HP’s new Spectre x360 is probably the best PC laptop around – Ars Technica

HP’s Spectre x360 was one of our favorite laptops of the Broadwell generation. It was a thin, light, stylish ultrabook with solid battery life and a flippy hinge enabling it to be used as a (chunky) tablet or (more usefully) to hold the screen up in the kitchen or while watching movies on the plane.

The x360 received a minor refresh to upgrade to a Skylake processor, and this year HP added an optional OLED screen. Aside from these small changes, the Skylake model was little changed from its predecessor.

But now HP has a third revision, using Intel’s new Kaby Lake processors. While Kaby Lake itself is not a major update on Skylake, HP has used the occasion of the processor upgrade to perform a more substantial overhaul of the Spectre x360.

For my money, tent mode is the most useful thing enabled by the hinge. Very useful in the kitchen or on a plane.

Putting the x360 on a diet

As a general rule, we want our laptops to be smaller and lighter. But we also want them to have bigger batteries for greater longevity away from the wall. The new x360 manages to do all these things: HP has shaved 19mm (0.76 inch) from the system’s width, 2.1mm (0.08 inch) from its height, and 0.35lbs (0.16kg) from the system’s weight.

But in spite of being smaller and lighter, the system’s battery is slightly bigger than it used to be: it’s a 57.8Wh unit instead of a 56Wh one. It also has a fast charge feature. With the system powered off, it can hit 90 percent charge after 90 minutes of charging. Even brief airport layovers should be enough time to get a decent amount of juice into the system.

To achieve this reduction in size, the x360’s screen bezel has been slimmed right down. It’s still very slightly larger than the bezel on Dell’s XPS 13—5.45mm to the Dell’s 5.2mm—but is substantially narrower than the old version’s 15.1mm (or the MacBook Air’s 20mm).

The keyboard, conversely, has been made a little wider with an extra column of keys down the right hand side. This gives direct access to home/end/page up/page down without needing any Fn-key combinations. The keyboard also now occupies almost the entire width of the system, giving the x360 a slightly peculiar look. It brings to mind an 11-inch laptop.

The keyboard spans nearly the entire width of the system.

The keyboard itself is very solid. HP says that the key travel is ever so slightly decreased compared to its predecessor, but even if this is the case, it’s not noticeable. The key action is crisp and comfortable, almost clicky, and typing on the system is precise. It’s a good keyboard that’s pleasant to use. For someone with a profession that’s heavily text-oriented, having direct access to the page navigation keys is also a nice touch. It’s definitely more convenient than Fn-key combos.

Even better, the keyboard backlight is much less annoying. It’s still not the best example of a backlit keyboard that I’ve seen due to some unevenness of the lighting, but it does fix one flaw of the earlier version: on the original x360, turning off the backlight left the F5 key brightly illuminated (so that you could find the backlight toggle in the dark, I guess), which was incredibly distracting. Now the keyboard is dark all over when the backlight is off.

As in the old model, the Synaptics touchpad is very wide. It’s not terrible by any means, and its glass surface allows your finger to glide effortlessly, But I’m a little disappointed that, just as with the old version, it’s not a Precision Touchpad. Touchpads using Microsoft’s spec are picking up new features with new Windows releases to support more gestures and more consistent behavior—they mean that the hardware gets better when the software gets better.

On the right of the machine we have the two Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C ports.
And on the left is the USB 3 generation 1 Type A port and the headset jack.

One slight oddity of the new x360 is that it’s only available with an IPS 1920×1080 screen; there are no options for either higher resolutions (the old version was available at up to 2560×1440), nor for OLED. The screen is bright, and colors look rich—it’s certainly not a bad screen—but resolution junkies will be disappointed.

HP has also packed in an extra two speakers for four in total. Laptop speakers are always going to be at the weaker end of the market—their size and form factor ensures that much—but the x360’s speakers are respectably loud and go surprisingly deep. For listening to music or watching movies in a hotel room, HP has done a solid job.

The result of all this is that it’s one of the thinner and lighter 13-inch laptops out there, especially considering that it has a touch screen and 360-degree hinge. Pure laptops, such as HP’s own Spectre 13, are thinner still, but not by a whole lot. It’s not bad looking, either, with HP’s new “premium” logo on its lid. This laptop feels solidly built.

If the only thing that HP had done was to shrink the size, enlarge the battery, and put in a Kaby Lake processor, the new x360 would still be a very compelling system. HP has made a good laptop even better by enhancing the things that laptops need to be—small, light—without compromising on the keyboard or battery life.


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