I’m skeptical of 15-inch convertible laptops. They’re almost always too bulky and heavy to wield as tablets, with the screen folded beneath the display. And if you only plan on using one as a laptop, well, why not just buy a conventional laptop? With that view, you’d think the 2018 iteration of the HP Spectre x360 15 (starts at $1,219.99; $1,449.99 as tested) would be a nonstarter, especially after you learn that HP actually increased the weight and thickness slightly compared with last year’s model. You’d be mistaken, however. There’s a lot to like about this machine, from increased performance and battery life to the reasonable MSRP to the understated, luxurious design HP’s Spectre line is known for.
Big and Heavy in Tablet Mode
Before I get to all the good stuff, the size and weight need to be addressed. Our review configuration of the Spectre x360 15, with an Intel Core i7 and an Nvidia GeForce MX150, weighs 4.53 pounds, compared with 4.43 pounds for the 2017 version. Maxing out the specs with a more powerful Kaby Lake-G Intel processor and AMD Vega graphics adds even more ounces, taking the laptop up to 4.71 pounds. Both configurations measure 0.76 by 14.13 by 9.84 inches (HWD), a very slight increase over the 0.7 by 14 by 9.88 inches of last year’s model, but an increase nonetheless.
Things don’t look much better when you compare the Spectre 15 x360 with its closest competitors. The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, for instance, weighs 4.36 pounds, and is half a pound heavier than the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro (3.79 pounds). Both of these are slimmer than the HP, as well: 0.63 inches high for the Dell and 0.67 for the Samsung. Throw in a conventional laptop like the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro (0.61 by 13.75 by 9.48 inches; 4.02 pounds), and you start to get the picture: the Spectre is oversize and overweight for a form factor where every ounce and millimeter counts.
Lenovo Yoga 920
Dell Inspiron 13 7000 (7378)
HP EliteBook x360 1030 G2
Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 520
Asus ZenBook Flip 14 (UX461UN)
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (9575)
Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch (2017)
LG gram 15 (15Z980)
Samsung Notebook 9 Pro (15-Inch)
HP knows this, of course, so it didn’t increase size and weight for no reason. As you’ll see below, in most cases the Spectre x360 15’s performance is vastly improved compared with its predecessor, from a larger battery to a GPU with a bit more oomph.
But now let’s get to the good stuff. The 4K touch screen (3,840 by 2,160) is one of the laptop’s best features. With a luminance of 340 nits, it’s bright enough to blot out many of the ambient light reflections that glossy touch screens suffer from. It’s also an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel, which means colors don’t wash out and text is still mostly readable when you view it from an extreme angle. Finally, it’s reinforced with Gorilla Glass, which should go a long way toward preventing cracks if you accidentally drop the notebook while you’re juggling its heft in Tablet mode.
The screen works with the HP Digital Pen, which is included in the box, or the HP Tilt Pen, an $89.99 accessory. If you’re planning to draw on the screen with any regularity, I highly recommend springing for the Tilt Pen. It adds shading support, so that when you tilt the replaceable tip to color in a sketch, the surface area of the ink output increases in kind, as it would with an actual pen on real paper. Even better, the Tilt Pen includes a built-in rechargeable battery, so you don’t have to fumble with AAA batteries. It even has its own dedicated holder built in to the luxurious leather sleeve included in the box. Unfortunately, there’s no other storage method for the pen—no magnet, no lanyard, not even a plastic holder.
As hefty as it is, the Spectre x360 15 is still very pretty to look at. With copper accents along the edges, the HP logo, and the twin hinges, it’s a bit more blingy than the MacBook Pro( at Amazon) or the Dell XPS 15. HP even refers to the accents as “Copper Luxe.” The rest of the machine is clad in smooth, dark silver CNC-milled aluminum, which gives off the requisite understated quality you’ll need in a boardroom or coffee shop.
Typing on the full-size keyboard is very comfortable. There’s virtually no keyboard flex, and the key switches make a satisfyingly sturdy thud. There isn’t much room between the keys and the function row is half-size, but those are necessary compromises to make room for a dedicated number pad, which is present on many 15-inch laptops but was conspicuously absent from last year’s 15-inch Spectre x360.
The touchpad is not as comfortable as the keyboard. It’s a Synaptics model, which means that customization happens via the cumbersome Synaptics software instead of the Windows Settings app. In the default configuration I found it extremely unresponsive, and after nearly 15 minutes of fiddling with settings it didn’t get any better. This is a common problem with HP’s touchpads; the Spectre 13‘s touchpad is even worse.
Although the Spectre x360 15 does have a fingerprint reader, it’s not located below the keyboard as you might expect. Instead, HP placed it along the right edge so that you can use it to unlock the PC in either Laptop or Tablet mode. It’s a bit tricky to find by feel since it’s long and narrow, but once I located it I found it to be extremely accurate, only failing to recognize my print about one in every 10 login attempts. There’s also a webcam with infrared sensors for face recognition, in case you’d like to log in to your Windows account that way.
