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 touchpadLightweight
  • Battery lifeNo full-size USB ports

Display & sound

If you're hoping for a high-DPI display to tickle your optic nerves, then prepare to be disappointed. As HP's weight-watching efforts have pared down the Spectre 13's battery to a bare minimum (more on which later), it's also had to abandon any thoughts of 4K displays in the interests of energy-efficiency.

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Don't be too disheartened, though: the Spectre 13's Full HD 13.3in display is about as good as it gets. It's not the brightest display ever it's clearly a challenge to squeeze a bright backlight into such a tiny space but the quality of images is beyond reproach. Colour accuracy is superb and, as the panel covers almost every corner of the sRGB colour gamut, you'll find that photos and movies look nigh-on perfect. Delve into the numbers and there's nothing to moan about: brightness reaches a very respectable 304cd/m2; contrast hits an impressive 1,379:1; and an average Delta E of 1.89 is very, very good by laptop standards.

And if you're still smarting from the news that there's no 4K option, then the Bang & Olufsen speakers may offer some small consolation. There's no real bass to speak of after all, HP's engineers aren't physics-defying magicians but the depth and clarity makes a great fist of everything from music to movies. They're really very nice-sounding.

Performance & battery life

Granted, simply making a thin laptop isn't that remarkable an achievement, but it's the relative lack of compromises that makes the Spectre 13 so impressive. Where the quest for miniaturisation has forced other devices such as Apple's MacBook and HP's own EliteBook Folio G1 to adopt Intel's power-frugal Core M processors, the Spectre 13 somehow manages to accommodate full-fat Core i5 and Core i7 processors into its millimetre-thin chassis.

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The cheapest model in the Spectre lineup starts at 1,149 with a Core i5-6200U, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, but the 1,299 model I have here bumps that up to a Core i7-6500U and a 512GB SSD. Sadly, though, 16GB of RAM isn't an option, presumably because just like the Apple MacBook, the Spectre's RAM is physically soldered to the motherboard.

In most scenarios, that Core i7 CPU and the staggeringly nippy NVMe Samsung SSD make for an ultraportable that feels considerably faster than you'd expect for such a lightweight device. The small fans do spin up fairly quickly under load, and you'll certainly notice their insistent whine if you're in a quiet room, but by and large the Spectre 13 is a surprisingly sprightly performer.

In fact, it was only once the Spectre 13 came face to face with our benchmarks that we were able to notice any difference between it and Dell's XPS 13. There was barely 1% difference between the two in the image-editing section of the benchmarks, but that delta expanded to 13% under the sustained heavy load of Alphr's video-editing tests and resulted in a multitasking performance that was 7% slower. It's not a difference you'll notice in everyday use, but it is there.

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I was fully prepared for battery life to be utterly, utterly awful, but HP has managed to eke out a surprising amount from the Spectre 13's 38Wh battery. By way of comparison, that's seven per cent smaller than the Apple MacBook's 41Wh battery, and a whopping 32 per cent smaller than the Dell XPS 13's 56Wh power pack. Battery life obviously suffers due to the smaller capacity, but with the HP's display cranked up to a fairly bright 170cd/m2, Alphr's standard video-rundown test saw the Spectre 13 keep going for 6hrs 10mins. That's some way off the Dell XPS 13's 11hrs 31mins, but it's not awful for a featherweight ultraportable.

Verdict

At this price, the HP Spectre 13 finds itself pitted against everyone's favourite ultraportable, the Dell XPS 13. And for all the Spectre 13's plus points, that buying decision boils down to one simple question: how much do you value having a laptop that's 118g lighter versus one that has significantly better battery life? Given that you'll likely need to carry the mains charger along with the Spectre anyway, you could argue that the weight benefit is somewhat moot in the first place.

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This review was written by Sasha Muller (@Thesashamuller) and kindly gifted to us by sister site Alphr.

Verdict

The Spectre 13 is a fantastic ultraportable in its own right. Put the middling battery life to one side and it really doesn’t put a foot wrong. If eye-catching design is as important to you as a great display, brilliant keyboard and solid performance, then this is a featherweight tour de force. Forgive its flaws, and I think most people will probably agree: the Spectre 13 is by far the prettiest ultraportable on Planet Earth.

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