Whether you’re a fan of Apple’s MacBooks or not, there’s no denying the brand’s aesthetic appeal. They’re easily the most attractive notebooks you can buy. Well, I should say they were the most attractive notebooks until HP released its new Spectre 13.
Yes, that beauty of a laptop you see above is an HP. I know — I had a few coworkers who didn’t believe it, either. But the 13-inch Spectre 13 has more than just good looks. It’s got a powerful processor and plenty of memory for all of your multitasking needs, and a fantastic display. And did I mention it’s the thinnest laptop in the world?
But all of that power and beauty comes at a hefty price tag; the Spectre starts at $1,170. That’s $30 less than Apple’s MacBook and $170 more than Samsung’s Notebook 9. Still, this laptop is worth the cost of admission. Here’s why.
Did I mention it’s really pretty?
“That’s an HP? No. Really!?” That’s the exact reaction I got from my coworker when I asked what she thought of the Spectre 13. And she wasn’t the only person with that kind of reaction. I left the Spectre 13 on my desk just to see if people would notice it, and sure enough plenty of people stopped by to check it out.
This thing looks like it’s more suited for the pages of Vogue than seated on my desk between a pile of discarded power cords and a half-eaten breakfast burrito. The laptop’s gold accents and copper paint job give it a premium look that stands out without being gaudy. Its base, meanwhile, is made of carbon fiber (which means it can manage heat and can double as a Formula One car, I guess). My one problem with the Spectre is that the gold coating on its hinge picks up fingerprint smudges.
That’s a small problem for the incredibly thin laptop, though. Measuring a miniscule 0.41 inches thick, the Spectre is the thinnest laptop in the world. Apple’s ultra-thin, 12-inch MacBook is a tad thicker at 0.52 inches, while Samsung’s 13-inch Notebook 9 is 0.53 inches thick. In this super-svelte category, the 13-inch MacBook Air, which was once the standard-bearer for thin laptops, is damn near a whale at 0.68 inches.
Alas, the Spectre 13 isn’t the lightest laptop around. In fact, at 2.45 pounds, the Spectre is actually heavier than the MacBook (2.03 pounds). Samsung’s Notebook 9 weighs an incredible 1.9 pounds. It’s so light you feel like you could toss it like a Frisbee and it would gently float to the ground. The 13-inch MacBook Air, on the other hand, weighs 2.96 pounds.
A gorgeous display
For your viewing pleasure, HP strapped Spectre 13 with a 13-inch LED display with a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution. Text, images and videos viewed on the Spectre look crystal clear, while colors look vivid and bright. While 1080 pixel screens are the norm, Apple’s MacBook bucks the trend with a higher resolution, 12-inch panel that’s a bit sharper than the HP. The MacBook Air, for its part, has a lower resolution than its competitors (1440 X 900).
I spent time watching “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil,” on the Spectre 13, and they actually looked clearer on the laptop than on my big-screen TV. That was especially true during exceedingly dim scenes, which make up 90% of those shows. That said, I had a hard time making out those scenes under my office’s harsh fluorescent lights. This is also probably a good time to apologize to my bosses for watching Netflix on the job.
It might irk some customers to know the Spectre 13 doesn’t include a touchscreen. HP says doing so would have increased the display’s thickness and lowered the laptop’s battery life. I’m of the mind that touch screens on clamshell laptops like the Spectre are pointless, as it takes more effort to tap the screen than it does to use the touchpad. If this were a convertible laptop, the lack of a touch screen would be a nonstarter. But as a clamshell laptop, a touchscreen is just unnecessary.
Great keyboard, decent touchpad
When a laptop is as thin as the Spectre 13, there isn’t much room for so-called key travel, or the distance any key can be depressed. And cutting down on key travel can make typing difficult and uncomfortable. I love the keyboard on my MacBook Air, because it’s got plenty of key travel.
HP has managed to created a ridiculously thin laptop with a keyboard that’s actually enjoyable to type on. My fingers can still glide across the keys, and I never feel like I’m tapping a piece of concrete.
Likewise, the Spectre 13’s touchpad offers a relatively enjoyable user experience. Well, as enjoyable as a touchpad can be I guess. The only problem you’ll run into with the touchpad is that the pointer is a bit too slow. That, however, is a function of touchpad’s default settings, which you can adjust on your own. I just wish I didn’t have to.
Big time performance
Despite its thin profile, the HP Spectre 13 still packs the kind of performance you’d expect of a high-end notebook of larger proportions. My review unit, which will set you back $1,250, includes a powerful Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. I’ve been using the Spectre 13 for more than a week and haven’t seen a hint of slowdown even with a litany of tabs open in Chrome, Spotify streaming music and Netflix playing in the background. (Again, sorry, boss.)
If you need more storage space for your Spectre, HP offers a model with a 512GB solid-state drive for $1,500. You can also opt for a Spectre with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $1,170 if you’re looking to save some cash. It’s worth noting that the Core i5 version is more than powerful enough to handle the vast amount of your daily tasks like web browsing and video streaming.
If you’re going to be using this for video chats, though, you should know that it’s webcam is beyond bad. I had my coworkers chime in with how the video quality stacked up against my MacBook Air’s webcam and it wasn’t even close. The Air blew it away.
Where are those ports?
If you’re looking for the usual array of USB and HDMI ports on the sides of the Spectre 13, you’re looking in the wrong place. That’s because HP put the laptop’s ports along the rear of its base. That’s not a problem really, though. I’ve been keeping my headphones plugged into the headphone jack on the laptop’s left rear corner and haven’t had any trouble with the cord getting tangled or snapping back because it’s too short.
You might be troubled by the fact that the Spectre 13 only has USB C ports — three of them, in fact. And one can double as the Spectre’s power port. USB C ports are still relatively new for most consumers. The reason manufacturers use them, beyond the fact that they’re slimmer than older USB ports, is that they can also be used to carry power, send video signals, and transport data. USB C ports are pretty much every kind of port you’ve ever had on your computer in one.
In a year or two USB C will be the standard for all of your devices, but we’re still pretty early in the technology’s rollout, so a lot of folks will likely have to purchase separate adapters that let you connect things like HDMI and Ethernet cables to the USB C ports. HP does, however, include one USB C to USB A connector, which is helpful, but only if you have one device that you’ll be connecting to your laptop.
Fun with batteries
As for battery life, HP says the Spectre 13 can get up to nine hours on a charge. I used the Spectre 13 at work with the display brightness cranked up (this chews through battery life) and streamed music through Spotify while typing in Google docs and got about six hours of use out of the laptop. That’s not nine hours, but it’s actually pretty great when you consider the screen was turned all the way up. My own MacBook Air calls it quits much sooner.
Should you buy it?
The HP Spectre 13 is one hell of a laptop. I really can’t find much to fault it for outside of its lack of additional ports and the fact that the gold trim on its back can pick up fingerprint smudges. Oh, and its god-awful webcam. Outside of those issues this really is a fantastic machine.
With a starting price of $1,170, though, the Spectre 13 is also far from cheap. Samsung’s 13-inch Notebook 9, which offers the same processor and amount of RAM and storage costs just $1,000. It also has two standard USB ports. Then again, that extra $170 you’d pay for the HP might be worth it for its gorgeous design.
A similarly equipped MacBook Air costs $1,200 and has an older processor and lower resolution screen. It’s also larger. Apple’s MacBook, meanwhile, starts at $1,300 and features a less powerful Intel Corem 3 processor.
Overall, If you’re in the market for a high-end, attractive laptop and don’t mind missing older USB ports, the HP Spectre 13 is absolutely worth it.
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