PC makers have been trying to replicate the MacBook Air for years with little success.
Alternatives â includingÂ 2-in-1 convertibles, transformers and touchscreens â have intrigued customers, but none have been as popular Apple’s laptop.Â
So HP decided on another strategy to compete with the MacBook Air: just get the basics right, with no gimmicky tricks.
HP’s newÂ SpectreÂ isn’t just the current world’s thinnest laptop â it’s also one of the most beautiful laptops ever created. And the Windows 10 machine looks good without compromising on ports or performance.Â
A bold statement
There are a lot of MacBook Air clones out there, i.e. silver laptops with black keyboards. Coming up with a new twist on that design isn’t easy.Â
The Spectre is part CNC’d aluminum (screen and body) and part carbon fiber (underbelly) and all sexy. MashableÂ senior tech correspondent Christina Warren called the Spectre the Kate Moss of laptops when we unboxed it, and I agree.
HP’s made a remarkably beautiful machine here. At 0.41 inches thick, it’s thinner than the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air’s thickest point (0.68 inches). And at 2.45 pounds, it’s also lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air, which weighs 2.96 pounds. It’s also thinner than the newer,Â ultra-thin MacBook, which is 0.52 inch at it’s thickest point.
Then there’s the Spectre’s one-of-a-kind polished hinge.Â To get the computer so thin, HP had to look beyond regular laptops for inspiration. HP settled onÂ piston hinges inspired by those found in high-end furniture. The end result is a display that opens in one smooth motion. When open, the display appears to float above the hinge. The polished-copper finish radiates luxury, evoking high-end jewelry and handbags, although it’s macho enough to appeal to guys.Â
On each side of the keyboard are grilles for the Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers. They’re not particularly loud and the sound is middling, but at least the speakers project sound up atÂ you; the MacBook Air’s speakers are more muffled since they’re underneath the keyboard.
There are always tradeoffs between design and performance. In most cases, a thinner, lighter and smaller laptop comes at the expense of power and battery life. A thicker laptop is, well, chunkier, heavier and has more power and more room for a bigger battery.
Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air is the champion when it comes to long battery life. The Air also has solid performance, but the screen is pretty low-res by today’s standards.
The Spectre, thin as it is, comes with either a sixth-gen Intel Core i5 ($1,169.99) or i7 ($1,249.99; the model I tested). All models come with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of PCIe solid-state drive storage. A third model with the i7, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of PCIe SSD costs $1,499.99.
That’s performance on-par with the 13-inch MacBook Air and far more power than the 12-inch MacBook, which uses a puny Intel Core M processor.
As my daily machine for a week, the Spectre proved to be a reliable workhorse.
As my daily machine for a week, the Spectre proved to be a reliable workhorse. Windows 10 is solid and Microsoft’s new Edge web browser has grown on me. I also saw longer battery life using Edge over Chrome.Â
HP rates battery life as up to 9 hours and 45 minutes. My usual workday consists of havingÂ dozens of tabs open in Edge and Chrome, writing in a text editor, streaming music via Spotify in the background, editing photos in Photoshop, and watching a couple of videos on YouTube. On average, I got around 6-7 hours. Not quite the ~10 hours HP advertises, but solid in my book for getting through a day.
Your own mileage will vary depending on what kind of things you’re doing and whether you’re pushing the processor to its limits or not (you’ll know because the fan kicks up and the base gets very warm).
A few of my colleagues asked me about the screen resolution as soon as I got the Spectre in for review and groaned when I told them it’s a full HD (1,920 x 1,080) panel. Sure, that’s not quite a “Retina” display, but remember, the Spectre is going up directly against the MacBook Air not the 13-inch MacBook Pro â and by that comparison, it’s sharper than the 1,440 x 900 resolution of the Air.
The screen is bright and it’s a little more reflective than I’m used to (HP’s laptop screens always seem to be more reflective for some reason), but the viewing angles are good, and colors are pretty accurate.
Typing on the Spectre is a pleasurable experience. The island-style keys are well spaced and have a nice bouncy (1.3mm) travel to them â definitely better than the flat-ass buttons on the 12-inch MacBook, which feel like you’re grinding your finger bones right into them.
Historically, HP’s always had issues with its laptop trackpads. The glass trackpad on the Spectre is on the small side and it could be a little more responsive. The mouse occasionally lags â you can speed up the tracking speed in the system settings â but it really should be a whole lot better at this point.
Going all in on USB-C
We’re only a year into USB-C showing up on devices, but it’s making good progress. Computer makers are still transitioning to new port, so they’re not quite ready to ditch legacy ports like HDMI and full-sized USB 3.0 just yet, but HP’s betting it all on USB-C with the Spectre.
Unlike Apple, HP’s smart enough to know that people want more than just one USB-C port. The Spectre has three USB-C ports â all of them capable of charging the laptop. Two of them even support Thunderbolt 3 speeds. All three USB-C ports can also output video to a 4K monitor (but only to two simultaneously).
With three USB-C ports, you can charge the Spectre, output video to an external display and plug in an accessory without needing to buy a dock or multi-port adapter. You’ll still need to buy an adapter for connecting full-sized USB accessories to the USB-C port, but those are cheap and there are now more USB-C accessories (like hard drives and flash drives) than last year.
The Spectre is missing an SD card slot. I’m starting to see more laptops drop memory card slots and that’s really upsetting. For guys like me who shoot a lot of photos on their cameras and want to offload them to a laptop quickly, it’s a big loss.Â
The bar has been raised
Our expectations of laptops changed forever that very day in 2008 when Steve Jobs stood on stage and slipped the original MacBook Air out of a manila envelope.
Apple made two things clear: Premium design and thinness would be the new primary reasons when choosing a laptop. Power and ports â not so much. But Apple was wrong. While thin is still something people care about, it turns out people want a solid balance of form and function. Apple did eventually deliver that balance with the redesigned 2010 MacBook Air.
I’d buy the Spectre in a heartbeat.
And now HP’s doing the same for the Windows world.
HP’s Spectre attempts no gimmicks. There’s no touchscreen. There’s no battery-sucking 4K display. There’s no rotatable screen. Just a sharp focus on the essentials to a thin and light laptop: powerful performance, bright crisp display, solid keyboard, good trackpad and long-enough battery life.
I’d buy the Spectre in a heartbeat if I didn’t switch to being a Mac guy all those years ago.
Beautiful, premium design â¢ Ultra-thin â¢ 3 USB-C ports (2 of which are Thunderbolt 3) â¢ Bright, sharp display â¢ Real laptop performance
Sharp backside corners â¢ Good battery life, but not the best in class
The Bottom Line
The HP Spectre is the the best MacBook Air competitor to date.
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