HP Spectre 13 review: The ultraportable king

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The HP Spectre 13 is both ultra thin and light, which will make you forget that you’re carrying it around. It looks the part, with intricate details, from HP’s minimalistic logo to the hinges; but can it hold up against the current super-slim laptops?

This is HP’s golden boy, almost literally, as the 2016 Spectre 13 looks positively gorgeous with classy shiny gold detailing on the hinge and back edge of the 13in laptop. Everything about the design is perfect, with not a single flaw to be found. The carbon fibre and aluminium chassis is reassuringly sturdy, and barely flex more than a single millimetre when put under pressure.

Obviously, it’s stunningly slim, at a mere 10.4mm it’s more than a shade thinner than the 2016 MacBook yet weighing 1.1Kg, it’s just a tad heavier. With its 13in display, the Spectre does have a relatively sizeable footprint when compared to other top ultraportables, but then you get the benefit or that slightly larger display, so it’s well worth it.

Unsurprisingly, the stunning looks don’t come cheap, with prices starting from £1,150 with a dual-core 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U processor and 8GB of RAM. Upgrade the i5 to a faster 2.5GHz i7-6500U processor, which is the model I reviewed, and you’ll have to fork out over £1,300 for it.

The most expensive configuration, with the i7 processor, also comes with Windows 10 Pro and will set you back just shy of £1,475. Though it’s unlikely you’ll need this if you’re buying the laptop for personal use. The higher-tier Spectre 13s are a little harder to source, so you will have to do some shoppiong around to find them.

Find out the best laptops you can buy in 2016

HP Spectre 13 review: Performance and battery life

The HP Spectre 13 isn’t just a pretty face, and there’s a surprising amount of power squeezed inside. The dual-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U processor paired with 8GB of RAM did a commendable job at tackling our demanding 4K benchmarking tests, with an overall score of 43.

While this might at first seem low, you’ve got to remember this is a super thin ultraportable and will never really surpass desktop grade levels of performance. At this point, it’s worth mentioning that its main competitor, the 2016 MacBook, which only has a choice of core m processors, fared far worse in our tests with a score of only 27 on the core m5 model.

I had few qualms during my lengthy time spent with the Spectre 13, with effortless multitasking and web browsing. I didn’t at any point find performance to be too sluggish, and it can easily be used as your everyday computer, presuing that your idea of everyday isn’t editing heaps of 4K video footage.

A bit of light gaming is also on the cards too, with Minecraft running above 30fps with all graphical settings turned up to the highest at default render distance. Tinker with the render distance, or install some graphical modifiers, though, and you’ll start to see the game creak a bit when loading new areas.

HP Spectre 13 logo

You should be able to run more graphically intensive games too, provided you tone down the resolution and graphics. Dirt: Showdown ran reasonably well at 1,920×1,080 resolution on ultra low settings with a 40.91fps average. Set the resolution down to 1,280×720 and you’ll be greeted with even greater fps.

Battery life is pretty decent, lasting 6 hours and 10 minutes in our continuous video playback test set to our standard screen brightness of 170cd/m2. While this isn’t the most impressive we’ve seen and is trumped by the MacBook’s 10 hour plus battery, the 4-cell 38Wh battery lasts for longer than many ultraportables we’ve seen of late. While you might not quite last a full work day on one charge, especially if you’re running intense processor heavy tasks, if you tinker with some of the power saving options and lower the screen brightness, it should easily last much longer.

HP Spectre 13 review: Display and sound

The Corning Gorilla Glass 13in 1,920×1,080 IPS display is positively outstanding, especially for a laptop as thin as this. With our colour calibrator picking up an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 93.5%, it’s just a slight fraction off total colour coverage. At max brightness, the HP Spectre 13 dishes out 304.2cd/m2, which makes the display perfectly usable both indoors and out.

Blacks are similarly well-served, with the screen letting just 0.2cd/m2 of light through on pure blacks, even when on maximum brightness. The overall contrast of 1378.5:1 is excellent, bringing it in line with the reasonably impressive display of the recent Dell Latitude 13 7370. Overall the display is really sharp, with no noticeable jagged edges in sight, just make sure you up the text scaling a little bit, as the default 100% makes it pretty difficult to read.

