HP Spectre 13 review: Ultra-thin and ultra-lovely

HP’s Spectre 13 is probably the prettiest Windows ultraportable to ever roll off a production line

IT Pro Recommended
  • Superb touchpad Lightweight
  • Battery life No full-size USB ports

Perfection is an unattainable goal, but no one mentioned this to HP. Not content with merely creating the world's thinnest laptop, it's also made it one of the loveliest Windows ultraportables to ever roll off a production line. That laptop is the Spectre 13.

My first encounter with the Spectre 13 conjured memories from 2008. In particular, that iconic moment in Apple's keynote where Steve Jobs picked up a manila envelope and pulled a MacBook Air from within. Audible gasps. Applause. This time around, however, Steve Jobs' role was assumed by Alphr's reviews editor, Jonathan Bray; the keynote was taking place in the local Wetherspoons; and the paper envelope was replaced with a stylish leather sleeve. Cue one quiet gasp.

Design

I was expecting a 12.9in iPad Pro clone, but instead the Spectre 13 slid into view. For a split second, mouth agape, I genuinely couldn't believe I was looking at a real laptop. If you needed to show someone just how far laptop design has come in the past ten years, then you wouldn't actually need to say a word. Just hand them a Spectre 13, and watch as their eyes widen.

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That said, the Spectre 13 will not be everyone's cup of tea. Attempting to tread that fine line between expensive-looking and gaudy is a pursuit that often ends in chintzy horrors, yet the Spectre 13 just about carries it off. If anything, that bold, bronze strip along the rear edge is a welcome contrast to the shimmering, dark grey plates of carbon fibre above and below. And, personally, I love the stylised HP logo on the lid, not to mention the little details: even the HP and Bang & Olufsen logos and keyboard typeface are all in a matching, light bronze hue.

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Build quality has not taken a back seat, either. Given that the Spectre 13 weighs in at only 1.11kg, HP has done an amazing job of making it feel substantial. There is a little flex in the lid and base if you go looking for it, granted, but the extensive use of carbon fibre means that this doesn't feel worrying it feels like a taut, controlled amount of give rather than a genuine weak point. Importantly, though, with the lid closed the Spectre feels as robust as any of its rivals at the price, so I wouldn't be worried about carrying this around day to day.

The bare essentials

By far the greatest compromise here is connectivity. HP has had to relegate the Spectre 13's ports to the rear panel, and here you'll find two Thunderbolt 3 ports alongside a third USB Type-C port, which doubles as both a connection for the PSU and as a USB 3.1 Gen 1 port. There are no full-sized USB ports whatsoever, but HP has included a USB Type-C to full-sized USB adapter which is nice. If you want any video outputs or an Ethernet socket, however, then you'll just need to go and shell out for a suitable USB Type-C adapter or dock.

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Those limitations might prove irksome for certain people, but I'm not one of them. After all, I've been happy enough using the Apple MacBook with its single USB Type-C port, and the HP's combination of 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 meant that as most of my data is in the cloud or on Wi-Fi-attached NAS devices I didn't need to resort to a physical cable. If it really bothers you, though, then you're probably best directing your credit card towards the rather better-connected Dell XPS 13.

It's heartening to find that the pursuit of world-beating slenderness hasn't borked the keyboard or touchpad the Spectre 13's slip-thin frame somehow manages to accommodate a very fine pairing. The keyboard's half-height Enter key is one minor concession, but that's about it. This is as good a keyboard as you could ask for, with keys that feel light yet responsive enough to make for confident touch-typing. And it's worth noting that, unlike the Apple MacBook, the Spectre 13's ultra-slimline build hasn't forced HP to compromise with noticeably short-travel keys. Factor in the superb touchpad beneath, which just works as it should, and using the Spectre is a genuine pleasure.

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