The HP Envy Spectre XT, which we covered as a pre-production unit earlier this year, is now on our shores. Surprisingly, it came in rather quietly with little fanfare. In fact, we got this unit even before the HP Malaysia PR had sent us anything. HP Malaysia had already begun selling the Ultrabook during its recent roadshow in Mid Valley, and we are proud to announce that we are one of the first owners of this Ultrabook in the country.
We did a preview of the Spectre XT a few weeks back, and this Ultrabook certainly is a looker. But is it as good an Ultrabook as it looks? Many of us here at HQ think it is a downright steal. Why? Read on to find out!
As we mentioned in our preview, this Ultrabook is very handsome. Clad in brushed aluminium all over, it still somehow manages to remain sophisticated. The aluminium construction allows the Spectre XT to maintain a robust, solid frame while still only weighing 1.39 kg. It’s very thin, too, at only 14.5mm. Both of these factors mean the Spectre XT is a very portable Ultrabook.
This is HP’s flagship Ultrabook, and it clearly shows from the construction and attention to detail compared with the other new Envy Ultrabooks that were released at the same time as the Spectre XT. For instance, the area on top of the keyboard which houses two speakers is angled towards the user, directing audio towards the user, which we found to be an inspired piece of design.
That same angled area also allows the words “Hewlett-Packard” to be reflected onto the screens bottom bezel, right underneath the HP logo. We can tell that this was a conscious design feature, because even the bottom bezel was angled to reflect the words. Genius.
Otherwise, we’re happy to note that the Spectre XT has minimal branding and stickers around the Ultrabook, in keeping with its sophisticated design. Sure, there are two Beats Audio logos, but they weren’t too gaudy to the point where it distracts the user experience. The Windows 7, Intel Core i7 and the Ultrabook stickers are in silver to match the Spectre XT’s brushed aluminium façade as well.
With such handsome exterior, it is only fitting to put in only the best hardware into HP’s flagship Ultrabook. Thankfully, the Spectre XT does not disappoint in its specifications. Right off the bat it surprised us when we saw the spec sheet in the brochure. Here’s the full run down of the Spectre XT’s tech specs:
- · Intel Core i7-3517U (1.9GHz, Turbo Boost up to 2.4GHz – possibly limited by CoolSense) with Intel HD Graphics 4000
- · 4GB RAM, 128 GB SSD
- · 13.3” BrightView screen, 1366 x 768 resolution
- · 4 speakers, 2 internal microphones. Beats Audio software.
- · 2 USB ports (1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0 with charging capabilities), HDMI, LAN, SD card reader, 3.5mm mic in/audio out combo jack
Every purchase of the Spectre XT also comes bundled with HP’s sling bag, headset and a wireless mouse
That being said, though, the Spectre XT does have its flaws. For one thing, it features a low resolution 13.3-inch screen, at only 1366 x 768. The screen’s black bezel, for all its design merits, is very glossy and attracts fingerprints like it was another design feature. The recessed power button doesn’t give enough feedback when it is pressed, which makes for unnecessarily hard presses in the occasions when we were in a hurry. Also, there is ample space for a third USB port. And while we’re at it, only one of the two USB ports in the Ultrabook is of the 3.0 variety.
However, the single biggest disappointment of the Spectre XT is the screen hinge. We find it hard to fathom how a top-of-the-line Ultrabook’s screen could wobble so much. No matter what material a laptop is made from, or how well it was constructed, it is not as important as the screen hinge in giving the user confidence in its build quality. It was already apparent when we took it out for our preview back then, and we wondered how it would get more wobbly under regular use. Thankfully, it didn’t, but that’s not a compliment.
To compare subjectively, we found the hinge of the recent Sony Ultrabook we had recently to be just as wobbly as the Spectre XT. The Lenovo U410, on the other hand, had a better quality hinge, resulting in a very solid feeling screen with no wobbles after you let go of it.
HP took a leaf out of Apple’s handbook by not just selling a product, but “an experience”. What they meant was by put in more value-added features via software. For once, we have an Ultrabook that isn’t cluttered with bloatware. Of course, the usual HP software is present, but it is largely non-invasive, unlike the Vaio Ultrabook’s.
HP also added its CoolSense technology into the Spectre XT. CoolSense, which is found in most of HP’s recent slim laptops, is a nifty application that intelligently monitors where the laptop is placed on (a table or a lap, for example) and makes the necessary adjustments in its cooling system. There isn’t a lot of technical details to explain exactly what it does, but from what we understand, it adjusts the direction of the fan output away from the user, and (we’re not too sure about this) disabling or throttling Turbo Boost.
