HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2017) review: HP's tiny 2-in-1 ain't perfect -- but it's getting close - CNET

HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2017) review: HP's tiny 2-in-1 ain't perfect -- but it's getting close - CNET
HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2017) review: HP's tiny 2-in-1 ain't perfect -- but it's getting close - CNET

Summer 2018 Update

The HP Spectre x360 13 remains a terrific 2-in-1, even when compared to newer models like the Lenovo Yoga 920, and still leads the pack in battery life -- see the updated charts in the review below. 

However, you can also see that its performance falls a little behind, which likely indicates that HP has traded off speed for battery life; that includes Lenovo and Samsung's (for the Notebook 9 Pen) decision to use faster but more battery draining 2,400MHz memory over the 2,133MHz used by the HP. It's also possible more recent models may benefit from some performance tweaks in Windows 10 that weren't available in December when this model was tested.

The original review of the HP Spectre x360 13 follows, with updated performance charts comparing it to more recent competitors and with corrections to the configuration as initially posted (our evaluation unit had 2,133MHz memory, not 1,600MHz memory). The review was originally published February 9, 2018.


Cheaper, lighter and faster than a 13-inch MacBook Pro, with a longer-living battery and tons more features, the HP Spectre x360 13 continues to wow me. It has some advantages over its closer Windows competitors as well. The screen of HP's stylish convertible flips out of the standard clamshell orientation into a "tent" for presentations, and it stands on its keyboard or flips all the way around to work as a tablet. This laptop retains the terrific design of its predecessors and improves on the basics. 

The update to Intel's eighth-generation Core i-series processors has boosted its battery life to a whopping 13-plus hours on our tests. Coupled with that processor's jump to four cores from two, it performs significantly better than previous models for operations that use the processor. As more laptops adopt the newer processors its lead will diminish, of course. For instance, it slightly lags behind the also-excellent Lenovo Yoga 920 in almost all performance areas, except for battery life.

All that and value, too

Its price is pretty reasonable for what you get. While HP sells this $1,250 model on its site, as far as I can tell you can configure the lowest-end model and get it for $1,100, just without the webcam. That's something to consider if you're budget constrained. You can get it in the new Pale Rose Gold (pink) as well as the traditional Dark Ash Silver (copper and brown) or just plan old Natural Silver; you pay $10 extra for the two more exotic models, as well as a bizarre extra $1 for your CPU choice in the Rose Gold. 

You can configure it with an eighth-generation Core i5 or i7, and up to 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD and a 4K or HD display with a privacy screen. In theory it comes with the Active Pen, but ours had the new HP Tilt Pen in the box, a $90 option which adds nominal tilt detection and a Bluetooth button.

HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2017)

Price as reviewed $1,249.99
Display 13.3-inch 1,920x1,080 display
PC CPU 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U
PC Memory 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620
Storage 256GB SSD, microSD slot
Ports 2 x USB-C/Thunderbolt, 1 x USB 3.1 Type A, 1 x combo audio
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)
Weight 2.8 lb/1.3kg

There's no identical version of this in the UK or Australia. HP UK only offers the 4K screen -- which means no privacy screen option -- with either the i7 chip with 512GB SSD for £1,400, or with an i5 chip and a Core i5-8250U processor for £1,200. The top-of-the-line model goes up to 1TB storage and 16GB memory for £1,700. It comes with the Active Pen, but it supports the newer Tilt Pen if you want to upgrade for £80.

You can only get the HD screen in Australia, and the closest model to ours comes with 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD for AU$3,100. A version with 8GB but a 360GB SSD and a Core i5 runs AU$3,100. It doesn't look like you can get the privacy screen option or Tilt Pen in Australia, either.

Having tested both the 4K and HD models, I can definitely say I think the 4K is overkill on such a small screen, so it's a shame you're forced to spend more in the UK. Though we didn't have the Sure View privacy screen on this model, we did test that display recently on the EliteBook x360 1020 G2; it hinders, but doesn't completely block shoulder surfing, and because it blows out the brightness on the sides, battery life takes a hit of about an hour. 

A few new tricks

HP introduced some welcome changes from the last model to this one. The vent on the left side is gone, making room for a bigger power switch with a larger indicator LED, as well as a microSD card slot.

On the right side, HP added a fingerprint sensor for biometric Windows Hello logins. It's an awkward location, though, because it's flush with the surface so you can't find it by feel easily; while groping for it, Windows decides you've tried to log in too many times and switches you to PIN login. So you have to look for it first, which is annoying.

