The first HP Spectre x2 was a worthy Surface Pro rival, offering many of the same features in a design that was almost as sleek and attractive. It was much better value for money, too, but held back by a handful of niggly details – a poor quality screen, below average speakers and a disappointing stylus pen among them.
Just like Microsoft, HP has updated its consumer 2-in-1 for 2017. Is it any better this time around, or has HP finally found the magic formula?
HP Spectre x2 review: What you need to know
First impressions are good. The new HP Spectre x2 is a classy, 12.3in ultra-portable 2-in-1 laptop and, unlike the Surface Pro, it comes bundled with a keyboard and stylus pen. With a copper coloured hinge and an all-aluminium body, the Spectre x2 is certainly stylish.
And it does some things better than its predecessor. It has a sharp, colour accurate display that runs at a high resolution and a faster Kaby Lake processor.
However, it isn’t all positive. It ran extremely hot during our benchmarks, even with its fans ramped up to the max. And I had problems with connecting the bundled keyboard and trackpad are also problematic. Overall, it’s a good attempt, but the 2-in-1 fans would be better off opting for the Microsoft Surface Pro.
HP Spectre x2 review: Price and competition
The HP Spectre x2 costs £1,500 from HP’s website. It comes with an Intel Core i7-7560U processor, 8GB of RAM and a super speedy 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD.
It might look expensive on paper, but compared with the closest equivalent Microsoft Surface Pro, which costs £1,549 with a Core i7, half the storage and doesn’t include a keyboard or stylus, the HP looks relatively cheap.
If you don’t have this much money to spend, though, the older Surface Pro 4 is a bit cheaper. Once you add the cost of the Type Cover, a Core i7 Surface Pro 4 with a 256GB SSD will still set you back around £1,200 (if you shop around for the keyboard).
There’s also competition from other manufacturers, such as from Acer with its affordable Switch 5 laptop, the £999 Core i5 HP Envy x360, the Lenovo Miix 510 at £850 and the Asus Transformer 3 Pro for around £1,050. These, however, don’t offer a like-for-like comparison, with slower, older generation processors, or much lower resolution screens.
HP Spectre x2 review: Design and build quality
HP has nailed the design of the Spectre x2. Its dark grey aluminium body and copper-coloured trim look great and it’s practical, too. Its kickstand provides up to 165-degrees of adjustment, making it easy to set up at just the right angle.
And the Spectre x2 is incredibly light and thin. It weighs a mere 780g, (1.15kg with the keyboard) and is only 8mm thick, which put into perspective is as thin as a modern day smartphone. Overall, this a wonderfully well put-together device.
Connectivity is good for a device such as this, especially one this slim. It has two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C ports, on either side of the tablet part of the machine, and these can both be used for charging, display output and data transfers. A 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card slot can be found on the left-hand side. The laptop’s volume rocker and power indicator are on the right, with a power button located at the top.
The Spectre x2 comes with Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers, which flank the screen and face forwards. They sound great, with sound that’s remarkably rich, and full-bodied for such a slim device.
Elsewhere, HP includes Intel 802.11ac (2×2) wireless and Bluetooth 4.2 and the Spectre has two cameras: a forward-facing, 5-megapixel camera with a dual microphone and a rear-facing 13-megapixel shooter.
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HP Spectre x2 review: Keyboard, trackpad and pen
It’s great that HP is including both keyboard and stylus in the box with the Spectre x2 and, on the surface, these appear to be top-quality peripherals.
The keyboard attaches magnetically to the tablet’s body via a ten-pin connector and can either be arranged so it lies flat on the desk or it’s tilted up at a slight angle. There’s minimal keyboard flex with the keyboard in the latter configuration, and the keys are well-spaced, backlit and have a nice, positive action. Typing is a breeze on this keyboard.
The trackpad is wider than on last year’s model and its frosted glass top feels lovely under the finger. However, I found using it a little hit and miss. Sometimes it wouldn’t properly track my swipes, and clicks, requiring multiple attempts.
More troublesome was the recognition of the bundled keyboard and trackpad with the Spectre x2’s main frame. Occasionally, when flipping between laptop and tablet mode, the x2 would simply refuse to connect to the keyboard, even with it still attached.
