The Windows PC market moves fast, and sometimes companies make claims that are quickly superseded. Such was the case with the original HP Spectre 13, which was first advertised as the “world’s thinnest laptop.” Soon after, Acer released its even thinner Swift 7, which beat it out. Now, in our latest HP Spectre 13 review, we look at the update to the Spectre, which has been significantly redesigned and is now touted as “the world’s thinnest touchscreen notebook.”
Our review unit was equipped with an eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), and a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 165 PPI) resolution display, at a retail price of $1,400. HP will be offering higher-end configurations and a 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160 or 331 PPI) display, but pricing has not yet been announced.
A lovely little jewel of a notebook
HP’s redesigned Spectre 13 is as thin as ever at just 0.41 inches thick, in spite of its new touch display, and it’s incredibly light at 2.43 pounds. But as you probably know, HP isn’t exactly the only company trying to slim down its products. There are plenty of notebooks around that are sold for their tiny size, including the 12-inch Apple MacBook at just over half an inch thick and the Huawei MateBook X at 0.49 inches. The Spectre 13 out-thins both of those — and throws in touch display electronics as the icing on top. It’s still not quite as thin as the Swift 7, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
The refreshed Spectre 13 also sports a new Ceramic White and Pale Gold color scheme that is the yin to the previous model’s yang. You can still choose the Ash Silver and Chrome Luxe version, but our review model convinced us that if you’re going to choose such a thin and beautiful notebook, you might as well select the one that stands out. It’s a unique color scheme that sets it apart from the sea of MacBook and Surface clones.
It’s a gorgeous design that looks like a fine piece of jewelry, with a fit and finish to match.
To make sure that lovely white surface stays pristine, HP utilizes a special scratch-resistant Advanced Electro Deposition (AED) process on the aluminum lid and keyboard deck and carbon fiber bottom. The Spectre 13 has also been trimmed of any excess width and depth, with the display’s bezels reduced to 5.3mm (from 15.03mm) and the top bezel to 9.7mm (down from 16.04mm). That’s similar to the Dell XPS 13, with its side and top bezels of 5.2 mm. The angles have been chiseled for a cleaner look, and the diamond cut around the lid makes it easy to open.
All in all, it’s a gorgeous design that looks like a fine piece of jewelry, with a fit and finish to match.
Our only complaint with the design and build is directly related to the Spectre 13’s thinness. While the chassis feels solid enough when the lid is closed, there’s some give when pressing on the bottom and the keyboard and the screen significantly bends under relatively light pressure.
As long as you’re just opening the lid and not twisting it, though, you’ll appreciate the hinge’s smooth action — which can be used with single-handedly — and how well it holds the display in place. However, the odd design, in which the display isn’t as deep as the chassis and folds down to lie flush with a metal strip along the back of the machine, means that the display doesn’t open as wide as you’ll find on most notebooks.
Overall, the Spectre 13 is a lovely-designed machine that’s as much a work of art as it is a notebook. It’s thin and exceptionally light, albeit at the cost of sheer rigidity.
Future-proof but limited connectivity
With the Spectre 13, you can have any kind of port you want, as long as it’s USB-C. As with the previous model, the new Spectre 13 offers up three USB-C ports to go with the 3.5mm audio jack, and that’s it. Two of them support Thunderbolt 3, however, and that’s a real plus.
Nevertheless, you’ll be relying on dongles to connect legacy peripherals (although the Best Buy version does come with a USB-C to USB-A adapter). The MacBook has fewer ports with its single USB-C Thunderbolt 3 connection, and the MateBook X increases the count to two USB-C ports. The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe, on the other hand, duplicates the Spectre 13’s triplet of USB-C ports, two with Thunderbolt 3. The more ports the better, but the Spectre 13 is in line with the competition in this department.
Wireless connectivity includes the increasingly typical 2×2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi adapter and Bluetooth 4.2 combo. HP has built in its Connection Optimizer technology that aims to keep Wi-Fi connections fast by picking the least congested connection available.
Surprisingly good keyboard for such a thin machine
Somehow, HP managed to squeeze an excellent keyboard into the Spectre 13’s frame, with an impressive 1.3mm of key travel — significantly more than on a laptop like the ZenBook 3 Deluxe or MacBook Pro — that provides for a surprisingly good typing experience. There’s plenty of snap, giving a precise feel, and we found ourselves quickly ramping up to our usual typing speed. The keyboard is uniformly backlit, but oddly enough there’s only one rather bright setting that is a bit much in darker environments.
The Spectre 13 sports one of the best keyboards you’ll find on such a thin-and-light notebook.
In addition, HP moved the speakers from the sides to reside underneath the display. This let the company expand the keyboard to provide excellent spacing as well as to add the same row of home keys along the right-hand side that you’ll find on some other recent HP notebooks. All the keys are the right sizes and in the right places.
