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HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2019) review: Smaller, faster, and better in every way

hp spectre x360

HP Spectre x360 13t (Late 2019)

“With slim bezels and an OLED display, the HP Spectre x360 might be the perfect 2-in-1.”
  • Tiny, gorgeous 2-in-1 design
  • Strong on-demand productivity performance
  • Spectacular OLED display
  • Excellent keyboard and touchpad
  • Solid build quality
  • 4K OLED display kills battery life
MSRP $1,800.00

The Spectre x360 always had two flaws. Thick bezels framing the display that made it look outdated and a lackluster touchpad. Beyond that, it was a near-perfect 2-in-1 laptop. I was delighted to hear that with its latest model, HP aimed to tackle those issues with a laser-focused determination.

The machine I reviewed was at the high end, with an Intel 10th-gen Ice Lake Core i7-1056G7, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB solid-state drive (SSD) backed by 32GB of Intel Optane memory, and a to-die-for 13.3-inch AMOLED display. The price was even more impressive — a cool Buy" data-cta="$1,800 at Best Buy">$1,800 at Best Buy. Did HP manage to fix those two primary problems without causing others?

Where did all that laptop go?

The new Spectre x360 13 looks like HP used a hacksaw to cut off the top and bottom of the previous version’s display and chassis. Seriously, the company took all of those “but just look at those bezels!” comments to heart and did something about them.

The Spectre x360 13 now has the smallest bezels you’ll find in a 13.3-inch 2-in-1. The 90% screen-to-body ratio even beats out the Dell XPS 13 that started the tiny-bezel craze. Yes, you read that right. The Spectre x360 13 is shallower than the Dell XPS 13 (although it’s thicker at 0.67 inches versus 0.46 inches) while being almost equally wide. That’s quite the feat.

The bezels stay small thanks to the world’s smallest Windows Hello infrared camera.

HP didn’t compromise what made the previous version of the laptop so awesome, either. You’ll find the same beautiful gem-cut design, only now it looks even better by virtue of being more balanced in all dimensions. Speaking of that aesthetic, there are now two new color options to match the classic Poseidon Blue: Nightfall Black and Natural Silver.

Amazingly, HP managed to not only keep the webcam on top of the display where it belongs — we’re looking at you, Acer Swift 7 and Huawei MateBook X Pro — but it also held onto the infrared scanner for Windows 10 facial recognition (something the Dell XPS 13 can’t do). That’s thanks to the world’s smallest Windows Hello infrared camera, which comes in at a miraculously thin 2.2mm. There’s still a fingerprint scanner that works perfectly well if you’d rather go that route.

Thankfully, the outstanding build quality remains the same. The new Spectre x360 13 is just as rigid as the last one, and maybe even more so. The lid, keyboard deck, and chassis bottom all resist prodding and bending, giving the laptop a quality feel to go with its premium aesthetic.

Another bonus is that HP kept the USB-A port, using a drop jaw mechanism to fit the port into the left side. There are also two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, one of which is in the upper-right corner of the bottom chassis where it stays out of the way when charging and connected to a device. The microSD card also remains from the previous version, which is a plus for creative types.

So far, I haven’t experienced any compromises based on the new design. Heck, HP even managed to improve the thermals, with three heat pipes instead of just one (on the Iris Plus models), larger input and output vents, and some additional inlet holes beneath the keyboard.

A graphite sheet is in place to disperse heat more effectively and, well, you get the idea. The Spectre x360 13 isn’t the thinnest device around, but HP made good use of that extra space to reduce heat and maintain performance.

The same excellent input options

HP has one of the best keyboards around on its Spectre laptops, and it’s been my overall favorite for a while. The new Spectre x360 13 has the same keyboard design, with deep and spacious keys in a comfortable layout and with two useful levels of backlighting. The keyboard has the same precise and snappy mechanism, although I noticed that it’s just a touch stiffer. I think I might prefer the previous version, but the more I used this one the more I liked it. 

Even better, the wide-format touchpad now supports Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad drivers, which is a huge step up from the Synaptics drivers that HP was using prior to 2019. Now, the touchpad is as good as any I’ve used on a modern Windows 10 laptop —  eliminating the terrible palm rejection, imprecise multitouch gestures, and sometimes unresponsive nature of the previous versions.

The display offers even more touch goodness, and it’s precise and responsive. It also supports the HP active pen, which is included in the box and works well for Windows 10 inking and handwriting.

Finally, HP has kept the digital switch for turning off the webcam for some extra privacy, which I like better than the physical switches on laptops like Lenovo’s ThinkPad and Yoga lines. HP also added a dedicated button to turn the microphone off, which is another nice privacy touch.

And then there’s that luscious AMOLED display

My review unit was equipped with the first 4K AMOLED display to be installed on a 13.3-inch laptop, and it’s a smaller version of the Samsung panel used in the Spectre x360 15 (and few other laptops like the Dell XPS 15 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2). As such, it’s simply spectacular.

