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HP’s new leather laptop tries to reinvent the PC

HP’s new leather laptop tries to reinvent the PC


The Spectre Folio has a clever 2-in-1 design for different modes

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Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

HP is trying something different with its latest convertible laptop, and boldly claiming it’s “reinventing the PC.” While most laptops are housed in an aluminum or plastic chassis, HP’s Spectre Folio is wrapped in leather that morphs into different modes. That might sound like every other 2-in-1 on the market, but you only have to look at HP’s Spectre Folio to see it’s a little different.

HP has created a skeleton magnesium frame that attaches to the exterior leather and combined it with a tiny motherboard to maximize the amount of battery on this device. HP is claiming up to 18 hours of battery life, an impressive amount if the claims hold up. Inside, there’s an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage. HP is using a 13.3-inch FHD display with Intel’s latest 1W panel to maximize battery life. There will also be a 4K display option later this year.

The Spectre Folio collapses like a magazine

It’s the frame of the Spectre Folio that really makes it different, though. HP has used leather to create a device that collapses down like a magazine, and it even includes a spine and stitching so it looks like a book when it’s closed. The mode switching is pretty seamless, too. You can use it in a traditional laptop mode or pull the display forward to slot it into a media mode where the keyboard is covered by the display. The trackpad remains at the front so you can navigate around if need be without having to touch the display. Once in media mode, you can then push the display flat down into a tablet mode.

HP’s bold claim of “reinventing the PC” will need to be tested with reviews of the Spectre Folio, but I was impressed at the engineering of the device during some brief time with it last month. I’ve been watching PC makers attempt wild design after wild design ever since Microsoft released its Windows 8 operating system, and there’s still not a perfect 2-in-1. There’s always a compromise along the way, whether it’s a heavy tablet or an awkward laptop mode. HP thinks it has perfected this design with the Spectre Folio so it can manage both well.

”This design is so smooth from notebook to tablet,” says Stacy Wolff, vice president of design at HP. “It’s one of the fastest… really in the industry.” I found it very fast to switch between modes, but the big test for any 2-in-1 is how the laptop mode feels on your lap. It was surprisingly sturdy and well-balanced; when I reached out to touch the screen, there was no irritating screen wobble, and it didn’t feel top heavy. The only disappointing part of this mode is a compromise on the angle of the display. You can’t push it far away from you, which is fine if you’re using it on a desk but not when you might want to adjust the display angle more to avoid screen glare. The display also has a rather large chin on it, and I would have preferred to see a more bezel-less panel like Dell’s XPS 13.

The tablet mode is largely what you’d expect, and there’s even a stylus with support for tilting and more than 4,000 levels of sensitivity. You can angle the display slightly when it’s in tablet mode, but it’s far sturdier when it’s flat. All of the different modes are supported by magnets, so there are no buttons or locks to fiddle with. HP has also kept a full aluminum keyboard with 1.5mm key travel and a glass trackpad, and I found both were similar to most Spectre laptops during my brief testing.

I was surprised HP didn’t consider an ARM-powered version of its Spectre Folio or even a 10-inch version. “We had to work in extreme partnership with Intel,” explains Wolff. “Did we look at others? We did, but it was a short journey because we really wanted to set the bar at that premium level.” It doesn’t sound like a 10-inch version is in the works, either. Wolff says “there’s a lot of noise and a lot of different form factors” in the 10-inch space, and it’s not always about the productivity devices HP is known for.

HP is pushing toward more premium devices

Either way, leather is clearly the key component of this design. It’s there to make the Spectre Folio feel more premium and like a book when it’s folded away. How that leather holds up, especially on the palm rests, will be interesting to see. HP isn’t releasing any type of treatment for the leather, and any wear might be similar to Microsoft’s Surface Laptop. “It is designed for disassembly,” says Wolff, hinting that the leather exterior could be replaced in the future.

Aside from the leather, it’s clear HP is experimenting with the Folio. It’s hiring animators and fashion designers in what feels like a bigger push to capture some of the premium laptop market that Apple has dominated. Microsoft has also tried a similar approach with its Surface line, and HP clearly wants a laptop that stands out.

HP is planning to release this Spectre Folio as a Best Buy exclusive and on An Intel Core i5 model will be priced at $1,299, and the Core i7 model will be $1,399. There’s even an LTE variant with a Core i7 processor for $1,499, and the 4K display option and burgundy color will be available in December.

Photography by Tom Warren / The Verge