All in all, this is one of the best keyboards you’ll find on laptops of the thin-and-light variety. It’s vastly superior to the “typing on a block of wood” experience of the recent MacBook keyboards, and it’s even better than the aforementioned ZenBook 3 Deluxe’s keyboard, which we considered very good for the form factor.
The touchpad is a little less pleasant. To begin with, it’s not a Microsoft Precision Touchpad, but rather utilizes Synaptics drivers. Therefore, its gesture support was a little less precise than we like. The glass surface is smooth, though, and it’s been increased 15 percent in size from the previous generation, with a shape that mimics the display’s widescreen aspect ratio. You’ll be happier with the larger touchpad on the MacBook, as well as the more common Microsoft Precision touchpads you’ll find on other modern Windows notebooks like the Dell XPS 13.
The display on the new Spectre 13 also supports multitouch, and it’s a nice addition. Even without pen support or the ability to rotate into tablet format, having a touchscreen makes it easier to push buttons and scroll the display, and we’re glad to see HP add the feature.
A slightly below-average display that’s just good enough
Our review unit came equipped with a 13.3-inch Full HD display, which is the baseline for today’s premium notebooks. HP will also offer a 4K UHD option that will make for a very sharp display indeed.
According to our colorimeter, the Spectre 13’s display is a little worse than average compared to similar premium notebooks. Contrast was a bit low at 740:1 at full brightness, which was just 266 nits, and thus had a hard time overcoming bright lights. The Dell XPS 13 and Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe both exceeded 900:1 in contrast, and 300 nits in brightness.
Colors were also slightly less dynamic, with only 71 percent coverage of the AdobeRGB gamut and 94 percent coverage of sRGB. Most displays in this class hit at least 72 and 95 percent, respectively, and the XPS 13 was a standout at 77 and 98 percent. The Spectre 13’s color accuracy was also a little worse than average at 2.54, where anything less than 1.0 is considered excellent.
Subjectively, the Spectre 13’s display was pleasant enough to use, although we did notice that video was darker than we’d like. That makes sense given the gamma results of 2.4 (2.2 is perfect). We wish it was brighter, though, and offered up more contrast to make black text on a white background pop more.
Punchy audio, just don’t turn it all the way up
HP moved the speakers from the sides to just below the display on the newest Spectre 13, adding more space for the Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers to work. The result is audio that’s impressive for such a tiny machine.
HP Spectre 13 (2017) Compared To
Volume can get very loud, enough to share a movie or TV show with friends, and music was surprisingly enjoyable. Even bass was a bit better than we expected, and the midrange and lows were pleasant — at least, up to around 80 percent volume. Beyond that, though, everything starts to run together. The good thing is you shouldn’t have to pass that threshold to properly fill a medium-sized room.
Impressively fast for such a thin and light machine
Our review unit was equipped with the eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U, a 15-watt quad-core processor that promises improved performance yet increased efficiency. The new CPU has provided significant performance improvements in all the machines we’ve reviewed so far.
The Spectre 13 keeps up the pace. In the Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark, the machine scored 4,916 in the single-core test and 14,301 in the multi-core tests. Those are excellent results that compete well with the other Core i7-8550U machines in our comparison group and blow away seventh-generation notebooks.
On the more challenging Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video file to H.265, the Spectre 13 was able to complete the process in 672 seconds. Given that this test really stresses the CPU and generates some heat, this is an impressive showing. It’s much faster than other thin notebooks using the same processor, including the latest Dell XPS 13 and the ZenBook 3 Deluxe, and even competes with our speed champ so far, the thicker and heavier Lenovo Yoga 920.
The Spectre 13 offers impressive performance for such a thin and light machine. It’s faster than we expected it to be, and its performance is due in part to some work that HP put into it the cooling system. There’s an infrared sensor that measures when the surface of the chassis gets too hot to the touch and modulates the fans, and HP engineered a hybrid cooling solution that manages to let the CPU run at full speed for longer periods.
You’ll be more than happy with the Spectre 13’s performance for all of your general productivity needs. In real-world use, it’s plenty quick and can handle anything you’re likely to throw at it — even the occasional high-end task like video encoding, which usually makes thin-and-light notebooks stutter.
More than fast enough storage speeds
HP equipped our Spectre 13 with a 256GB Samsung PM961 SSD. That’s a great choice, given its generally excellent performance in both reading and writing data.
The Spectre 13 couldn’t quite squeeze all the performance out of the Samsung SSD in our benchmark testing. It scored 906 megabytes per second (MB/s) on the CrystalDiskMark read test and 964 MB/s on the write test. That’s slower than some other machines using the same drive, such as the Lenovo Yoga 720 that scored a remarkable 2,060 MB/s read and 1,209 MB/s write and the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe that scored 1,349 MB/s read and 1,285 MB/s write.
Even so, the Spectre 13 is plenty fast in reading and writing information, and you’re unlikely to notice the discrepancy. Throughout our testing and in writing this review, the notebook never slowed down. It might be small, but the Spectre 13 is a speedy little machine for pretty much any productivity task.
