HP Spectre 13 review

Recently HP has produced some excellent premium laptops that caught people's attention because of their surprisingly sensible prices, laptops such as the HP Envy 13. The HP Spectre 13 has a different tactic. This is a flat-out ultra-premium laptop. It starts at £1149, has a design you could pick out of a line-up from 20 paces and connectivity designed for the future more than the present. It also claims to be the thinnest laptop in the world. 

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It's pretty obvious that this is a direct rival to the 12in MacBook. It's a great laptop, but its uncompromising approach means this is not a truly mainstream machine everyone should flock to.

HP Spectre 13 review: Price

The exact model we're reviewing here is the 13-v001na. It's an impressive spec too, with an Intel Core i7 CPU and 512GB SSD. The storage in particular doesn't come cheap, even if you buy the components yourself. You can buy the HP Spectre 13 for £1299 from Currys PC World. It also costs £1299 direct from HP

There is s slightly cheaper model (13-v000na), costing £1149 from HP. It has an Intel Core i5 CPU and 256GB SSD storage. While this is a laptop with an intimidating price, the upgrade does not represent a bad deal compared with what you might get from another manufacturer.

A laptop this thin is not going to be feasible to upgrade for most people, so think carefully about whether you need the extra 256GB or not.

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HP Spectre 13 review: Design

HP's grand claim for the Spectre 13 is that it is the thinnest laptop in the world. The surprising part is that even in the plain numbers, it appears significantly thinner than the 12-inch MacBook.

That laptop is 13.1mm thick, this one is 10.4mm. It's phone-grade thinness.

HP Spectre 13 review

What this means in practice is there's no 'bulge' towards the back where core components like the battery and CPU live. It's skinny from front to back.

Pick the HP Spectre 13 up and it seems wonderfully thin and light. However, we'd advise not loading too much importance on this little thing's 1cm-thick frame. To claim it's really that much more portable than a laptop of a similar weight that's 2mm thicker is silly.

This is not a criticism of the Spectre 13 hardware, only those who simply focus too much on design elements of only moderate practical importance. The laptop is absolutely among the most convenient and portable devices with a fairly large screen.

Like the 12-inch MacBook, at its most basic level this is a very conventional laptop. The screen doesn't come off and the hinge doesn't rotate around 360 degrees, although HP does make a Spectre x360 that offers such a hinge.

It's actually relatively restrictive in these areas. The screen tilts back less than most laptops and the display is not a touchcreen.

The Spectre 13 lacks flexibility but is a very well-made and eye-catching. The hinge is gold, bright enough to stun when it catches the light, and the rest of the laptop a brown-bronze that is the perfect counterpoint to the gold highlights.

You only have to look at the keyboard keys to see the attention to detail put in. The sides of the keys and lettering are gold (not dazzling this time), and the top bronze. This is a very striking two-tone laptop.

Its lid and keyboard surround are aluminium, its underside carbon fibre, which feels like a fancier take on plastic to the touch.

HP Spectre 13 review: Connectivity

Some may be put off by the jewellery-like hinge of the Spectre 13, but the real reason to think twice is what's on the back: the connections.

As part of its mission to become the thinnest and most forward-looking laptop around, it has three USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack, and nothing else. There's not a single full-size USB port. This is solid proof the Spectre 13 wants to be thought-of as the Windows equivalent to the 12-inch MacBook.

HP Spectre 13 review

In a couple of years, laptops using all-USB-C connectors may be commonplace and largely non-problematic. But at present it's not for everyone.

For example, we keep a lot of our tests on an SSD drive. We normally plug the drive into test laptops with a USB plug. The Spectre 13 comes with a single USB-C to USB converter, but when using it the drive continually reports disconnections, making any transfers impossible.

This could be down to a faulty driver, or the adapter cable not being designed to let the device pull too much current. Either way, it's a headache.

Similarly, the lack of a memory card slot will be an understandable deal-breaker for some of you. Not all of us are ready for the connectivity-lite future yet.

The theoretical capability of the ports is sound, though. One doubles as the power socket, and the other two have Thunderbolt 3.0 support, whose bandwidth is a still-amazing 40Gbps.

Whether you love or hate the use of USB-C, the HP Spectre 13 does at least soundly beat the MacBook, which has a single Thunderbolt port, also used to charge the battery.

HP Spectre 13 review: Keyboard and trackpad

The connectivity may put off a lot of traditional laptop buyers, but in other areas the HP Spectre 13 is absolutely made for this audience. Namely, it has a nicely-spaced full-size keyboard and a trackpad that doesn't feel too cut-down to fit the frame in use.

Being ultra-slim and light while still offering these computer staples is the Spectre 13's whole reason to exist. 

HP Spectre 13 review

We're happy to report the HP Spectre 13 hasn't suffered from any of the keyboard torture Apple subjects some of its models to. This is a classic chiclet keyboard with surprisingly good key travel for a laptop this thin.

Key-press feedback is crisp, with a much more satisfying response than you'll get from the ultra-flat MacBook 12in or the slightly hollow in-situ feel of the Microsoft Surface keyboard. It's a proper laptop keyboard, in other words. 

A keyboard backlight makes typing in the dark much easier too, although unlike some other parts of the hardware it's totally conventional. It's either on or off, no gradations, and isn't super-bright.

Compared to some larger models what it lacks slightly is some give after the initial key depress. This leads to the keys feeling slightly light mid-typing. However, we're getting into real keyboard navel-gazing territory now.

The HP Spectre 13's trackpad is very good too, for a number of reasons. As you'd hope at the price, it uses a textured glass surface for a totally non-tacky feel. Its shape is sensible too. Looking at it, the pad may appear a little 'squashed', vertically. And it is. However, it's something we've only noticed while gaming. There's plenty of space for comfortable general use.

It is worth considering a little more if you need to do a lot of image editing, though.

Driver support is unusually good too. The HP Spectre 13 pad is unusually well-behaved among windows laptops. Where the last touch of style comes in is the click feedback. HP has got this just right. It's virtually silent, doesn't require too much force and still provides a great feel.

This is not as common as you might think. That's right, while Apple has blazed ahead with a pressure-sensitive trackpad, some other manufacturers still struggle to make a standard pad that feels like it doesn't hate you.


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