Incredibly thin and light
Very noisy fans
Below-average battery life
Noticeable battery drain
Trackpad could be bigger
Lack of customisation options
When buying a new laptop, there’s a few companies that you can often rely on to provide a solid experience and HP are certainly one of them, with a range of laptops at every price point. Like its rivals, HP is also attempting to dominate the ultrabook and 2-in-1 segments and, especially in the latter, it certainly has a track record of doing so, with machines like the HP Spectre x360 providing one of the most unique experiences on the market.
Not everyone wants a convertible laptop however, and the HP Spectre 13 aims to be the perfect ultrabook for you. Its name suggests a silky smooth and memorable experience that will blow you away, but does it deliver? Let’s find out in this, our HP Spectre 13 review.
Let’s get this out of the way straight away: the HP Spectre 13 is one of the most stylish ultrabooks on the market. Combining a unique non-traditional lid design – where, unlike other laptops, the lid doesn’t hinge at the edge of the machine – with powerful specs and an abundance of features, at first glance, the HP Spectre 13 looks like no other machine.
While some are probably divided by the color scheme, I actually like it a lot but your mileage will most definitely vary with this. Personally, HP may have alienated a few users with some curious design choices – such as the hinge which, by design, doesn’t stretch back as far as other machines – and the design which may appear gaudy to some but I really like it. There’s very little not to like about the Spectre 13 and even with curious design choices, HP has ensured that everything is well thought out.
Weighing in at only 1.1kg and with varying thickness (which maxes out at just over 10mm), the Spectre 13 boasts the claim of being the slimmest Core i-powered laptop on the market. If you’ve been wanting a machine that you can pick up and throw in your bag without thinking about it, the Spectre 13 certainly delivers on this. It may have a larger footprint than other machines – such as the Apple Macbook 12 – but it offers a bigger screen, which more than justifies the regular sized footprint.
Ports & Features
As slim as the HP Spectre 13 is, it doesn’t compromise on ports as much as other OEMs – ahem, cough, Apple – do. Given the slim profile, you won’t be too surprised to hear that it’s USB-C all the way, with a total of three ports: one USB 3.1 Type-C and two thunderbolt USB 3.1 Type-C. The lack of full-sized USB isn’t too surprising considering the size but HP does include a USB Type-C to USB 3 adapter in the box.
One of the ports is used for charging while the other two offer high-speed data transfer via the USB 3.1 Type-C ports. If you do have a need for data transfer as well as peripherals, note that the charging port also supports data transfer. On the other side of the back edge, you’ve got the 3.5mm traditional headphone port but that’s it: there’s no other ports on any of the other sides, which contributes towards this machine being so slim.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The Spectre 13 comes equipped with a full-sized keyboard that feels surprisingly spacious and each individual key is outlined in gold with gold lettering, which helps add to the overall style of the Spectre 13. The keys themselves offer a decent amount of travel and great tactile feedback, resulting in an overall positive typing experience. The keyboard offers one backlight brightness level and it’s set to be comfortable in most environments, even in a dark room.
The trackpad is quite impressive, offering smooth hassle-free responses to the multi-touch gestures in Windows 10 but its biggest problem is the size. Had HP chosen to push the keyboard up even a fraction to create a larger trackpad, this would be one of the best trackpad experiences available on the market. Instead, the smaller size does make it a little cramped, meaning it’s not as effective as it could be.
Overall, the HP Spectre 13 is certainly a very stylish machine but when you’re spending over £1,000 ($1300+), it’s not just about style. How does HP’s best stack up to heavy usage testing? Let’s find out.
Display & Speakers
The Spectre 13 is equipped with a 13-inch Full HD IPS display that is positively outstanding, and far above what we expected. Considering the size of the Spectre 13, HP have done exceptionally well to offer such a vibrant and colorful display and it adds to the overall experience.
For the most part, colors are fairly accurate and testing against the sRGB standard, the Spectre 13 covers 94% of the gamut, with ever so slight deficiencies in displaying the colors red and blue. These deficiencies do not detract away from the experience in any way and with blacks also very deep and vibrant, this is one of the best displays on a Full HD laptop today.
Unlike other rival machines, the HP Spectre 13 doesn’t come with a touch-screen, which isn’t overly surprising given the slim profile, but may be significant if you like to use one. As much as a touchscreen is, the trackpad and keyboard experience is so good on the HP Spectre 13 that you don’t miss it quite as much as you may have done.
On the sound front, the Spectre 13 continues HP’s vein of offering great audio in portable laptops, with quad Bang & Olufsen speakers delivering crisp audio with plenty of volume and no noticeable rattle or tinniness. Whether it’s for watching YouTube videos, cinema films or listening to high-quality audio, the HP Spectre 13 most definitely delivers and the speakers are one of the star features. The top facing speakers to the left and right of the keyboard do get in the way a little bit when you’re typing but this is only infrequently and you may not even notice it.
