HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2019) hands-on review: Prepare to be impressed
“With slim bezels and an OLED display, the HP Spectre x360 might be the perfect 2-in-1.”
- Option for a 4K OLED panel
- Slim bezels
- Redesigned Windows Hello Webcam
- New 10th-gen processors
- Iris Plus graphics
- Thicker and heavier than competitors
The HP Spectre x360 has always been one of the best laptops you can buy. With solid productivity performance, insanely long battery life, and a comfortable keyboard, it’s been hard for others to beat.
It did have a couple of weakness though. HP must have known that, because in late 2019, the company has introduced an updated Spectre that solves every minor quibble I had with previous versions.
Oh yeah, and HP threw in an OLED screen for good measure too.
A screen so slim, and a webcam so small
With the older Spectre x360 sitting right next to the new model, the first thing I noticed was its new webcam and slimmer bezels. The thick bottom and top borders on the display were almost gone, and the screen just looked so much more immersive. But by how much?
HP is laying claim to a 90% screen to body ratio, which is ahead of the 84.7% ratio on the new XPS 13 convertible. It did this by slimming the top bezels down from 17.35 mm to a mere 5.85mm. And, on the bottom, from 25.82 mm to 11.09 mm. That’s a 66.28% and 57.05 % change between generations, respectively.
Still, with the slim bezel clamshell XPS 13 in mind, I was curious how HP accomplished this, so I asked. In short, it is all about the webcam.
The Windows Hello IR webcam on last year’s x360 was roughly 6mm in size, but this year’s model is now down to 2.2 mm. That not only leaves a lot of space for a bigger display panel but also allows HP to keep the camera in its traditional spot. There’s no awkward nose facing camera, like what Huawei did with the MateBook 14.
Surprisingly, this webcam module is even smaller than the 2.25 mm module on the Dell XPS 13 clamshell — which doesn’t feature the Windows Hello IR technology. HP says it’s lesser than the size of a grain of rice.
But just because the webcam got smaller, doesn’t mean that HP had to sacrifice on quality.
But just because the webcam got smaller, doesn’t mean that HP had to sacrifice on quality. I fired up the webcam and right away received a clear picture. And, just like last year’s Spectre, with the slide of a switch on the side, I was able to kill the webcam for privacy.
Looking up close, I could point out the blemishes in my freshly shaved face and even the specs of dust on my hat. Compared to the low 1-megapixel quality keyboard pop-up webcam on something the Huawei MateBook X Pro, I can see this cam being used for web conferences. But positioned right below the camera was the real star of the show.
OLED screen in a 13-inch laptop? Yup
OLED has become common in 15-inch laptops like the Dell XPS 15 or HP Spectre x360 15 — and there’s a good reason why.
Compared to standard LED panels, the OLED screen is able to punch out amazing contrast levels, as well as deeper blacks. It’s why we saw a sudden surge of OLED laptops earlier this year at CES.
But this year’s 13-inch Spectre is the first 13-inch device in recent memory to launch with an OLED screen. That caught my attention.
Alongside a standard FHD 1,920 x 1,080 resolution model, the new Spectre x360 sports an option for a 4K True Black HDR OLED panel that can go up to (optional, if configured) 1,000 nits of brightness. This sort of insane brightness was first shown off in the HP Dragonfly business laptop, but now it’s set to become a mainstream feature too.
The 1,000 nit model wasn’t available, but I did get to try out the 4K OLED option, and it’s a stunner. Even just looking at the default wallpaper on the Spectre, I was instantly wowed. The blacks and blues in the sky were so vibrant. The dark mode and live tiles in Windows 10 popped right off the screen.
That in mind, I can see this panel working well in direct sunlight, and in brighter conditions. But that’s not all, as HP tells me that it has bundled in a new optional anti-glare option into all these new panels. The glare from the white LED lights in the room weren’t reflecting on the screen, and I scrolled through HP’s PowerPoint demo without staring back at myself.
The OLED panels are factory calibrated with a 30% wider color gamut for accurate colors, meaning it could be a good option for photographers. However, for further customization, HP is also bundling in a special “HP Display Control” software. that features special color space presets.
