Review: HP gets Windows laptop right with Spectre – Scoop.co.nz

Reborn market leader hits prestige button to reboot the
Windows laptop. Spectre prices start at
NZ$2500.

At a glance:

HP Spectre - The thinnest laptop HP Spectre – The thinnest
laptop[/caption]

HP’s 13-inch Spectre is the thinnest
laptop you can buy. At 10.4 mm, it is thinner than any Apple
computer.

Despite being wafer thin, it doesn’t skimp on
computing power. You can’t say the same about Apple’s
MacBook.

Comparisons like this with the MacBook or MacBook
Air are inevitable. HP doesn’t shy away from making
similar observations in its marketing material.

Indeed, HP
make no secret it aims to match, and where possible, beat
Apple.

At times this competition gets surreal. You want a
thin laptop? Spectre is 2.5 mm thinner than the
MacBook.

On paper that number looks impressive. Put the
two computers side by side and you’d be hard pressed to
see any difference in thickness.

Beautiful
hardware

You will notice something else when you put
the two computers side by side. There is no mistaking which
is which. Many thin Windows laptops do their darndest to
look like MacBooks or MacBook Airs.

Spectre has a distinct
style.

You may or may not like it. You can’t ignore the
Spectre’s look. The case is black with shiny copper trim.
The backlit keys are edged with more copper trim. They have
characters printed on them in the same metallic
colour.

Shiny, polished copper extends to the hinges which
use tiny pistons to hold the thin screen in place and keep
it steady.

Taken any further the copper trim would be as
garish as a Las Vegas hotel, but HP knows when to stop. The
look is deliberate. It says non-Apple premium
laptop
louder than any marketing message.

Cosmetics
aside, the Spectre is beautifully made. HP uses quality
materials and components throughout. In use it feels like
great engineering should. This high-class feel is
perhaps Spectre’s most important connection with
Apple.

With an excellent design, extreme portability and
more than enough performance for most users, Spectre ticks
all the important boxes.

HP ambition

As the
new HP’s flagship laptop, Spectre sets the tone for the PC
company’s ambition now it has split from the enterprise
computing division. Spectre says HP doesn’t plan to cede
the high-end of the laptop market to Apple without a
fight.

That’s important. Laptop sales have plummeted in
recent years. MacBooks still sell. Apple is a premium niche.
It seems disconnected from the everyday Windows laptop
market.

MacBooks make a respectable profit, the rest of
the PC business is marginal. The new HP needs to on the
right side of that divide. Spectre is HP’s best shot at
getting there.

Away from the race to the
bottom

One problem for Windows laptop makers is they
have been in a race to the bottom. For the most part they
churn out unexciting, undifferentiated, low-value models.
The Windows laptop sector seem more concerned with offering
the lowest price than the best experience.

HP — the PC
and printer part of the company that split with the old
Hewlett-Packard last year — still plays in the low cost
Windows PC market. But with Spectre it is also trying
something else. The strategy could work.

The
importance of being powerful

In the laptop world
thin and light usually means compromise. Until now it has
been hard to pack the most powerful processors into a tiny
case.

Apple uses Intel Core M processors in the MacBook.
Some reviewers and customers criticised the 2015 MacBook for
being slow, the 2016 model is much faster, but still lacks
the punch needed by the most demanding users.

Most of the
time raw computing power isn’t an issue. It doesn’t
matter if you just work with browsers and undemanding apps
such as Microsoft Word. Load in a huge Excel spreadsheet or
edit images with Photoshop and you’ll soon notice if a
processor lacks punch.

Spectre uses Intel’s more
powerful Core i5 and i7 chips. The review model has a Core
i5–6200U running at 2.3 GHz. There’s 8 GB of ram. It
adds up to a lot of computer power in a small space. And
that’s the least powerful model in the range.

You may
not notice the performance difference for everyday apps, but
it makes a huge difference when running more demanding
software. If there are Windows apps that challenge the
Spectre, they’re not ones most of us normally
use.

Battery life

Apple still has the edge
over HP when it comes to battery life. In part that’s
because of the Core i processor’s higher drain. In my work
I can get a full day use from a 2016 MacBook. With the
Spectre I can’t go a full working day on a single
charge.

HP claims 10 hours, which equals Apple’s claim
for the 2016 MacBook. If I spend a busy eight-hour day in a
client office, the MacBook gets me there with something left
in the tank for emergencies.

