Hewlett Packard’s fashion-inspired Spectre consumer line of ultra-sleek Windows Ultrabooks is doing the splits, literally, with the x2 edition. Clad in an elegant “Truffle Brown” aluminum shell, the Spectre x2 retains the clean lines of the Spectre family while at the same time adding a convertible form factor to the mix with a detachable display that serves as a laptop and a keyboard dock that adds power and versatility.
To users who want to manage only one system and prefer not to have a separate tablet and laptop, there is a lot of value in this hybrid form factor. However, this versatility comes at a cost in weight. Whereas the similarly equipped touchscreen-enabled Spectre 13t clocks in at a more manageable 3.34 pounds, the x2 convertible adds over a pound in weight clocking in at 4.4 pounds.
Pros. Beautifully sculpted design with a premium unibody machined aluminum finish, bright display, convertible form factor, quiet fan-less operations.
Cons. Tablet battery life is sub-par for the category but with the keyboard dock battery life is comparable to other Ultrabooks, heavy weight, micro SD card is blocked when docked and requires undocking to remove, shallow keyboard and mushy trackpad.
Verdict. An inspired design with strong build quality. If you can tolerate the increase in weight to have the convertible form factor, the Spectre 13t x2 delivers a lot of versatility.
Design & Hardware
If you’re a fan of hybrid computing, the Spectre 13t x2 has one of the best design and build quality we’ve come across in a while. Unibody aluminum construction, sleek looks, 0.7-inch thinness at the thickest point, and a gorgeous anti-glare 13-inch IPS display highlight some of the premium aesthetics of the Spectre x2.
Despite strong, good looks, HP still hasn’t quite figured out what to do with stickers for regulatory information, Windows, and Intel brandings. Immediately on the laptop lid, you’ll find two stickers that break up the clean looks and the HP logo. We prefer Dell’s clever hideaway tray on the underbelly of its XPS line to hide all the information away to keep everything tidy.
As the laptop lid, or the rear of the tablet in this case, is tapered, there isn’t much in terms of side edges to accommodate buttons in the same way that buttons are mounted along the edges on an Android or iPad tablet. HP went with the decision to mount the buttons to the rear of the tablet near the side edges. You’ll have buttons for the power and volume on opposing sides in landscape orientation. It’s an interesting placement, but one that feels natural in tablet mode as you can quickly reach for the volume buttons to adjust sound output when holding the x2 in slate format when viewing a video.
Immediately, when you open up the clamshell of the convertible laptop, you’re greeted with a bright and spacious full HD 13-inch display. The x2 comes with a base 1366 X 768 resolution, though users can upgrade to a 1920 X 1080 full HD model like the one we had reviewed.
Though the 1080p version is sharp and crisp, we wish there were more options beyond that given the 13-inch panel. Samsung’s ATIV Book 9 Plus offers a QHD+ display as does HP’s non-convertible Spectre cousin. Even Samsung’s Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 offers a much higher resolution. And even though the display isn’t as bright as the Surface Pro 2’s panel, the x2 still manages to deliver a sharp and crisp screen, making videos and photos look great on the display.
The display portion, which houses the processor, its own internal battery, and the guts of the computing experience, can be separated from the rest of the system with a switch just below the Windows capacitive button, effectively turning a laptop into a tablet.
Sliding said switch will unlock the magnetic latches so you can separate the 2.18-pound tablet from the keyboard, allowing you to have more versatility.
As a tablet, the Spectre 13t x2 was a bit heavy, and given its 13-inch screen size, it’s heavier than the 10.6-inch Surface Pro 2. However, if you’re sitting up in bed or reclining on the couch, the 13-inch slate is handy for web browsing and streaming online videos.
Powered by Intel’s fourth generation Haswell Core i5 processor with Intel HD graphics, the Spectre 13t x2 could handle multiple tabs and multiple browser windows while streaming Netflix in HD and doing some light photo editing work in Microsoft’s Paint. The Haswell processor allows for plenty of power while at the same time being battery efficient.
On the tablet, or display portion, you have more limited ports. A front-facing webcam with microphone is situated in the top center of the display in landscape orientation, and in the same orientation at the bottom, you’ll have a covered slot for a micro SDXC card. The slot itself is obscured when docked to the keyboard, so if you need to swap memory cards often, you should likely invest in a USB adapter to read your cards.
Along the bottom edge of the display is a speaker bar, which outputs sound with Beats Audio enhancements. The speaker does a good job in filling a small office with sound, though at higher volumes there were some minor distortions in audio quality. For basic playback of videos or streaming movies in bed or on the couch, I have no doubt that the Beats Audio speakers on the x2 will do the job fine.
In use as a tablet, the Spectre x2 is the quietest Intel Core tablet on the market today. Thanks to an innovative design where HP is able to ditch internal fans while still being able to keep the x2 relatively cool, users won’t hear the sound whirling fan blades, something that cannot be said about my first generation Toshiba Kirabook. HP says that this is the first fan-less tablet design to use Intel’s more powerful Core series processors.
This design allows the x2 to feel more like an iPad or Android slate than a Windows slate–even Microsoft’s elegantly crafted Surface Pro 2 has blades that generate noise. In use, HP did a great job on keeping the x2 cool despite operating without fans. Though the x2 got warm, it didn’t feel warmer than an iPad or Android under heavy workload.
Additionally, another benefit with a fan-less design is that power doesn’t need to be used to rotating the fan blades, which means that the x2 could run on its battery a little longer to allow you to stay productive or entertained while on the go.
Keyboard & Trackpad
When docked, the champagne-clad aluminum keyboard portion has a recessed bay where island-styled keys float. This bottom portion of the Ultrabook design feels solid as it’s machined from a unibody aluminum plate much in the same way that Apple fashions its MacBook series and something we’re typically don’t see for PC laptops, and this gives a reassuringly solid feel to a premium Ultrabook convertible.
