HP still sells the Spectre x360 13, but you can forget about it. The Spectre x360 14 (starts at $1,299.99; $1,699.99 as tested) is an elegant convertible laptop that ditches the older system’s 13.3-inch touch screen—and its familiar 16:9 aspect ratio—for a 13.5-inch panel with a squarer 3:2 ratio, for a superior view of text and web pages. Basically, it says, “I see you and raise” to the 16:10 display of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. Add to that some immaculate engineering, gorgeous OLED screen technology, and a stylus pen and USB Type-A port that the Dell lacks, and the Spectre edges out the XPS 13 2-in-1, snatching the Editors’ Choice award as our new favorite premium convertible.
Spectral Analysis: Sleek, Svelte, and Stylish
The Spectre x360 14 is an Intel Evo laptop, so it flaunts the chipmaker’s latest innovations including rapid wake, Thunderbolt 4 ports, and an 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” processor with Iris Xe integrated graphics. The $1,299.99 base model at HP.com (discounted to $999.99 at this writing) combines Core i5 power with 8GB of memory, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a 1,920-by-1,280-pixel touch screen. One of HP’s Sure View Reflect privacy screens is optional; a rechargeable tilt pen and carrying sleeve are standard. (The stylus clings magnetically to the side of the laptop, instead of fitting into a niche.)
Our test unit, $1,699.99 from Best Buy (discounted to $1,449.99 at this writing), steps up to an OLED touch panel with 3,000-by-2,000-pixel resolution and 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 color gamut, as well as a quad-core, 2.8GHz (4.7GHz turbo) Core i7-1165G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB NVMe SSD bolstered by 32GB of Intel Optane Memory. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth are onboard, though users who roam far from hotspots will be sad there’s no WWAN option.
Like previous Spectres, the HP is one of the most attractive laptops you can buy, with gem-cut contrasting edges highlighting its CNC-machined aluminum chassis. It’s available in Nightfall Black with Copper Luxe accents, or Poseidon Blue with Pale Brass accents, each $10 more than the shy silver model. HP’s stylized four-slash logo decorates the lid, which unfortunately takes two hands to open. (You must hold the base down while lifting the lid.) Two hinges let you fold the display back into the easel, tent, and tablet modes well known to hybrid users. The screen barely wobbles when tapped in laptop mode, and you’ll feel almost no flex in the chassis if you grasp its corners or press the keyboard deck.
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (9310)
HP Envy x360 13 (2020)
Lenovo Yoga 9i (14-Inch)
Lenovo Yoga C940 (14-Inch)
Acer Spin 3 (2020)
Asus ZenBook Flip S (UX371)
At 0.67 by 11.8 by 8.7 inches, the system is slightly deeper than the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (0.56 by 11.7 by 8.2 inches), as well as barely heavier (2.95 versus 2.9 pounds). Among hybrid laptops that have screens with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the 13.3-inch Asus ZenBook Flip S is 0.54 by 12 by 8.3 inches, and the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga 9i is 0.6 by 12.6 by 8.5 inches. The screen bezels are ultra-thin (HP boasts a 90.33% screen-to-body ratio), yet the webcam remains properly located, positioned above, instead of below, the display.
The laptop’s left edge holds a USB 3.2 Type-A port. You’ll find two Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports on the right side (actually, one on the side and the other, suitable for the AC adapter, on the diagonal-cut rear corner), along with an audio jack and a microSD card slot.
As with the Dell, you’ll need a USB-C dongle to connect an external monitor if it has anything but a Thunderbolt or USB-C interface. The ZenBook Flip S, in contrast, wins points for providing an HDMI output, but it loses an equal amount for omitting the audio jack.
A New Perspective: Awed by OLED
Displays with 3:2 aspect ratios aren’t unprecedented. Microsoft uses them for its various Surface Pro tablets and Surface Laptop clamshells, and the Acer Spin 713 is one of our favorite Chromebooks. But once you get used to their roughly 20% taller view of browsers and productivity apps, it’s hard to go back to a 16:9 screen (unless you use your laptop primarily for watching videos).
The Spectre’s OLED screen is lovely to look at, with ample brightness, sky-high contrast, pristine white backgrounds, and deep blacks. Colors are rich, vivid, and saturated, and fine details are sharp. The two-button tilt stylus kept up with my fastest swipes and scribbles in tablet mode, with a comfortable pen-on-paper feel and good palm rejection as I rested my wrist on the glass.
