s quick. In fact, it’ll likely hit performance numbers close to an entry-level gaming notebook. Yet the system weighs about 4.7 pounds, and is just 0.76 inches thick.

Performance is just the start

The Spectre x360 15-inch’s internals are drool-worthy, but HP hasn’t just slapped together off-the-shelf parts. This is an exquisitely designed 15-inch laptop built from a block of machined aluminum. Its doesn’t adopt the more exotic materials found in Dell’s XPS 15 2-in-1, which is why it weighs a few tenths of a pound more, but HP says it’s sticking with aluminum for a reason. Kevin Wentzel, HP’s Technical Marketing Manager, told us its machined aluminum chassis is stiffer, giving the company’s engineers more freedom when choosing the look of the laptop.

HP has used that freedom well. It’s a beautiful system to look at, and its double-barrel hinge casts a unique silhouette. The model we saw paired matte black surfaces with semi-gloss bronze accents along the sides, hinges, and a few other highlights. It’s subtle combination but if let your eye linger, you’ll see it’s a stunner.

Picky enthusiasts will also enjoy the keyboard, which offers 1.5 millimeters of travel. We thought it a real highlight, and appreciated its long key long travel, crisp key action, and a comfortable layout. The port selection splits the difference between new and old-school choices, offering a combination of USB-A and USB-C connections, along with DisplayPort and HDMI. Here, once again, HP has refused to leap towards new ideas if it’s afraid quality won’t benefit. We can’t say we disagree with the company’s tact.

The HP does stumble a bit when it comes time to flip the screen around for tablet use. It’s rather heavy and thick for a 2-in-1, and that heft is easily felt. You won’t want to hold the screen aloft for more than two minutes. This PC won’t work as a digital notepad. It’s better suited for watching movies or browsing the web — preferably in tent mod on top of a table.

4K for better — or for worse?

If you do that, the 4K screen will keep you riveted. We can’t fully test the display with a hands-on, but hey — it’s 4K. It has a solid color gamut. It’s extremely bright at maximum burn. Of course it looks beautiful, even on the show floor, with overhead lights casting their harsh glare. 4K is the only option, so you’ll enjoy it no matter which model you buy.

HP Spectre x360 15-inch (2018) review
Matt Smith/Digital Trends
Matt Smith/Digital Trends

That might be a weakness. 4K displays suck down battery. HP says the system will manage 12.5 hours of life with the Vega chip, and about 13.5 hours with the Nvidia MX150. That sounds like a lot, but it’s certainly not the best. Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 15-inch, for example, quotes 17 hours of life. HP has outfitted the Spectre with an 84 watt-hour battery, at least, so it’s certainly not slacking off in raw capacity.

Whatever its portability, we don’t doubt the Spectre x360 15-inch will be a serious contender. We already liked the previous model enough to give it a recommended award. This new version seems to retain all its predecessor’s good traits — and then turns the performance up a notch. The only problem is the competition. The Microsoft Surface Book 2 15-inch won’t take this sitting down, and Dell’s XPS 15 2-in-1 brings advanced materials and a maglev keyboard to the table.

The HP Spectre x360 15-inch will be available on March 18, starting at $1,370.