There’s two versions of the HP Spectre and we’ve got the one with model number v050na, which is powered by a dual-core Core i5-6200U processor clocked at 2.3GHz, offers 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD and integrated Intel HD 520 graphics. While this may seem a little underpowered against more traditional laptops, it’s above average for entry-level portable machines, but how does it stack up to the competition? Let’s find out in our benchmark tests:
In the PC Mark benchmark tests, the HP Spectre 13 seems to be on par with the more powerful Dell XPS 15 while scoring slightly less than the Razer Blade Stealth and significantly lower than our Dell XPS 13, both of which offer almost identical specs. In the ATTO storage test, the Spectre 13 scores a max average read speed of 1,506 Mb/s and a max average write speed of 296 Mb/s, which is again on par with the competition.
Putting the Spectre 13 through GeekBench 3 reveals a single-core score of 3040 and a multi-core score of 6339, which pales in comparison to its core rivals and is significantly inferior to the Dell XPS 15. To test the integrated GPU, we ran 3DMark’s Sky Diver test, which reveals a graphics experience that is inferior to both, the XPS 13 and the Razer Blade Stealth, which isn’t overly surprising given the Spectre 13 tops out at Full HD resolution while those offer QHD displays.
However, benchmarks only tell one side of the story and in actual usage, the Spectre 13 doesn’t disappoint in any way. During my lengthy time with the Spectre 13, multitasking, web browsing and even light gaming were all achieved with apparent ease. On the whole, performance wasn’t too sluggish but if you’re used to having 20 programs running (including resource intensive ones such as the Adobe suite) alongside 20+ browser tabs, the Spectre 13 does stutter occasionally.
Heat / Noise
While performance isn’t a concern, the fans and the heat management is; simply put, if you use the Spectre 13 in a busy coffee shop, you can still hear the fans running above the general hubbub. In a quiet room, the fans get loud enough for you to feel like it’s about to launch itself and take off and even with light usage, the fans are still running most of the time.
To build a laptop this slim. HP was obviously limited by the amount of cooling and heat management it could actually implement and this does show, but it’s a by-product of an otherwise spec-heavy-yet-slim machine. If you’re someone who often works in a quiet environment – such as a library – the Spectre 13 probably isn’t a wise choice but for everyone else, you’ll likely forget about it after the initial shock.
One of the most important aspects of the portable laptop experience is battery life, with the name ultrabook synonymous with longevity and the Spectre 13 somewhat fails to hit the mark. With average usage, the Spectre 13 barely hits the 5 hours mark and with heavy usage, this can slip right down to 2-3 hours. In the running of a 20 minute less-intensive benchmark, the Spectre 13 lost over 20% battery life and this is reflected in general usage as well.
In an hour of streaming Netflix at 110cd/m2. the Spectre 13 lost over 16% battery life and when streaming constantly, the Spectre 13 only lasts 4 hours and 28 minutes. We also noticed significant battery drain when the Spectre 13 wasn’t in use, with an average of 16% being lost overnight and around 44% lost in 24 hours.
Most ultrabooks can be relied upon to offer solid standby battery life but the Spectre 13 fails and the biggest negative about HP’s flagship is the average battery life. With other ultrabooks offering up to 10 hours’ battery life – and even more in some cases – the 4-5 hour average battery life of the Spectre 13 doesn’t quite cut it, especially considering how much it actually costs.
Price & Specifications
There’s two versions of the Spectre 13 available on the market:
CPU: 2.3GHz Core i5-6200U
Price (US/UK): $1,069 / £1,149
SSD: 256GB (512GB in the UK)
CPU: 2.5GHz Core i7-6500U
Price (US/UK): $1,149 / £1,299
Rather surprisingly, the specs of the Spectre 13 do differ slightly per market, with the Core i7 version in the UK offering 512GB storage, while the US version only offers 256GB. What stands out however, is that the customisation options are limited to just the processor and for the power user, it would have been nice to see HP offer additional RAM and display upgrades.
HP Spectre 13 Review: Final Verdict
In its current state, the HP Spectre 13 is a curious beast as it combines outstanding aesthetics with powerful performance but is crippled by bad battery life and excessive noise. The Macbook 12 and XPS 13 offer better battery life and more features respectively, resulting in a better overall experience. Yet, the Spectre 13 is elegantly designed, thinner than the 2016 Macbook and up there with the very best ultraportables on the market.
If you’re willing to spend a large deal of money on a machine that stands out from the crowd and offers pretty smooth performance, the Spectre 13 certainly delivers. Sure it sacrifices battery life against the competition but there’s a lot to like about it and the battery life trade-off is mostly due to the choice of a Core I-processor over a Core M.
The Spectre 13 certainly comes with a hefty price tag attached and this affects the overall value for money but at its core, it is one of the slimmest machines on the market – although not as thin as the Acer Swift 7 – and offers more power than most machines this slender. If slightly less battery life and excessive noise are acceptable trade-offs for all the positives, you’ll most definitely be satisfied with the HP Spectre 13.