HP has been trying to make a laptop that will catch everyone's attention. Now, HP thinks it's nailed it.
Its newest laptop is called the Spectre 13 (or sometimes, simply, the HP Spectre), and — at just 10.4mm thick — it's supposed to be the thinnest any major laptop manufacturer has ever made. That's thinner than both Apple's MacBook (13.2mm thick) and Dell's XPS 13 (15.2mm thick). And while you might wonder how much difference a few millimeters can make, seeing the Spectre 13 in person makes it pretty clear: it's the difference between looking really thin and looking uniquely eye catching.
The Spectre 13 is in many ways HP's attempt at a modern MacBook Air. There are no gimmicks: no 4K display, no touchscreen, no detachable or twisting body. It's just trying to be a really solid, stylish laptop.
And that's what it appears to be. The Spectre 13 has a 13.3-inch, 1080p display, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage in its base model. More importantly, it includes either a Core i5 or a Core i7 processor. That's the type of processor you'd normally find in the MacBook Air or a typical ultrabook — laptops this size usually get Core M, which is slower, but doesn't get as hot and allows for a smaller battery.
Mike Nash, HP's vice president of consumer PCs, says he's well aware that Core M is standard for a machine like this. "We know that. We've seen Apple do that," he says. "But our customers want Core i, and I'm here to tell you today we pulled it off."
Its hinges are modeled after cabinetry
Making a laptop of this size work with a Core i processor meant dealing with heat and battery issues. HP says it handled the former using a heat pipe, which distributes heat away from the processor, as well as two fans that push heat out the back. For battery, HP made a thin unit that takes up most of the inside of the PC. It's supposed to deliver 9.5 hours of battery, which isn't top of the line — the MacBook Air does around 12 hours — but is still pretty good, assuming HP's estimates hold up.
HP really wants the Spectre 13 to be seen as a premium laptop, and it both looks and feels like one. Most of its body is made from a dark gray aluminum (its bottom is lighter-weight carbon fiber), and there's a large bronze piece along the edge for contrast. It looks very cool sitting on its own — just be careful about touching the bronze: it picks up fingerprints in a way that detectives could only dream of. Nash says HP was aware of this, but went with the bronze finish anyway because it looked good. "We [asked] people, 'Can you make it shiny but not show fingerprints?,'" he says. "They were like, 'Yeah, but it'd look like your grandmother's couch.'"
There are a few other interesting design flairs. HP is using a new, angular logo on the back of the machine that looks much sharper than the goofy circle logo you're used to. On the inside, the speaker grating is styled to look like repeating triangles, to either side of the keyboard. And the inside hinge is this curved, open arc. It's not something you'd typically see on a computer, and that makes it stand out in a nice way. Nash says it "steals from cabinetry or the high end furniture department."
Despite being thinner, the Spectre 13 doesn't make some of the tradeoffs the MacBook does. There are three USB-C ports here (two of which support Thunderbolt) and a headphone jack, so there's room to plug accessories in and still keep the computer charged. The Spectre 13 also has a surprisingly deep keyboard. It's really clicky and natural to type on; I was able to adjust to it immediately while testing the computer during a briefing with HP. The trackpad, on the other hand, is a bit smaller than those on other HP laptops. It worked okay in my initial test, though it kept picking up unintentional input from my thumb while resting at the trackpad's edge. Since there's no touchscreen here, it'll be critical for the trackpad to work really well.
HP will begin taking preorders for the Spectre 13 on April 25th, with pricing starting at $1,169.99. It'll begin shipping sometime in May. Later that month, on May 22nd, a model will go on sale at Best Buy for $1,249.99. That's around the same time we'll be able to test the Spectre 13, to see whether it just looks like a premium laptop or if it can actually perform like one, too.
How long will it stay the thinnest?
Nash says that HP was only able to make the Spectre 13 by building on the work it did creating last year's Spectre x360 — itself a stylish laptop aimed at the same market segment. And he teases that HP will be able to improve on the Spectre 13's design using what it's learned by building this model over the last year.
That could mean keeping HP on top in the battle for thinnest laptop. I asked Nash how long he expects HP to keep the title. "I dunno," he says. "I think you probably could build thinner but it would get very, very hot. Maybe you could nail thinner but you wouldn't get the battery life."
But that's only if the laptop is going with Core i. "Could somebody build a 9.4mm Core M device?" Nash asks. "Probably. Who cares."
Photography: James Bareham / The Verge.