As HP’s flagship series of laptops, the Spectre lineup is a showcase of HP’s prowess in making powerful yet desirable laptops. The new Spectre 13, launched earlier this year, was at the time the world’s thinnest laptop – an impressive feat considering it packed an Intel Core i7 processor inside.
Even though it’s now been dethroned, the Spectre is still an exciting laptop for me. At just 1.1kg, this has the potential to be a fantastic workhouse for people who are always on the move.
From the materials used, to the colours, and even the hardware, I felt that HP got almost everything spot on. The carbon fibre and aluminium body left a really good first impression, while the gold bar and hinge makes the display look like it’s floating in mid-air. The hinge itself is firm with good feedback, and not at all flimsy.
The HP Spectre 13 is fitted with a 13.3-inch full HD IPS screen that is protected with Corning Gorilla Glass. The Spectre 13‘s display is not too glossy, but it would have been better if HP went for a full matte surface – that would be super useful for use outdoors.
The typing experience on a laptop is crucial to any laptop’s user experience, and the keyboard on the Spectre 13 performs fairly well. Not only is it backlit, the etchings are also draped in gold, which further complements the overall design of the laptop.
The glass trackpad has a matte finish surface that fits well with the palm rest. HP equipped the Spectre 13 with upward-firing speakers built and tuned by Bang and Olufsen, but they don’t perform up to expectations. We’ll get to that later.
HP moved all the ports to the back of the Spectre 13 to allow for the laptop’s ultra-thin design. There is one USB Type C port with charging capabilities on the right, two more USB Type C ports in the middle, and a 3.5mm audio jack can be found on the left of the Spectre.
Overall, I felt HP struck a good balance with the Spectre’s design. It’s both modern and classy at the same time, which not many laptop makers do.
Lifting the lid of the laptop was a bit of a hassle as the bottom half had magnets so strong that it made it difficult to open the laptop with one hand. Boot up time was 5 seconds flat, thanks to the 256GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD on board.
Apart from the hinge, another thing that caught my attention was the speakers, accentuated with a unique looking grill. However, the audio quality was rather disappointing despite the Bang and Olufsen audio enhancements. I found the output to be sharp and lacking bass, which makes for lack of definition, thus making the audio sound tinny. That said, having upward-firing speakers is better than the usual downward-firing speakers on the bottom of most laptops.
Watching movies and playing games on the HP Spectre 13 is a treat. The display is bright and crisp, with accurate colours and deep blacks. But, the glossy type display can be distracting especially if you’re in a brightly-lit environment.
Being a productivity machine, the typing and navigating experience plays a huge role in the daily usage of the laptop. My personal preference is the keyboard and trackpad of the MacBook Air 13 (2014), and it will always be number one for me. However, I will say that the keyboard and glass trackpad on the HP Spectre 13 comes in at a very close second place. The keys are well isolated, have good travel, and provide decent tactile feedback. The trackpad is exceptionally smooth, but HP could have definitely made it bigger.
And then we come to the parts I have the biggest gripe with: the I/O ports. I fully understand that companies are embracing the USB Type-C transition for the future, but because we’re not fully there yet, I had a hard time connecting all my USB Type A peripherals.
At home, my laptop is my desktop and I connect my monitor, mechanical keyboard, mouse, and cooler to it. But because my peripherals are all using standard USB, I was forced to use the adapter and a USB hub, and that just doesn’t gel well with the overall design of the Spectre. The premium look of the laptop gets diminished with multiple adapters and cables jutting out of the laptop’s rear end.
There’s a total of three USB Type-C ports but HP should have left at least one USB Type A port, for current-gen use. That being said, the company bundles a USB Type C to USB Type A adapter, as well as a USB Type C to HDMI adapter.
Using the Spectre for long hours can be worrisome as the fan can get pretty loud, and the rear part of the laptop can get a little hot. It is to be expected from a laptop this thin, especially considering the hardware underneath. You can still use it on your lap, but maybe not for too long.
It’s also a shame that the gold bar on the rear of the laptop appeared to have stains after using it for a few weeks. It might have gotten anodised after a while and they just can’t be wiped off.
The Spectre 13 we had is powered by a 6th generation Intel Core i7-6500U processor coupled with 8GB of RAM. That’s one of the highest-end hardware that’s packed into an ultra-thin laptop. With that hardware list, the Spectre is more than capable of handling everyday usage, as well as some light gaming.
My daily work schedule revolves around working with multiple tabs on Google Chrome, and occasional use of Photoscape for photo editing, and the usual Office apps. The Core i7 chip breezes through like a walk in the park, with zero lag. The SSD, naturally, makes launching apps blazing fast; the 256GB of storage is also just enough to store my work and personal files (as well as Dota 2).
The Spectre clearly isn’t a gaming powerhouse, but the integrated Intel HD graphics provides enough for less-demanding games like Hearthstone. You can also play Dota 2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in lower settings, should the need arise.
As a thin productivity laptop, battery life is naturally the most important category the Spectre 13 has to excel in. HP claims 9 hours of battery life on a single charge, but of course, that isn’t the case in real life.
I managed about five hours of battery life while working in the office, which isn’t impressive for a premium Ultrabook. The Core i7 processor is more power-hungry than a more balanced chip like the Core i5, so that’s likely a big reason behind the poor battery life.
In the expanding pool of premium productivity laptops, the HP Spectre 13 is just one of many that are available in the market. Let’s take a look at some alternatives, which might give the Spectre 13 a run for its money.
For the same price of RM6,899, you could get the new Dell XPS 13 that comes with a 7th gen Core i7 processor. They both have the same amount of RAM and SSD storage, but the XPS 13 has a higher resolution QHD+ (3200 x 1800) and touch-enabled display. Plus, the XPS 13 has a USB Type C Thunderbolt 3 port alongside two USB 3.0 ports – it strikes a good balance between future proofing and meeting today’s needs.
That being said, the HP Spectre 13 (10.4mm, 1.1kg) is thinner and lighter compared to the Dell XPS 13 (15mm, 1.29kg). The difference isn’t much, but it might make a difference to some people.
If you’re looking for a Mac alternative, there’s the non-Touch Bar 2016 MacBook Pro. It retails for RM6,299 with the same amount of RAM and SSD storage, but with a lower-end 6th gen Intel Core i5 processor. Also, the MacBook Pro comes with two Thunderbolt 3 USB Type C ports. This means connecting peripherals will also require rather pricey adapters, which you will need to purchase separately – at least HP bundles its adapters with the laptop.
If money isn’t an object for you, the ZenBook 3 is a more premium option. Launched in Malaysia for the price of RM7,999, it features the same 6th gen Intel Core i7-6500U processor found on the Spectre 13. However, the extra RM1,099 grants you double the RAM at 16GB (2,133MHz) compared to the Spectre 13’s 8GB (1866MHz). The storage is quadrupled from a 256GB SSD to a 1TB PCIe-based SSD.
While it’s only slightly thicker than the Spectre 13 (10.4mm) at 11.9mm, the ZenBook 3 is actually lighter at just 910g.
The HP Spectre 13 is an amazing laptop but it’s not a product I’d see myself using for now. Hardware wise, HP got everything right: it’s packed with the highest end processor, decent amount of RAM, and a good and comfortable keyboard.
Having said that, we have not fully transitioned into the world of USB Type C yet, so it hurts current usage quite a bit with its two USB Type C ports. Having to carry around dongles and adapters takes away from the experience of using one of the best laptops released this year. This would be a fantastic laptop if we live at a time where USB Type C is widely used – but unfortunately, we’re not there yet.