HP’s Macbook rival comes with tradeoffs – USA TODAY
HP’s ultraportable 13–inch Spectre notebook.
NEW YORKâHP says its Spectre 13 laptop is the world’s thinnest. My question: what concessions did it make?
Iâll get to those trade-offs, which range from battery life to the lack of a touchscreen.
Let me first praise the physical attributes of this sexy-looking, dark-grey and gold premium Windows 10 notebook, which I’ve been using off and on for a few weeks.
HP Spectre 13 is skinnier at 10.44mm than the MacBook from Apple,Â though atÂ 2.45lbs it is actually a bit heavier than its Apple rival. Forced to choose,Â the MacBook still winsÂ my aestheticsÂ vote.
That said, Spectre is light and appealing, and the carbon fiber and aluminum machine feels sturdy. HPâs designers are using a recessed piston hinge to fold it down into its svelte profile.The company says it was inspired by high end furniture design.
The SpectreÂ starts around $1170 but can climb north of $1550, depending on your choice of processor, storage and other specs.
Indeed, computers in this slim, ultraportable category, typically carry the weightiest prices. The MacBook starts at $1299.
Most satisfying on SpectreÂ is the full-size, back-lit keyboard, which to my digits feels as good as many of the keyboards Iâve used on far chunkier notebooks. The keys have a proper amount of âtravel.â I never totally warmed up to the flattened keys on the MacBook.
Another edge for the Spectre comes with the powerful Intel Core i5 or i7 processors that HP employs, more robust than the chips used in many rival ultra-portable machines, including the MacBook. Of course, youâre only likely to notice the extra processing power if youâre involved in more intense computing chores, perhaps high-end photography editing or when you’re transcoding video.
The audio on the Spectre, piped through Bang & Olufsen speakers, sounded good.
Thereâs one more chief advantage that HP has over the MacBook: the number of ports. Both computers exploit the emerging USB Type-C flavor, but where Apple supplies just one such port, which is often occupied by the machineâs power adapter, HP gives you three (on the rear). Two of the USB-C ports on Spectre can drive Thunderbolt connections toÂ 4K displays, or docks. And you can plug in the power adapter to anyÂ of the trio. Tradeoff:Â Youâll still need an adapter to connect regular USB accessories.
What gives: resolution, touch
Now, about those other concessions. The 13.3-inch, Gorilla Glass-protected Full HD display screen is very nice. Given the machineâs premium status, however, IÂ wishÂ HP had given usÂ 4K. Apple does not offerÂ 4K on the MacBook, but its 12-inch display (smaller than the HP) offers sharper resolution.
Neither machine supports a touch-screen display but that seems like a more of a critical omission for HP, again factoring in price, and because Windows 10 (unlike the Mac operating system) relies more on touch. Out of habit, I periodically touched the display on the Spectre 13, to no avail of course. If touch is a must, consider a viable Windows 10 alternative in this class such as the Dell XPS 13, a notebook Iâm particularly fond of. To get it with a touchscreen from Dell, however, you’re looking at around $1500 or higher.
HPâs reasoning, meanwhile, is that two of three customers surveyed would choose thin and light over touch anyway, and that 79% of premium laptops sold last year were non-touch. That may be so, but Iâm squarely in the camp that wants touch.
I didnât find the relatively modest-sized glass touchpad on the Spectre particularly responsive either.
Battery life was also lacking. HP says it used whatever available internal space it could find to fit in four battery cells (in two shapes), and the company claims up to 9 1/2 hours of juice. But in my intentionally harsh test in which I cranked up the brightness all the way, turned off battery saving measures, and streamed video off Netflix, I barely approached 5 hours. Youâll do better under more ânormalâ circumstances, but I still found the result disappointing. And the charger you might want to keep handy certainly adds to your traveling weight.
On balance, HP has legitimate reasons to brag about thisÂ thinnest of notebooks–the keyboard’s terrific, there’s processing oomph. But Spectre 13 also demonstratesÂ that keeping to a diet means giving certain things up.
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The bottom line
HP Spectre 13
Pro. Thin and light. Excellent keyboard, snappy processors, nice screen
Con. Lacks touch. Mediocre touchpad. Fair battery life.