In addition to the fingerprint reader, the Spectre x360 15’s right edge also features two USB-C ports. One of them supports Thunderbolt 3, while the other one is a USB 3.1 port, and both can charge other devices even while the laptop is asleep. There’s also an HDMI output and a volume rocker. The left side includes the dedicated power port, a USB 3.1 Type A port which also supports charging while asleep, a headphone jack, and a full-size SD card reader. Wireless connectivity options include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.
There are four speakers on the Spectre x360 15, but their output quality leaves a lot to be desired. While watching the trailer for the upcoming film Bohemian Rhapsody, the music seemed to be coming only from the bottom two speakers, while the speaker grille along the top was mostly silent. In other words, don’t let the Bang & Olufsen branding fool you into thinking that the audio quality is any better on this machine than you’d expect from a thin and light laptop.
HP includes a one-year warranty with 90 days of phone support, which is very similar to the default warranties that Dell and Apple offer for their laptops.
Room for More Oomph and Battery Life
With 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, our configuration of the Spectre x350 15 is well equipped for running several programs at once and storing everything on a single speedy drive. The SSD connects to the motherboard using the cutting-edge NVMe interface, eliminating a significant performance bottleneck. Other configuration options include 8GB or 12GB of memory, hard drive sizes that range from 256GB to 2TB, and an Intel Core i7-8705G CPU that’s coupled with AMD Radeon RX Vega M graphics.
The combination of a high-end mobile Intel processor (in this case, an Intel Core i7-8550U with a base clock speed of 1.8GHz) and a low-end discrete graphics card (the Nvidia GeForce MX150) is a common formula among premium 15-inch laptops that aren’t designed for gaming. The MacBook Pro, the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro, and last year’s Spectre x360 all take this approach. Meanwhile, the LG gram 15( at Amazon)skimps on graphics performance with an integrated GPU, and the Dell XPS 15 is at the opposite end of the spectrum with a rare and slightly more expensive AMD Radeon RX Vega M, although both of their CPUs are comparable to the HP’s.
As a result, you’d expect performance on everyday tasks as well as specialized multimedia chores to be very similar across each of these PCs. That’s not necessarily the case, as you can see in the performance charts below. The eighth-generation processor in the Spectre x360 15 is far more proficient and energy efficient than the seventh-generation processor in the 2017 model. The result is much better scores on our Handbrake video-encoding test (1 minute, 23 seconds vs. 2:09) and series of Photoshop image filters (2:55 vs. 3:48).
Still, performance is not quite as good as the HQ-series Core i7 in the MacBook Pro, which posted an even better Photoshop time of 1:06 and a class-leading 3D rendering score of 760 using the Cinebench app. These results are similar to the G-series Core i7 in the XPS 15.
The gulf is even wider on the all-encompassing PCMark 8 benchmark, which measures everyday tasks like video conferencing, web browsing, and word processing. Screen resolution heavily affects this test, which is why the two Spectre x360 15 models and the XPS 15 posted results below 3,000, dragged down by all the extra pixels in their 4K displays. On the other hand, I experienced no noticeable performance lags using the types of apps that PCMark 8 employs during the several days I spent with the Spectre x360 15.
Gaming and intense 3D graphics results are far more easier to predict. The clear winner here is the Dell XPS 15 and its superior Vega GPU, which posted frame rates above the all-important 30 frames per second (fps) on our Heaven and Valley gaming simulations at full HD resolution. The HP Spectre x360 15 and the other systems with discrete GPUs are in the next tier down, with rates of about 20fps on these tests, and the LG gram 15 is the clear loser thanks to its anemic integrated GPU. Bottom line: You can use the Spectre 15 x360 for enjoyable gameplay only at medium quality settings and lower screen resolutions.
During each of these tests, the bottom of the Spectre got very warm but not uncomfortably hot, and there was very little fan noise.
A larger 84Wh battery is partly responsible for the Spectre’s weight gain, but it provides a large payoff, with an excellent time of 14 hours and 30 minutes on our battery-rundown test. That’s more than 4 hours longer than its predecessor recorded even if it’s a few hours behind the LG gram 15. This time is even more impressive when you take the HP’s power-hungry 4K screen into account. The XPS 15 might outperform the Spectre x360 15 when it comes to gaming, but it only lasts half as long away from a power outlet.
It’s Still Big and Heavy
As blind though I might be to the usefulness of a 15-inch convertible laptop, the HP Spectre x360 15 would be near the top of my shopping list if I had to buy one. Sure, it gained a few ounces and millimeters compared with its predecessor, but its performance improvements more than compensate. What’s more, it looks great and has lots of subtle design touches like a side-mounted fingerprint reader and a sturdy keyboard that make it enjoyable to use.
Still, at the end of the day, I’d come home with the Editors’ Choice LG gram 15, a conventional laptop that’s lighter, longer-lasting, and performs just as well or better as long as you’re not playing intensive games.
HP Spectre x360 15 (2018)
The Bottom Line
Although it’s hefty and unwieldy in Tablet mode, the HP Spectre x360 15’s thoughtful design and top-notch performance make it an excellent 15-inch convertible laptop.
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