What a laptop can be – HP Spectre x360 15″ review

Overview

According to Wikipedia, HP was the biggest PC vendor in 2017 with a 20.8% market share. The test unit of Spectre x360 15” is probably much higher-end than an average laptop the company sells but it represents pretty much the best they have to offer. The exact model I’m testing is 15-bl102no. It has a 15,6” 4K 2160p IPS display, Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, Nvidia GeForce MX150, 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB NVMe SSD.

The laptop is meant for enthusiast users that need to do some productive work but keep moving while doing so. The laptop doesn’t come with a Pro Windows, and HP has a separate Spectre Pro lineup for business users. There’s a Spectre x360 13” version as well but it can’t be fitted with discrete graphics card and the 13” 4K display is even more overkill than in the 15” model I have here.

The only store that currently lists the laptop in the exact same configuration, has it priced at 2000€ but similar versions are listed at around 1800€. The Spectre is a jewel kind of a laptop but at this price range, the laptop also needs to perform well, have a great display and a solid battery life.

For the rest of the review, I’ll name the 15” Spectre x360 as just Spectre. I’ll mention 13” or similar if I’m talking about a different device than the actual review unit.

Design

Visual appearance of the Spectre is one of its key features. As the lid is closed, the laptop is quite understated. The sides of the review unit reveal a bit of its fanciness on the sides with the polished copper color. The hinge design is one beautiful feature with its curves and the new simplified HP logo is subtle enough for this kind of premium device.

As the lid is opened, the main features are revealed. The 15” 4K display has slim bezels on the sides but the bottom bezel is large to lift the display up a little bit and improve the user experience. The top bezel is quite typical for laptops but this one actually packs some important features on that bezel.

The keyboard is quite typical compact keyboard in a space that could have hosted a numpad as well. Although as this Spectre isn’t meant for business use, the B&O tuned speakers around the keyboard are probably more important feature than the numpad would have been. The touchpad is very wide but not too tall.

Overall, the design of the Spectre is an interesting mix of design-first and function-first thinking. A typical laptop customer probably sees the design as too dominant feature of this laptop but the Spectre also is out of the price range of a typical customer. Personally, I feel that the design represents the laptop’s potential quite well. It looks precious but subtle at the same time.

Look and feel

The HP Spectre is meant to be used. All the materials are premium and carefully selected. The display turns into the tablet mode very easily and without any squeaking or sounds. The hinge design is beautiful to look at. Especially in the copper color.

The display glass is reflective due to the touch functionality, but it has some anti-reflective coding that helps in bright scenarios. The oleophobic coating on the display is similar to many smartphones. It lets fingers to slide easily on the glass but the oleophobic part of it is quite bad. The display is full of fingerprints very quickly.

Using the Spectre in daily life feels premium. The laptop is cool to touch, and feels rigid when carrying it around. It is also kind of heavy for its size at 2 kilograms.

Specifications

The Spectre really is equipped with the best hardware that is possible to be packed inside this chassis. The CPU is a 15W 4 core 8 thread Intel Core i7-8550U with 1.8GHz base frequency and 4.0GHz max boost. Although the test unit claims to have a 2.0GHz base frequency, the official spec is 1.8GHz. This doesn’t matter too much because the CPU is almost always boosting over the base frequency anyway. The CPU is manufactured on the 14nm Kaby Lake refresh process and has 8MB of L3 cache. There’s also an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU on board.

The test unit has two 8 GB 2400 MHz DDR4 SODIMMs for a total of 16 GB of RAM. The CPU and motherboard support maximum of 32 GB and the RAM sticks are user accessible under a couple of screws. The 512 GB NVMe SSD is made by Toshiba and the actual model can be found by Googling ‘THNSN5512GPUK’.

The Nvidia GeForce MX150 is an ultrabook oriented version of GT 1030. It uses the Pascal architecture, has 384 Cuda cores, 2 GB of GDDR5 memory and runs at up to 1911 MHz according to a little test.

Display

The display is a 15,6” UHD BV LED touchscreen that is by my understanding an IPS display. It has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 which in the size 15,6” means 282DPI. There’s no official claim on Adobe RGB color reproduction but the colors look quite correct to my eyes without any actual equipment to prove it.

However, the display has some amazing light bleed from every corner. Viewing black images on dark environment reveals the grey blacks of an IPS display and the massive light bleeding. I haven’t been in touch with HP support, but I believe this could be a reason to replace the unit if it bothered me.

Performance

The Spectre has some serious hardware under the hood which means that it flies through typical benchmarks. However, I was able to completely jam the machine while running some graphically intensive tests like 3DMark Time Spy.

The test suite was quite large for an ultrabook review, and the benchmarks were driven 3 to 5 times each. The following screenshots are the best results. I’ll include the results in the text as well for those who can’t or won’t load the images.

Disclaimer: The Spectre is running on an Insider preview version on Windows 10. That does affect the results and the reproduction of the results.

Cinebench R15 tests the CPU’s single- and multi-core performance. Multi-core result is 538 cb and single core is 169 cb. For comparison, the full desktop 6700K on stock clocks scored 931/182.