If you’re a creative professional who craves brightness and color accuracy, you’ll like this display. Even the MacBook Pro has a hard time comparing. The Spectre is bright at 405 nits, and the wide color gamut (100 percent of sRGB and 98 percent of AdobeRGB) and excellent color accuracy, making it great for photo editing work. Because its OLED, the contrast and black levels are well beyond anything you’ll see on a conventional LED screen. That makes everything from simple web browsing to videos look spectacular.

If AMOLED isn’t your cup of tea, then you’ll want to pick up the excellent one-watt 1080p display instead. In fact, the latter is probably the best choice for most people as it promises spectacular battery life while still being bright with good contrast.

One small compromise made necessary by the smaller bezels involves the sound system. Instead of four speakers, two upward-firing underneath the display and two downward-firing on the bottom of the chassis, there are now just the latter. They still provide very good sound with plenty of volume, though, with excellent highs and mids and perhaps just a little less bass. I found audio quality to be just fine for such a small laptop. A good set of headphones is always preferable, but they’ll get you by for the occasional movie.

Performance remains under your control

My review unit was equipped with the 10th-gen Ice Lake Core i7-1056G7, a fast quad-core CPU that Intel says uses artificial intelligence to speed up certain tasks (e.g., image recognition). I didn’t notice any of the latter, but I was plenty happy with the Spectre x360 13’s performance. Even so, it was a little slow in the Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark, falling below the latest Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 with the same chip.

The Spectre x360 13 also fell behind the Dell in our real-world Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265, at just under six minutes compared to the dell at just over 4.5 minutes.

HP’s HP Command Center app allows you to tune performance, with a Performance mode that brings an increase in heat and noise and a Quiet mode that’s perfect when working in a library. In Performance mode, the Spectre x360 13 finished the Handbrake test in under four minutes.

I really enjoyed how quiet the Spectre x360 13 stayed throughout my testing.

The Spectre x360 13 can’t keep up with the six-core Dell XPS 13 in pure CPU speed. But, it provides excellent overall productivity performance in whatever mode you choose, along with improved Iris Plus graphics that provide better performance in creative apps that support the GPU.

I really enjoyed how quiet the Spectre x360 13 stayed throughout my testing. The bottom of the chassis was only ever just the slightest bit warm. That’s what I look for in a laptop — one that can let me work at night without disturbing my wife — and the HP provides it.

Speaking of the Iris Plus, it provides gaming performance that falls somewhere between the Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics and the Nvidia GeForce MX250 — and closer to the integrated graphics. That means it’s barely capable of playing older titles and e-sports games, as long as you don’t have the resolution or graphical detail turned up too high. I ran Fortnite and only saw 12 frames per second (FPS) at 1080p and High detail. Ouch.

Good battery life… for 4K

HP kept the same 61 watt-hour battery capacity from the older version, which means that if you select the 1080p display you’re going to get some awesome battery life. You’ll probably get close to the same longevity as we saw with the previous version, some of the best we’ve seen at over 17 hours looping our test Avengers trailer and almost 13 hours browsing the web.

Buy the Full 1080p model if you don’t want to carry around a charger.

Yes, I know, it’s weird to start this section talking about a configuration that I didn’t review. Well, here’s the point: I don’t want you to think that you can’t get class-leading battery life from this 2-in-1. And that’s exactly what you’d think if you go by the results I got with the AMOLED display.

In a nutshell, the AMOLED version isn’t the longest-lasting 2-in-1. I saw less than six hours in our web browsing test, two hours less than the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 with its Full HD display. The Spectre x360 13 lasted just 9.5 hours looping our test video, where premium laptops routinely go for much longer. The HP did well in our CPU-intensive Basemark web benchmark test at almost four hours, but that test isn’t as impacted by the display.

This isn’t an all-day laptop by any means. You might get six hours or so, and less if most of your work involves a lot of white content. OLED uses more power when displaying whites and colors than showing darker screens where the pixels are turned off. Simply put, buy the 1080p model if you don’t want to carry around a charger.

Our take

The Spectre x360 13 is now better than ever, and it was pretty darn good before. It’s fast, has the potential for class-leading battery life if you choose the Full HD display or the best display on a 13.3-inch 2-in-1 if you choose the AMOLED panel, and it’s beautiful and solid. It’s also quite small, fitting into tight spaces and taking up very little room everywhere else. There’s very little not to like about this 2-in-1, and it’s well worth its premium pricing.

Are there better alternatives?

The Dell XPS 13 is a faster option thanks to its optional six-core Intel 10th-gen Comet Lake CPU, but its graphics aren’t as quick. It also lacks the option for an OLED screen and and 2-in-1 capabilities.

The closer rival is the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which has the same CPU and comes in at close to the same price point. The Dell doesn’t offer an OLED display, but its 4K display is excellent and its 16:10 aspect ratio provides some extra screen real estate. Be sure to check out Dell’s low-travel keyboard first, though — if you like lots of travel in your keyboards, then you might not like it.

How long will it last?

The Spectre x360 13 is well-built and has the latest and greatest components. It’ll last you for years, although the industry-standard 1-year warranty will run out long before.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Spectre x360 13 is the best 13.3-inch 2-in-1 on the market, and it competes with the best clamshell laptops as well.

Editors' Recommendations