Finally, the “experience” part. HP packs every Spectre XT Ultrabook with , and a two-year license of Norton Internet Security 2012.
We ran our usual suite of benchmarking tools for laptops and there were some surprises in store. The Ultrabook scored 5657 on PCmark 7, which is very impressive for an Ultrabook. In comparison, the Sony Ultrabook scored 3416, while the Lenovo U410 managed 2934. On 3DMark 11, it managed a respectable 621.
Given that the Spectre XT, as with most Ultrabooks, does not feature dedicated graphics, we were not expecting much out of the Intel HD 4000, since we already have encountered it in the other Ultrabooks we have in HQ. And as expected, it performed just as we thought it would.
The screen on this Ultrabook, like many others, is of the glossy type. Fortunately, under full brightness the screen performs pretty well. However, usage of any brightness below 100% can be pretty tiring for the eyes, despite the increased battery life.
In addition, as written above, the resolution of 1366 x 768 is a little disappointing. For a high-end Ultrabook, a 1600 x 900 screen would have been a lot more respectable (ASUS even packs in a Full HD screen into its 13-inch Zenbook).
One thing that definitely does not disappoint is the Spectre XT’s audio quality. Unlike many other Ultrabooks and, indeed, regular laptops, this Ultrabook is equipped with FOUR speakers. Of course, quantity does not always equate to quality, and it’s a good thing that the Spectre XT does not disappoint in this regard.
For one thing, the unique speaker placement (where two are slanted towards the user) really does help with the audio experience. It’s loud too, easily filling up a room with quality audio output. And it helps that HP has bundled in its Beats Audio software. According to HP, Beats Audio is “an enhanced audio feature that reproduces music the way the artist intended, with deep, controlled bass and clear sound”. Although a little gimmicky (volume controls using the dedicated keys result in a pop-up dial in the shape of a disc with the Beats Audio logo in the middle), the results were pretty good and makes this Ultrabook one of the best in terms of audio quality.
Keyboard and Trackpad
A common complaint with a lot of Ultrabooks is a keyboard with very little depth and travel, which makes typing a pain, especially for touch typists. Thankfully, the keyboard on the Spectre XT has good travel which gives superior typing comfort and confidence. Most keys are full-sized, too. In addition, HP’s new Envy range of notebooks are set to invert the Function keys’ function, where the alternate function (such as volume and brightness controls) are activated without having to press the Fn key. On the other hand, users wishing to refresh a webpage would need to press the Fn and F5 keys instead. But for the most part, it is a better layout, after a short period of getting used to it.
The Spectre XT’s backlit keyboard…
The trackpad found on the Spectre XT is similar to the other Envy notebooks. It features a little area on the top left corner which allows users to easily switch off the trackpad by double-tapping the marked square. In addition, the trackpad is also recessed from the chassis, like the keyboard, which makes it easier for users to open the lid of the Ultrabook. The entire trackpad is also clickable, although there is no marking to distinguish between the left and right “clicks”. On the whole, gesture commands works without any issues.
HP claims the built-in battery fitted into the Spectre XT is good for eight hours of usage, but while that may be achievable under extremely constrained environments, that is clearly not the case when in real-world use.
Under standard usage, with lots of web surfing, writing documents and the occasional viewing of videos, the Ultrabook manages just about five hours of usage. However, this is with the brightness settings set to max, and using the “HP Recommended” power plan instead of the power saver mode. Hence, under more frugal settings, six to even seven hours of battery life is more than achievable.
So, why did most of us consider the HP Envy Spectre XT as a steal? Simple. This Ultrabook offers one of the best bang for the buck package when pitted against the competition.
For starters, every single Ultrabook out there that has an i7 processor and full SSD (not SSD cache) costs at least RM3999. In addition, the build quality of the Spectre XT is pretty good, and the understated design is another plus point (for me, at least). And, of course, the addition of full-featured suites of Adobe Photoshop and Premier Elements 10 as well as a two-year subscription to Norton Internet Security 2012 adds real value to the Ultrabook instead of the usual annoying bloatware that comes with most notebooks nowadays.
Finally, there is the price, which justifies some of the shortcomings of this new flagship Ultrabook from HP. At only RM3399, the HP Envy Spectre XT Ultrabook offers good performance in a sturdy construction all in a fantastic, value for money package.