In clamshell mode when you open up the device to use in laptop form factor, you’ll notice that the hinge where the tablet snaps into the keyboard will automatically elevate the rear keyboard portion up, creating an angle to help with ergonomics.
The Spectre 13t x2 keyboard design offers a rare luxury in the field of convertibles as well with backlit keys. Strong keyboard backlighting makes the x2’s keyboard a breeze to use even in the dark where the letters and numbers on the silvery keys glow white. The backlight works well, though there isn’t any light coming from the spacebar key.
Despite a roomy keyboard deck, the keys are more shallow and don’t offer much travel when pressed. Ultrabooks like the Dell XPS 13 and the Toshiba Kirabook offer more key travel in a similar package, with both rivals sporting 13-inch displays as well. Still, the x2’s keys aren’t too bad, but touch typists who are used to pressing down hard when typing will experience finger fatigue, but that issue is easily adjustable when you get used to the keyboard.
And like Apple’s MacBook Air, a large button-less trackpad sits just below the keyboard deck. You can manually click in on the left or right side to create a left or right click motion. The trackpad also supports gestures, like two-finger scrolling or swiping with three fingers to go forward or backward a page. The trackpad is roomy enough where gestures shouldn’t be a problem.
On our unit of the Spectre 13, the clickpad works as advertised, but felt a little bit mushy and stiff at the same time to click.
The keyboard portion also houses a second battery, which will recharge the tablet battery as well when both units are docked. While providing a second battery to the keyboard certainly adds weight and makes the entire package 4.4 pounds all together, it helps to stabilize the system when docked. Without the battery weight, the Spectre x2 would feel more top-heavy and would likely topple over.
And given the tablet portion already clocking in at a weighty 2 pounds in weight, this means that despite having a weighted keyboard dock portion, in Ultrabook form factor the screen angle will be more upright and you cannot angle the screen back. When using the x2 in your lap, you’ll likely feel cramped as the lid cannot be tilted further away from your body for more comfort, but on the desk where you’ll likely use the screen more upright it’s not too big of a concern.
A more limited amount of ports are found alongside the left and right edges of the Spectre x2’s keyboard portion. On the left side, you’ll find a USB 3.0 port as well as a full-sized HDMI port.
On the right edge, you’ll find a plug for the power adapter, a second USB 3.0 port, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack.
The charging port as well as a secondary headphone jack could also be found on the bottom of the tablet portion, which gets blocked off when docked to the keyboard. Unfortunately, a full-sized SD card reader isn’t found on the system.
Given the split personality of the Spectre 13t x2, battery life is a mixed bag. As a tablet, the x2’s battery life is disappointing, clocking in at just 3 to 3.5 hours of continuous use with wireless turned on. This is anemic considering that the Surface Pro 2 gets around 8 hours of use on a fully juiced up battery and Android and iOS tablets hover over that mark and into the 10-hour cycle.
As an Ultrabook and given the second battery in the keyboard base of the unit, battery life improves and matches other Ultrabooks in the category, garnering a respectable 7-7.5 hours of use on a single charge.
Likely, consumers who are eyeing the Spectre 13t x2 should look at the unit as an Ultrabook first, rather than a tablet first, with the flexibility to convert to slate mode when and if needed. As an Ultrabook, the Spectre 13t x2 should deliver near all day computing and should be good for a cross-country flight. As a tablet, it’s heavy, bulky, and suffers from anemic battery performance.
It’s unclear why HP couldn’t manage to squeeze in more efficient battery run time considering that Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2, which shares much of the same innards, manages to squeeze in respectable performance without the need for a secondary battery in its keyboard dock. Still, the x2 delivers a great experience with a powerful Core i5 processor using Intel’s fourth generation Haswell architecture. This means that the slate is more capable and powerful than the more budget-oriented Atom-based notebooks, like the more affordable Asus Transformer T100, and should allow you to play moderate games, edit photos and videos, and manage multiple web browser tabs on the go while streaming HD-quality videos.
In my use of the the x2, the unit booted up fast and applications were quick to open. The base price starts at $1,099.99 and instantly goes up to $1170 for a 1080p HD display panel. Hewlett Packard doesn’t offer many configurations for the system, maxing users out at 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD. Other configuration options include choosing between 802.11 b/g/n or ac (an added $20) WiFi and various warranty options.
The Spectre 13 x2 ships with Windows 8.1, including the new Start Screen with the Metro-inspired Live Tiles interface along with the classic Desktop mode to run programs designed for Windows 7 or earlier. HP didn’t overload the x2 with a ton of bloatware, though a number of HP apps, a McAffee antivirus program, and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 did make their way onto the install build.
The HP Spectre 13t x2 is a difficult product to evaluate. On one hand, as a total package, the unit’s excellent build quality and stellar good looks make it an inspired design in the Ultrabook category. On the other hand, as a tablet, it’s large size and unwieldy weight makes it a poor choice for those who need a tablet-first experience.
And as an Ultrabook, the x2’s hefty weight makes it a poor choice for those who only occasionally need to detach the display as there are lighter, more powerful options like Dell’s excellent XPS 13 that include a touchscreen as well as the non-convertible Spectre 13t from HP’s lineup that comes with an option for an even higher resolution panel.
However, for those who like the versatility and flexibility that the convertible form factor brings, the Spectre 13t x2 brings an uncompromised level of design and polish to the category, but one whose price is weight. The Spectre 13t is a jack of all trades, but doesn’t really compete too well solely as a tablet or as an Ultrabook given the compromises that were made to deliver exceptional build quality and solid performance.
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