Spectre doesn’t do as well.
Even with aggressive battery saving it fades at around seven
hours. Face it, who wants to work for hours on a dimmed
screen? If I use it without attempting to extend the battery
life, it doesn’t even make it all the way to five
hours.

In other words working away from home for extended
periods means carrying the power supply. It’s not the end
of the world, but it undermines the extreme
portability.

HP Spectre keyboard HP
Spectre keyboard[/caption]

 

Keyboard,
trackpad

Although the Spectre is thin, typing feels
natural. The keys have plenty of travel unlike the MacBook.
Touch typists won’t need to adjust their technique. The
top row of function keys are a touch shorter than normal,
but nothing to cause problems once you adjust.

In practice
I found I could type as well on the Spectre as on anything
except a full-size mechanical keyboard.

Windows laptop
trackpads are often disappointing. At first it felt like the
Spectre would be the same, the keypad seemed unresponsive.
Moving the cursor was jerky. This could just have been a
matter of adapting as after a few minutes it was
well-behaved.

The Spectre trackpad is smaller than I’m
used to. It measures 95 by 55 mm compared to 105 by 77 mm on
the MacBook Air. The numbers make it look as if there’s
not much difference, in practice the HP trackpad feels
cramped compared to the MacBook Air.

Not
touchy-freely

Perhaps the biggest surprise with the
Spectre is that it doesn’t have a touchscreen. In that
sense it is an old-fashioned, traditional laptop.

The lack
of a touchscreen also means it doesn’t conform to
Intel’s 2013 definition of an Ultrabook. Not that failing
to comply matters to anyone in the real
world.

Touchscreens are standard fare on more expensive
Windows laptops. They can be useful, many swear by
them.

It’s your call. If you’re a touchscreen fan,
don’t buy a Spectre.

Apart from my first few confused
moments with the, normally touch-enabled login screen, the
lack of a touch screen didn’t bother me. I find the
productivity benefits of touch are overrated in everyday
working and constantly reach from the keyboard to the screen
brings a whole new set of repetitive strain problems.

Bang and Olufsen speakers
Bang and Olufsen speakers[/caption]

Sound,
ports

Four Bang & Olufsen speakers produce decent
quality sound. They are another example of HP’s quality
throughout approach and Apple-like attention to
detail.

Two speakers of are next to the typewriter keys,
two bass speakers sit under the case.

Thin laptops often
sound tinny when playing music with the volume cranked up
high. That’s not the case here. You won’t get the volume
up as high as with external speakers, but it is loud enough
for a laptop.

The strong bass may surprise you. It’s
great for music, but I found good speakers are an even
bigger benefit when listening to people speak using apps
like Skype.

HP Spectre - Two rear USB-C ports HP Spectre – Three rear USB-C
ports[/caption]

HP has followed Apple’s 2015 MacBook
design move opting for USB-C ports. These are slimmer than
conventional USB ports and make sense on such a thin
computer.

Where Apple expects MacBook owners to cope with
a single USB-C port to handle charging and wired data
transfer, HP has packed three along the back. So you can
charge the laptop while connecting a back-up drive and your
phone.

Is this a wise move? Many Apple owners complain one
port is not enough. It never bothered me. There aren’t
many times when I need to connect and charge at the same
time. Yet, I suspect HP is giving customers the connectivity
they want.

Price

HP Spectre prices start at
NZ$2500 for a laptop with the Intel Core i5, 8 GB of Ram,
Intel HD Graphics 520 and 256 GB of SSD storage. This is the
review model.

For NZ$3100 you can get a Spectre with
an Intel i7 processor and a 512 GB SSD. There are two
intermediate models.

A roughly comparable 2016 Apple
MacBook with a Core m running at the slower 1.1 GHz, 8 GB
Ram and 256 GB SSD costs $2400.

Given the pluses and
minuses of the two ranges, the pricing is on a
par.

Praise, criticism

Spectre is as good as
it gets for Windows 10 laptops. It’s the first non-hybrid
Windows computer I’ve seen in a while that I’d be happy
to use as my main system. I like the look and feel or, if
you prefer, the user experience.

Design and build
are both first class. Spectre has more than enough computing
power for most people’s needs. Certainly enough for a
journalist.

The only weak spot I found is the Spectre’s
battery life and that isn’t bad. Two years ago the seven
hours maximum would have seemed remarkable.

While HP
Spectre has a premium price, it represents a sound
investment if you spend a lot of time with your laptop.

HP Spectre review was first posted at
billbennett.co.nz

© Scoop Media

Comments

Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*