Refined design, but slightly thicker
Other than the webcam HP, also repositioned the antennas to free up space all across the laptop of the new Spectre. This makes it one of the smallest 13-inch convertibles I’ve ever seen. It also makes it well connected, as the Spectre sports improved 4×4 antennas, for Gigabit LTE (a first on this years model) and Wi-Fi 6 support.
I especially noticed this size difference when stacking the new Spectre on top of the old one. It’s now 23 mm smaller than before. With its length shrinking from 217.9 mm to 194.5 mm. It’s also 10 grams lighter from last years model, and 2.4 mm thicker. That makes it thicker than most 2-in-1,s and it is something I noticed when holding it in my hands.
For all those design changes, it still sports the same distinctive aesthetic I’ve always loved.
On the new model, two Wi- Fi antennas move to the bottom side of the display panel, and two on the bottom portions of the keyboard. The hinges also have become a special strengthened CNC part embedded under the panel, freeing up space for a bigger screen. Finally, the connectors on display panel itself are utilizing a special bent design, so that is no longer flush with the panel.
For all those design changes, it still sports the same distinctive aesthetic I’ve always loved. Gem cuts, dual-chamfer diamond-cut edges, are all still here. Even the ports are the same — two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C and one USB A. These are located in the corners, designed to get the cables out of the way.
Alongside the older “Nightfall Black” and Poseidon Blue,” there’s even a new “Natural Silver” colorway this year, which is visually reminiscent of the silver color of a MacBook.
I even continuously closed and opened the Spectre, and it never once faulted thanks to the dual edges, which meant I could easily open it from the sides.
Finally listening to the complaints, HP has implemented a Microsoft Precision touchpad.
And, when I pressed hard on the keyboard deck and turned the lid, there was no flex. Even typing was easy and my fingers easily jammed between the perfectly squared shaped keys with minimal typos. That 1.3mm key travel really pays off and could make for a comfortable experience for long-haul typing sessions.
The same applies to the touchpad. Finally listening to the complaints of reviewers everywhere, HP has implemented a Microsoft Precision touchpad. While a bit smaller at 110mm x 55 mm over last year’s 120 mm x 60 mm, its wide surface still is smooth enough for scrolling. The bottom and right corners also provide solid clicks for navigating Windows. The added benefits of Microsoft Precision mean that Windows 10’s multi-touch gestures to move between apps, the desktop is now much smoother than the synaptics drivers on last year’s model.
Ice Lake means better graphics
After hanging onto Whiskey Lake for the last generation, HP’s new Spectre x360 finally takes the jump in processing power with Intel’s 10th-gen CPUs. Alongside other manufacturers like Razer and Dell, this promises to deliver battery and performance improvements for day to day activities.
HP claims a specific 2 times performance difference in 3D Mark 11 testing and up to 22 hours of battery life on the FHD model. That’s largely thanks to the use of a 1-watt low power panel. More advanced testing is needed, but that would put it ahead of the 13 hours on most laptops like the XPS 13, and even some Qualcomm-powered Always Connected PCs.
The new Spectre x360 comes with up to a quad-core Intel Core i7-1065G7 processor. This should provide enough muscle for productivity work, though more testing will be required to confirm my first impressions. But, much like the new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, the graphics department is where this new processor can really shine.
The Ice Lake processors include Intel’s new Iris Plus integrated graphics, which we’ve enjoyed on Razer’s new Stealth 13 models. There’s still no dedicated graphics card on board, but it could shape up to be great for light gaming and even light photo and video editing.
HP believes so much in the power of Ice Lake, that the new Spectre x360 features an enhanced thermal design, with enlarged air inlets, outlets, and an elevated heat pipe design.
A graphite layer under the keyboard, and small inlet holes in the top of the keyboard, and three heat pipes also better disperse heat and cool the laptop. That’s an improvement from the one heatpipe from previous models.
Makes a near-perfect laptop perfect
More testing is needed, but the new Spectre x360 shapes up to be one of the best Windows 10 convertibles I’ve ever seen. With a slim-bezel OLED screen and the power of Ice Lake under the hood, HP has addressed nearly all our complaints with previous Spectre models.
HP’s Spectre x360 will be released in October for prices starting at $1,300, while the models with the OLED screen will start at $1,700.