HP Spectre 13 speakers

With pretty much every ultraportable under the sun coming with a touchscreen supported display nowadays, it’s strange to see HP hasn’t followed a similar path with the Spectre 13. I’ve got to admit, though, I didn’t really miss it, especially with an exemplary keyboard such as this, so perhaps having a touch-enabled device isn’t the be all and end all in terms of versatility as we’re led to believe.

The quad Bang & Olufsen speakers are also laudable, producing clear and crisp audio with plenty of oomph. Typically, with a device this thin, you often get a noticeable amount of rattle and the odd bout of tinniness when the speakers are blasted up to full, but that really wasn’t the case here.

The top facing speakers to the left and right of the keyboard are perfectly loud and would easily serve nicely as a media streaming device in your living room, handling Hans Zimmer’s wonderfully composed Interstellar soundtrack beautifully. The positioning of the speakers sometimes meant your hands were a bit in the way when typing, but this wasn’t really a noticeable problem.

HP Spectre 13 review: Keyboard and touchpad

Each of the chiclet-style keys is individually outlined in gold, with gold lettering. Surprisingly, considering the speakers are placed at either side, the keyboard feels spacious. There’s a decent amount of travel and feedback, providing a good touch typing feel.

The smooth touchpad is similarly impressive, and while it is a little on the small side and could definitely be bigger if you shift the keyboard up slightly, it does the job well. As you’d expect, performing Windows multi-touch gestures was largely hassle free, yet here the size was more of a hindrance.

HP Spectre 13 review: Ports and connections

With a device as gorgeously slim as this, you shouldn’t really be all that surprised to find it’s a little limiting when it comes down to ports and connections. Relegated to the back of the device, by the fans, you’ve got just one USB 3.1 Type-C and two thunderbolt USB 3.1 Type-C ports.

HP Spectre 13 ports left

That’s your lot really, and you’ll be using one of these to charge the thing up up, so more often than not you’ll often find yourself with just two ports. Don’t worry about full sized USB connectivity, though, with HP graciously including a USB Type-C to USB3 adapter in the box.

There’s no wired network options here, so generally you’ll have to stick with the 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.2 if you’ll want to get connected to the internet. There’s no way you’re going to be able to fit an ethernet port on something this skinny, though you could add a USB-to-Ethernet adaptor if required.

HP Spectre 13 review: Verdict

Thinner than a MacBook and elegantly designed, the HP Spectre 13 is up there with the best ultraportables. Sure, it may be a little pricey at upwards of £1,150, but it’s pretty much unrivalled at the moment, with nothing Windows-based even coming close to this super thin and powerful ultraportable. Obviously, if you’re not a big fan of Windows, then the 2016 MacBook is for you.

If you’re willing to spend big on a device that looks great, and has surprisingly fast performance to back it up, you really can’t do any better. It does sacrifice some battery life for performance compared to the current Macbook, but that’s simply a choice you have to make between Intel’s Core I and Core M processor ranges.

HP Spectre 13 closed

Still don’t know what Laptop to spend your money on? Feel free to check out our Best Laptop 2016 guide for buying information, along with a list of the best laptops money can buy right now.

Buy the Spectre 13 now from HP

Core specs
Processor Dual core 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U
RAM 8GB
Memory slots (free) 1 (0)
Max memory 8GB
Dimensions 325x229x10.4mm
Weight 1.11Kg
Sound Intel Display Audio (3.5mm headset port)
Pointing device Touchpad
Display
Screen size 13.3in
Screen resolution 1,920×1,080
Touchscreen No
Graphics adaptor Intel HD Graphics 520
Graphics outputs N/A
Graphics memory 1GB
Storage
Total storage 512GB SSD
Optical drive type N/A
Ports and expansion
USB ports 1x USB 3.1 Type-C, 2x USB 3.1 Type C Thunderbolt
Bluetooth 4.2
Networking 802.11ac wireless
Memory card reader N/A
Other ports N/A
Miscellaneous
Operating system Windows 10 Home
Operating system restore option Restore partition
Buying information
Parts and labour warranty One year RTB
Price inc VAT £1,300
Details www.store.hp.com
Supplier www.store.hp.com
Part number 13-v001na

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