Don’t even think about gaming
The Spectre 13 is equipped with integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics, which are unchanged from the seventh-generation version. That implies enough graphical prowess for the usual productivity tasks but doesn’t indicate a very powerful gaming system.
As expected, the Spectre 13 scored in line with other machines using the same integrated graphics. Its 3DMark Fire Strike score of 1,005 is average, and indicates a machine that’s not going to be a great choice for gamers.
We ran Civilization VI at Full HD, just for kicks. The Spectre 13 achieved 11 frames per second (FPS) at medium graphics and 6 FPS at ultra graphics. Unsurprisingly, that’s within the FPS range of every other machine we’ve tested using the Intel UHD 620 GPU.
Incredibly easy to carry around, but take your charger if you’re working hard
HP increased the battery capacity on the new Spectre 13 from 38 to 43 watt-hours using a new step-cell design. The eighth-generation Intel CPUs also promise better efficiency, at least when the CPU is running at its lower base clock speed than the previous generation. That led us to believe we’d see solid battery life.
The combination was generally fruitful. In our most demanding battery test, the Basemark web benchmark that taxes the CPU and GPU with a series of demanding web processes, the Spectre 13 managed just over two and a half hours — an okay result. Dell’s XPS 13 was the leader among eighth-generation machines on this test at three and a half hours, and the ZenBook 3 Deluxe lasted a few minutes longer than the Spectre 13.
On our test that shuffles through a series of popular web pages, the Spectre 13 managed five hours and 21 minutes. That’s a little weaker than we expected but still a decent showing. The XPS 13 lasted only a minute longer, while the ZenBook 3 Deluxe passed the six-hour mark. Lenovo’s Yoga 920 was the standout at over eight hours.
Finally, we see how long machines can loop through an Avengers trailer from local storage until the battery runs out. Here, the Spectre 13 lasted for a more competitive nine hours and 51 minutes. That’s 50 minutes longer than the XPS 13 and within five minutes of the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe. The Yoga 920 blew every other machine away at almost 14 hours of runtime.
These are mixed results, but they follow the trend we’ve seen with machines using eighth-generation CPUs. If you’re doing general productivity work, then the Spectre 13 will likely last close to a full day’s work. If you’re doing work that stresses the processor, then you’ll want to make sure you have your charger on hand. The Spectre is light enough, however, that you probably won’t mind carrying along a little extra weight.
The HP Spectre 13 is equipped with the usual HP utilities to keep the machine updated and to provide access to technical support resources. In addition, the Dropbox app comes pre-installed to provide access to the included 30GB of free storage space for a year. Those are the useful apps. The McAfee and other trials are examples of bloatware that we’d rather not see – and are far less common — on a premium machine.
HP offers a typical one-year parts and labor warranty for the Spectre 13. As usual, that’s disappointing for a machine that costs over $1,000.
The HP Spectre 13 has been significantly redesigned, adding in a touch display in the same ultrathin chassis, and updating to eighth-generation Intel Core processors. It remains a solidly built machine, albeit with the slightest bit of flex due to the ultrathin materials, and performance is very good.
Is there a better alternative?
There aren’t that many Windows notebooks that are quite as thin and light as the Spectre 13. One of the more direct comparisons is the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe, which offers a slightly larger 14-inch display but still manages to fit into the same class of machine. It’s also equipped with the Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, and offers similar performance and battery life. It’s a little more solidly built — and a bit thicker and heavier — while also costing $1,700 with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.
If you’re willing to accept a little more thickness and weight, then the excellent Dell XPS 13 is a good alternative. It’s just received its own eighth-generation update, and it also provides strong performance and battery life. At $1,300 for a Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, it’s priced a bit less than the Spectre 13.
Another thin and light Windows 10 option is served up by the Huawei MateBook X. That machine is still mired with seventh generation Intel Core processors, but it provides a very good, higher resolution 13-inch 2,160 x 1,440 (200 PPI) display with a 3:2 aspect ratio that’s great for productivity. Our review unit came in at $1,100 for a Core i5-7200U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, making it less expensive than the Spectre 13 albeit considerably slower.
Finally, you could make the switch to MacOS and pick up the latest MacBook. You’ll gain Apple’s always-excellent design and build quality, along with a colorful and high-contrast 12-inch display at 2,304 x 1,440 resolution (226 PPI). You’ll also pay for it, at $1,600 for a Core i5-7200U, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. And make sure you’re okay with the MacBook’s keyboard before you pull out your credit card.
How long will it last?
The Spectre 13 is well-built, but it’s also very thin. You’ll want to make sure you treat it gently, at least if a slightly flexible chassis gives you pause. It’s equipped with eight-generation processors and plenty of RAM and storage space, and it uses futureproof USB-C ports. If you take care of it, you should get quite a few years of use.
Should you buy it?
Yes, particularly if you really want such a thin and light machine. You’ll get great performance and decent battery life along with a lovely appearance and a seriously svelte frame.