HP Spectre 13 x360 review: Slim and light superstar

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Spectre is the name given to HP’s top-end style laptops. They tend to be some of the most eye-catching around, but have never quite reached the level of public recognition as the Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro.

There’s no downside to this mild under-appreciation for us buyers when they turn out as well as the 2020 Spectre 13 x360, though. This 13-inch laptop is slick, beautifully made, and the pricier version reviewed here provides more tech per pound than either Apple or Dell.

Want a slim laptop that can play games well? Get a cheaper HP Envy laptop instead. But otherwise the only real reason to be put off is the HP Spectre X360 13’s design, which is more likely to divide opinion than almost every other laptop in this class. However, love it – and here’s why.

Design

  • Dimensions: 306 x 194.5 x 16.9mm / Weight: 1.3kg
  • Aluminium case in natural silver finish

HP tries to make its Spectre series laptops stand out with bold design motifs. There was a gold and bronze Spectre one year, for example, but it’s the sharp contours that are the most consistent trait.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 is packed with unusual angles. Look at the 45-degree cut-off parts at the bottom of the screen and top of the base. Its sides are also sharply embossed, while even the keyboard keys and trackpad are severely squared-off.

It’s an unusual choice when other high-end gadgets are deliberately softened. Phones have curved screens and rounded corners. TVs use subtle or curvy stands to offset the almost surround-free panels. HP takes a different approach.

Whether you like the HP Spectre 13 x360’s appearance is one of the main things to think about here, because look and feel are a big part of the appeal one of these ultra-high-end laptops.

Pass the ‘like’ test? Then the HP Spectre 13 x360’s actual construction is excellent. Its case is aluminium – and has a feel that’s very similar to a MacBook, rather than the slightly more plastic-like touch of a magnesium alloy laptop.

The whole structure of the HP is also very rigid. Its screen doesn’t bend. The keyboard doesn’t flex. Neither do the larger blank bits below its keys. We only notice mild flexing when carrying the Spectre around with the hinge closed.

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This is also a hybrid machine, one with a 360-degree hinge. And there’s no annoying wobble to the display, which affects quite a lot of hybrids, including HPs from previous years.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 is a class act – and a highly portable one too. It weighs 1.3kg and, thanks to its trim screen borders, has a very small footprint. Side-by-side with the Microsoft Surface Book 3 you’d never guess they had similar screen sizes, at least in terms of inch figures. The Spectre is radically more portable.

Screen

  • 4K BrightView micro-edge AMOLED
  • Anti-reflection Corning Gorilla Glass
  • 400-nit brightness

An incredible screen only makes the HP Spectre 13 x360 more flexible for use outdoors. We are reviewing the top-end version, which has an amazing 4K resolution OLED display. These OLED panels are easy to find in tablets, thanks to Samsung, but are rare in laptops.

Each pixel of an OLED panel provides its own light source, resulting in contrast levels impossible with an LCD screen. In a dark room blacks still look truly black – even at max brightness – which is simply not the case with any LCD.

In your average lit room you are more likely to notice the HP Spectre 13 x360’s excellent colour than this contrast. It’s extremely punchy and rich. And thankfully HP baked in quick controls to let you rein in any over-saturation.

Right click on the Windows homescreen, select HP Display Control, and you can flick between sRGB, DCI P3, Adobe RGB and Native colour profiles. If you’re not doing work that requires one of these standards, just trust your eyes and pick the one you prefer.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 has a glossy touchscreen, usually the enemy of the outdoors, but we are highly impressed by its visibility outside. This laptop has an excellent reflection-busting coating that copes with direct sunlight very well. You will want to use maximum brightness outdoors still, but can even get away with watching a movie in the sun.

There are just two negatives to the OLED display. It is harder on the battery than the 1080p LCD used in the cheaper versions, and LCDs tend to be a little better at making whites look pure. But when rivals offer laptops with LCD screens for more money, the HP Spectre 13 x360 starts to look like a good deal.

You also get a stylus in the box. It’s a pressure sensitive full-size pen that you can happily use as a doodling tool.

Keyboard and trackpad

  • HP Imagepad touchpad with glass surface
  • Keyboard backlight
  • Full-size keys

We’ve seen a few companies follow Apple’s lead in making very shallow keyboards with little key travel. Dell has done it. Asus has too. But the HP Spectre 13 x360 has conventional key depth, and is therefore great for typing.

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