The location of the fingerprint sensor.Sarah Tew/CNET

I have mixed feelings about the Tilt Pen. At first, I didn't realize it actually was the Tilt Pen because the sticker on it says "Active Stylus". (And by the way, there's no way to remove the sticker without a lot of effort to get rid of the adhesive, and the sticker can irritate your hand.) Like many of these active styluses, it only works with software that uses the Microsoft Pen Protocol API, so don't expect it to work with all your applications, and this one's not backwardly compatible with a lot of older HPs.  

It's cleverly designed to be rechargeable -- you pull the top and a gap opens with a USB-C port -- but I couldn't get it to charge on the x360's USB-C port, and instead had to use my phone's charger. As for tilt detection, it doesn't do a lot because you have to press too hard to get the stroke recognized that you lose whatever subtlety you're going for; pressing too lightly results in dropouts within the stroke.

And to HP's marketing claim that it "feels as natural as pen on paper," I say "Um... no." It's fine for annotating, but like many convertibles with their shiny, reflective displays, the pen feels quite skittery on the surface.

Thankfully, the good stuff hasn't changed. It has an excellent keyboard with a great feel and layout for touch typing -- and isn't too shabby for gaming through GeForce Now, either. Connections include two full-capability USB-C/Thunderbolt ports for high-speed data transfer, charging the laptop and driving an external monitor, plus a single USB 3.1 Type A for charging devices while the laptop is powered off. And it still comes with a pleather sleeve which has a slot for the stylus, a nice perk, if not quite as pretty as the system.

It's more comfortably sized to use as a tablet than larger models. The hinge has good tension in all orientations, and no matter how it's positioned, the audio is loud and directional. Its touchpad feels great and appropriately responsive. It will only give you trouble in the Google Chrome browser. (That's Chrome's fault, because it almost always misinterprets two-finger scrolling as pinch-to-zoom and Google removed the override -- an infuriatingly annoying Google-thinks-it-knows-best decision that makes the browser window zoom every time you try to scroll. Your only options are to disable two-finger scrolling globally or disable zooming altogether in Chrome. End rant.)

In theory, HP could have slimmed the top and bottom screen bezels a bit, but its current design allows for the webcam at the top of the screen, where it needs to be.

Trial by fire

I took the Spectre x360 13 to CES for seven fun-filled days of schlepping, keyboard pounding and image processing; it held up like a champ, and ran Lightroom Classic CC for editing Sony A7 II raw images a lot more smoothly than I expected. The display is decent for photo editing, as long as you're OK with ballpark color accuracy and tonal-range clipping. (I tend to edit by histogram on narrow-gamut displays like this.) It's sharp and bright for everyday tasks, web surfing and streaming, though.

Plus, while it's not rugged, it did survive falls -- twice, including once just now -- when I tripped over the power cable while charging. So let's call it "klutz resistant." But it also got hot on my lap like its predecessor and possibly exacerbated by the vent HP removed that made room for the microSD slot. All the heat feels like it's radiating through the bottom.

And it lasted hours. Intel manages this with some sleight-of-CPU. The base clock speeds for the mobile processors are much lower than the previous generation, 2.7GHz for the i7-7500U vs. 1.8GHz for the i7-8550U, for example, but the newer ones have higher maximum turbo speeds, 3.5GHz vs. 4GHz, in this case. So they consume less power most of the time, then increase when you do something demanding. (Among other power-saving tweaks.)

For traveling, the Spectre x360 13 is a top choice, thanks to its four-in-one flexibility and terrific battery life. Its stylus is fine for annotating, writing lists or other brief-use tasks, but I don't like it for drawing or extensive note-taking.

Streaming video playback battery drain test

HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2017)

Lenovo Yoga 920 (14-inch, 2017)

Asus Zenbook Flip 14 (US461U)

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen

Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1

Dell XPS 13 (2018)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

Geekbench 4 (Multi-Core)

Lenovo Yoga 920 (14-inch, 2017)

Asus Zenbook Flip 14 (US461U)

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen

Dell XPS 13 (2018)

Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1

HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2017)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multi-core)

Asus Zenbook Flip 14 (US461U)

Dell XPS 13 (2018)

Lenovo Yoga 920 (14-inch, 2017)

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen

Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1

HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2017)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

Asus Zenbook Flip 14 (US461U) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce M150 Graphics; 512GB SSD
Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1 Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-8650U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD
HP Spectre x360 13 (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD
HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB LPDDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Lenovo Yoga 920 (14-inch, 2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Samsung Notebook 9 Pen Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD

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