Geekbench scrores were 4922 for single-core and 14119 for the multi-core test.

PCMark 10 score was 4043 with sub scores of 8086 (Essentials), 6201 (Productivity) and 3578 (Digital Content Creation).

CrystalDiskMark results for sequential read and write were 1653.1 MB/s and 607 MB/s

Unigine Heaven benchmark returned 28.4 FPS and 716 points on 1080p high DX11.

Sunspider score on Chrome was 240.5 ms.

Octane score on Chrome was 40365.

 

Here are also screenshots of CPU-Z and Open Hardware Monitor.

 

Day-to-day performance

Daily performance has been snappy with the NVMe SSD and 16GB of RAM. The CPU also boosts very high when browsing the web or doing some productive work on Adobe CC. On short time load, the machine is extremely quick.

However, gaming or video rendering on this machine could be a relatively bad experience. The CPU isn’t meant to stay cool under full load for a long time. The cooling fans are loud, and the fan curves are set up such a way that the CPU package gets really hot before the fans really kick off.

The performance is very good for a casual user in most situations. Of course, a laptop is not the ideal machine for hardcore video editing anyway, so I’m not too concerned on that. Some older games and less GPU intensive titles are also very playable on 1080p resolution.

After a two hour session of a CPU intensive Hearts of Iron IV in 1080p, the CPU was running at only 1.7 GHz because of the thermals. Lifting the bottom of the laptop off the surface helps somewhat.

Battery life and charging

The Spectre has an 79 Wh battery with a 90-watt USB type-C charger. Battery life is surprisingly good. The laptop easily lasts an 8-hour work day with high screen brightness and somewhat demanding workload. Usually after a day of using the Spectre on battery power only, I’ve had more than 50% left on the 6 cells it has. The charger is also very quick, and it can also charge a modern Android smartphone with the type-C connector.

Other Hardware

Keyboard and trackpad are pretty much the opposite of each other. The trackpad is wide but not tall enough. It’s usable in most circumstances but for example the right click is so far on the right that it’s hard to reach sometimes. The trackpad uses Synaptics drivers, not Windows drivers. That’s important for those who use Windows’ trackpad gestures.

The keyboard on the other hand is very good to type on. The keys have a decent travel and even somewhat noticeable activation point. After a couple of minutes, I was already happy typing longer texts on the Spectre.

In some markets, the Spectre comes with an HP Active Pen. It is a brilliant addition to the control methods of a laptop. It can be used to navigate the OS but Windows Ink is actually very good software for those who like to draw some little sketches or take hand written notes. The pen is capable of doing some real work as well. It recognizes 2048 pressure levels, has two programmable buttons and lasts for months with the one AAAA-battery. One thing missing is the angle detection.

The speakers are tuned by B&O but they sound quite tinny. One would think that it would be possible to add better speakers on such an expensive laptop and such a big space around the keyboard. But there must be a good reason for this because one would also think that B&O name wasn’t used if they hadn’t at least tried their best.

The Webcam takes Full HD videos at least in theory. The image is very noisy even in very good lighting but it gets the job done in Skype video calls. The microphone on the other hand is decent. My voice was very clear through it even if I sounded a bit tinny.

I/O

After seeing what Apple’s example has done to smartphone market, it’s a welcome surprise to see that the HP Spectre has a decent selection of I/O ports despite its thickness. The Spectre has two type-C ports on the right side of the laptop. Both support charging but only one is Thunderbolt 3 capable. On the left side are one type-A USB port, a headphone jack and a full-size SD card reader.

The power button is on the left side of the laptop and the volume rocker is placed on the right side. Both sides of the laptop have holes for the exit fans.

Windows and HP stuff

The Spectre comes with an HP spiced version of Windows 10 Home. HP has added its usual software suite. HP support assistant is easy way to keep drivers and firmware up to date. Otherwise, the software is the same all over again. Pre-installed Candy Crush Saga and typical pushing of Microsoft’s own apps is something Windows users are familiar with at this point.

Windows Hello

Windows Hello is an easy way to unlock the laptop for those who are not worried about their privacy on a level that they would have taped off their webcam. The Spectre has two IR blasters that recognized my face quickly in most circumstances. However, in low light and bright sunshine, it couldn’t recognize me at all. I wish this model had the fingerprint scanner for those situations like its smaller sibling, the 13” Spectre has. Some 15″ models also have a fingerprint scanner on the side.

Test notes

Don’t ever put Insider Preview on a review laptop ever again. Weekly or daily updates are changing the performance of the laptop so drastically that benchmarking the thing was a challenge to say the least.

Summary

The HP Spectre x360 15″ is a marginal product. It won’t be bought in masses by companies because it’s a consumer machine, not a business laptop. Most customers are shopping for a PC of under $500 and if they have $2000 to spend, they’ll blindfoldedly go and buy a Mac.

The Spectre is a way to show what Windows PC’s are capable of. All this technology will be dropping to the biggest selling laptops eventually. The Spectre is a brilliant showcase.

Published by

superzeppo

A tech fanatic, wannabe YouTuber, IT-engineer

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