I always criticize HP laptop keyboards for arranging the cursor arrow keys in a clumsy row instead of the correct inverted T, with half-size up and down arrows squeezed between full-size left and right arrows. But otherwise, the brightly backlit keyboard is fine, with dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys and a somewhat shallow but snappy typing feel.
The keyboard incorporates functions often moved to the palm rest or sides, from the fingerprint reader (which replaces the right-side Control key, a slight quibble if you often use that) and power button to special keys to toggle the webcam privacy shutter and launch the HP Command Center utility. (More about the latter in a minute.) The buttonless touchpad glides and taps smoothly, and clicks quietly.
The 720p webcam has IR face-recognition capability, joining the fingerprint reader to give you two ways to access Windows Hello logins. Its images are slightly soft-focus but reasonably bright, colorful, and static-free. Four speakers and an amplifier produce admirable sound, not particularly loud, but not tinny or hollow, either. The bass is noticeable, and it’s easy to distinguish overlapping tracks. Bang & Olufsen software lets you choose among music, movie, and voice presets, as well as fiddle with an equalizer.
The pop-up HP Command Center lets you turn on application-based network prioritization. Also here, you can change the default Smart Sense system tuning and cooling fan setting to balanced, cool, performance, or quiet modes. (I used the performance option for our benchmark tests, and Smart Sense for our battery-life measurement.) A Focus Mode toggle dims the screen except for the active window.
HP Display Control offers default/vibrant, native, sRGB, Adobe RGB, DCI-P3, or automatic color palette selection. Other software on the Windows 10 Home system includes Amazon Alexa, as well as ExpressVPN, McAfee LiveSafe, and LastPass trials. The company also notes that in-bag detection keeps the laptop from overheating in your briefcase.
Performance Testing: A Convertible Clash
For our benchmark comparisons, I pitted the Spectre x360 14 against three premium 2-in-1 models already mentioned: the Lenovo Yoga 9i, the Asus ZenBook Flip S, and the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. The last slot went to our Editors’ Choice winner among midpriced convertibles, the HP Envy x360 13, whose AMD Ryzen 5 CPU makes a change from “Tiger Lake” Core i7 chips. You can see the contenders’ basic specs in the table below.
Productivity and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. (See more about how we test laptops.)
All five hybrids exceeded the 4,000 points that indicate excellent productivity in PCMark 10, with the Spectre topping the Yoga for the win. Their speedy SSDs breezed through PCMark 8’s storage exercise.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing benchmark, in which we put a stopwatch on systems as they transcode a brief movie from 4K resolution down to 1080p. It, too, is a tough test for multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs; lower times are better.
The Asus failed to keep up with its Intel stablemates, while the Envy’s extra processing cores (six versus four) failed to give it an advantage. The Spectre performed solidly.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total. (Lower times are better.) The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters.
The Intel-powered convertibles finished in a close pack, a half-minute or more quicker than the AMD-based Envy. The Spectre’s brisk response and stellar screen make it a fine choice for photo management, though I had a little trouble getting my microSD card out of its slot.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs strut their stuff.
The Yoga claimed the gold medal, with the Spectre close behind. Thanks to Intel’s Iris Xe, these laptops’ integrated graphics can handle some light or casual gaming, even while they are no threat to the discrete GPUs of “true” gaming notebooks.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene, this one rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
Again, these laptops are built for productivity and creativity apps, not games. Intel’s Iris Xe graphics are superior to its older integrated UHD Graphics solutions, but that’s not saying a whole lot when it comes to really demanding graphics tasks like the 1080p test here.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film —with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
The Lenovo Yoga 9i is the standout for stamina, lasting nearly 18 hours. The others should certainly get you through a full day of work or school; the two OLED screens were hardest on battery life, but the Spectre outlasted the ZenBook.
The Verdict: We Have a Winner
Competition among high-end convertible laptops is fierce, but the 3:2 aspect ratio of the HP Spectre x360 14’s screen would make it a game-changer even if it didn’t have the advantage of its stunning OLED technology.
Except for wishing it had an HDMI port, we are having trouble finding anything to criticize—this Spectre x360 has the beautiful design and OLED goodness of its 15.6-inch sibling in a considerably easier-to-carry package. It not only deserves our Editors’ Choice award in its category, it ranks among our top four or five laptops, period.
HP Spectre x360 14
The Bottom Line
Its tall OLED screen and swank, thoughtful design vault the HP Spectre x360 14 to the top rank of convertible laptops.
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