HP Spectre 13 review - The most beautiful, thinnest laptop

PROS

  • Incredibly thin and light
  • High-quality screen
  • Great performance

CONS

  • Noisy fans
  • Below-average battery life and battery drain
  • So-so keyboard and trackpad

KEY FEATURES

  • Intel Core i5 or i7-U processors
  • 8GB of RAM
  • 13in Full HD screen
  • 1.1kg
  • 256GB or 512GB PCI-E SSD
  • 10.4mm thick
  • Manufacturer: HP

HP Spectre 13 review

HP Spectre 13 review

HP has repositioned itself as a premium lifestyle brand. While you might say this first came about several years ago when the company partnered with Beats (now owned by Apple) and launched a range of silver Envy laptops, the HP has doubled down with the Spectre 13.

The Spectre 13 is an ultra-thin, ultra-light laptop looking to rival Apple’s 12-inch MacBook and 13in MacBook Air. It succeeds on some fronts, but there are some big compromises.

HP SPECTRE 13 – DESIGN AND BUILD

Weighing only 1.1kg, with a maximum thickness of just over 10mm, HP has succeeded in its aim of producing the thinnest Intel Core i-powered laptop around. I took the Spectre 13 on two flights and a train journey and it was the perfect companion.

It comes with a leather sleeve, too, meaning I didn’t have to worry about the dark grey aluminium lid picking up any scratches in my backpack.

The actual design and colour choice of the Spectre 13 will divide opinion. I don’t dislike the grey aluminium finish with copper-coloured highlights, but in my opinion HP hasn't done itself any favours by not offering a less showy option of the laptop. Obviously, HP wants its laptop to stand out on store shelves, which it achieves, but I don’t think this translates well to the real world. Nevertheless, you can’t deny that HP has done a great job of creating something unique.

The Spectre 13 feels reasonably well built: the keyboard tray feels solid and the corners of the laptop look capable of taking a few knocks without damaging the components inside.

HP Spectre 13 review

HP Spectre 13 review

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The "piston" hinge is another unique design choice that sets the Spectre apart, but ultimately, it's one of its flaws. Its use limits the movement of the lid, so it doesn’t tilt back quite far enough when you're working with the Spectre 13 on your lap in a cramped space. However, the screen’s viewing angles are wide enough to minimise the effects here.

The keyboard is backlit, which is useful for typing in the dark, but otherwise there isn't much here that warrants praise. It’s comfortable to type on, but the key-press action isn’t the most tactile I’ve felt and travel, too, could be better.

The Spectre 13's touchpad is a real disappointment. It isn't a Microsoft-certified Precision Touchpad, so effectively doesn’t benefit from excellent, responsive drivers and seamless gestures.

It does the basics reasonably well, but having used Precision Touchpads HP's feels half a decade behind. The worst part is the physical click, which, when activated, causes the cursor to jump slightly.

HP Spectre 13 review

HP Spectre 13 review

There are three USB Type-C ports at the rear of the device, one for charging and the other two for high-speed data transfer via the USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports. Note that the charging port can also be used as a data transfer port.

One USB Type-C to USB Type-A port is supplied in the box, so you’ll be able to connect your legacy peripherals. However, if you want to connect to a network via Ethernet, you’ll have to buy an Ethernet to USB Type-C connector for between £15-£30.

You do get excellent dual-band, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which I found to be reliable throughout my testing.

HP SPECTRE 13 – SCREEN AND AUDIO

The Full HD IPS screen on the Spectre 13 is superb, but you’d expect nothing less for the money. Contrast and brightness are excellent – the Spectre 13 reaches a maximum brightness of 301cd/m2 – but the screen’s Gorilla Glass (non-touch) coating does mean reflections are a slight problem.

The screen covers 95% of the sRGB colour gamut, and as a result most vibrant colours are served well. Contrast is rated at 1,531:1, meaning bright colours stand out while darker areas look inky. Backlight bleed, where visible, is minor. Overall, this is an excellent display.

In contrast, the Spectre 13's built-in speakers are disappointing, failing to offer much depth or range. They’re fine for TV and the occasional movie, but you’ll get a better experience from the rear-mounted 3.5mm jack with either headphones or desktop speakers.

HP SPECTRE 13 – PERFORMANCE AND STORAGE

This laptop may be expensive, but the HP Spectre 13 is kitted out with some high-specification components. Processing performance comes from either an Intel Core i5-6300U or, like my review model, a dual-core, 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U.

This chip can boost to a maximum speed of 3.1GHz when thermal conditions allow. Paired with 8GB of RAM it’s a speedy laptop, far faster than the 12-inch MacBook with its Intel Core M chip and around the same as the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Air.

As a result, the Spectre 13 handles less intensive tasks such as web browsing and photo editing with ease, and while video editing is possible, this laptop isn't designed for such tasks and therefore isn’t a viable replacement for a more powerful laptop or desktop.

HP Spectre 13 review

HP Spectre 13 review

The Spectre 13 performed well in our standard suite of benchmarks, scoring 6,776 in the Geekbench multi-core test, which is just a little better than the equivalent Dell XPS 13.

Graphics performance is as you’d expect from a super-slim laptop powered by integrated Intel HD Graphics 520. It will play basic 3D games and smartphone game ports, but push it any harder and it will struggle. I was able to play a bout of Minecraft at 60fps without issue, though.

Storage comes in the form of a 256GB PCI Express SSD, which delivered outstanding performance in the AS SSD benchmark – a peak file read score of 1,255MB/sec. The Spectre 13 boots in seconds and there’s no hanging about when searching for files and programs.

There is a downside to such snappy performance, however. Even under moderate load, such as running Google Chrome, the laptop’s fans spin up to an audible whirr. It’s louder than a MacBook Air and significantly more so than a Dell XPS 13 – and it rather takes away from a design that you’d otherwise expect to be quiet and serene.

HP SPECTRE 13 – BATTERY LIFE

For a laptop that's otherwise so portable, it’s a shame to discover that battery life is merely average. In our custom Powermark run consisting of a looping set of video and web browsing tasks, representative of a normal day of use, it lasted just 5hrs 13mins. It consumed 21% battery per hour when streaming Netflix at 150cd/m2 screen brightness, which will get you a little under five hours of streaming at a fairly low brightness level.

I also experienced issues with battery drain when the laptop wasn't in use. I put the laptop to sleep on a Friday night at nearly 100% charge and by the time I was ready to do some work on a train on Sunday night, less than 48 hours later, the laptop had lost 67% of its charge, leaving me with only 33% to play with on my two-hour journey. In testing, I found the laptop lost between 1 and 2% per hour in sleep mode, losing 14% in 15 hours overnight in one of my tests.

 

This result is nowhere near the overnight drain of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, however, but it might be worth keeping the Spectre 13 charging overnight for an early morning trip.

SHOULD I BUY THE HP SPECTRE 13?

Both the MacBook Air and Dell XPS 13 provide a better all-round experience than the HP Spectre 13, with Apple’s device providing superior battery life and the Dell XPS 13 offering a more attractive build and a better touchpad. As a result, the HP Spectre 13 finds itself on its own – a super-premium product that’s compromised by battery life and excessive noise.

At its current price the HP Spectre 13 doesn't offer brilliant value, but right now you'd be hard-pushed to find a laptop on the market sporting such a slender build with this amount of processing power. Still, the compromises in battery life and noise will be too great for many buyers.

VERDICT

The HP Spectre 13 is thin, light and impressively powerful – but it's a compromised experience.

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