On the plus side, the HP Active Pen works flawlessly, especially with Windows Ink integration on Windows 10. With 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, it’s wonderfully responsive and the nib has a nice grippy feel on the surface of the tablet. Palm rejection is remarkably effective as well.
It isn’t, however, tilt capable, and the Microsoft Pen also outdoes it on the sensitivity front, offering 4,096 pressure points and slightly nicer “pen on paper” feel.
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HP Spectre x2 review: Display
One area where the x2 has improved dramatically is the display. Where last year’s was a wan, washed-out 1080p screen, this year’s 12.3in screen has a sharper resolution of 3,000 x 2,000 and looks great. It’s crisper even than the Surface Pro 4’s 12.3in 2,736 x 1,824 “PixelSense” display.
Testing with our colorimeter produced impressive results. The x2 reproduced 91.7% of the sRGB colour gamut, resulting in vivid colours. It’s also colour accurate and has a stunning 1,315:1 contrast ratio. Movies, photos and TV shows look simply fantastic on this thing.
And it gets rather bright, too: in fact, at 488cd/m2 this is one of the few laptops you can use outdoors on a sunny day.
HP Spectre x2 review: Performance
Inside, there’s a 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-7560U with 8GB of LPDDR3-1866 SDRAM. Coupled with Windows 10 Home 64-bit, the HP Spectre x2 feels responsive in everyday use.
Compared with its competitors, the laptop does a relatively good job but is still far behind the Core i7 Surface Pro 2017 we tested earlier this year. In the Expert Reviews benchmarks, the Surface Pro 2017, with an Intel Core i7-7660U manages a score of 102. By comparison, the HP Spectre x2 is more in line with the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (Intel Core i5-6300U version), which achieved a score 44.
^ HP Spectre x2 review: Benchmark table
Performance in the cross-platform Geekbench 4 benchmark is an entirely different story, mind you. The HP Spectre x2 is the top dog, here, with a score of 4,441 and 8,222 in the single-core multi-core benchmarks respectively compared with the Surface Pro 4’s 3,634 and 7,046. This means it’s more than capable of churning through intensive tasks, no matter what you throw at it.
You might be wondering why there’s such a stark contrast between our benchmarks and the Geekbench 4 results: it’s because our in-house benchmarks take much longer to complete, and at some point thermal throttling comes into play, limiting the HP’s performance. This is due to the Geekbench 4 taking less than a few minute to complete, versus the Expert Reviews benchmarks which can take several hours.
Indeed, I saw the Spectre x2’s CPU hit 96°C at one point; given the TJ Max (maximum temperature) is 100°C, it was a stone’s throw away from blue screening or an automatic shutdown, which would be automatically triggered by the motherboard.
^ HP Spectre x2 review: Geekbench 4
For graphics, it has the integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640. This is plenty for any movie content you might throw at it and, to a certain degree, games as well. Due to a lack of a discrete graphics card, you won’t be playing modern titles at the display’s 3,000 x 2,000 native resolution, though. In the GFXBench benchmark, the Spectre x2 manages only 8.6fps in Car Chase and 15.6fps in the Manhattan 3.0 benchmark at this resolution.
However, if you were to use the laptop for gaming, I’d suggest dialling down the resolution to a more manageable 1080p. Here, the laptop achieves 23.8fps and 42.6fps respectively – a more playable frame rate, but still not great.
What is impressive is the performance of the HP’s 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD, which delivers seriously quick sequential read and write speeds of 2,115MB/sec and 636MB/sec respectively.
^ HP Spectre x2 review: Battery life
As for battery life, however, it’s back to disappointment I’m afraid, with a lowly 5hrs in our video rundown test. Again, the Spectre x2 lags considerably behind the Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 here which achieved more than double this result at 11hrs 33mins.
HP Spectre x2 review: Verdict
At £1,500 the HP Spectre x2 does look like a tasty proposition but it misfires in key areas.
It’s a stunning 2-in-1 with blistering performance, has all the right ports and a good set of forward-firing speakers
However, its thermal limitations are worrying, the bundled keyboard is far from perfect and battery life is mediocre. If you’re looking for a do-it-all 2-in-1 device I’d opt for the Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 instead, or if you’ve got a maximum budget of £1,500, consider the older Surface Pro 4.