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HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2019) review: yeah, this tracks

HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2019) review: yeah, this tracks


HP has finally addressed the major flaw with its Spectre laptops: the trackpad

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There’s really just one thing you need to know about the latest Spectre x360 13 from HP: the trackpad doesn’t suck. For years, HP has built excellent laptops under the Spectre branding that have all been let down by terrible trackpads. The company insisted on sticking with poor performing Synaptics drivers, even while the rest of the Windows laptop industry (including HP’s own business laptops) switched to the far superior Precision drivers provided by Microsoft.

But HP has seen the error of its ways (or it got tired of reading reviews bemoaning its trackpads), and the new Spectre x360 13 finally uses Microsoft’s Precision drivers. Combined with a smooth glass surface and large size, it is now a good trackpad. The latest x360 also has an updated chassis with slimmer bezels, Intel’s 10th Gen processors, and an aggressive starting price of $1,099 ($1,299, as reviewed).

The Spectre x360 has long been a strong contender in the world of premium 2-in-1 convertible Windows laptops, with the aforementioned trackpad issues being the main thing that held it back. But this year, it has some serious competition from Dell, with its latest XPS 13 2-in-1, including similar internal components and an updated design, not to mention an excellent trackpad.

Still, HP holds its own, and choosing between the two will really come down to personal preference and how much you’re willing to spend on a new laptop.

The newest Spectre x360 looks very similar to the prior models, but HP has made some crucial tweaks and improvements to the design. The most important one is smaller bezels all around the screen, which not only look more modern and bring HP in line with what Dell has offered for years, but they also allow the machine to have a smaller footprint than before. The x360 is now nearly a full inch shorter than the prior model, but it has the same 13.3-inch display. HP boasts that the x360 13 is now the “world’s smallest convertible with 90 percent screen-to-body ratio,” which is such a hilariously heavily qualified claim that I had to share it with you.

Even with those shrunken bezels, HP still managed to include a Windows Hello-compatible webcam above the display, something Dell doesn’t offer. There’s even a hardware kill switch on the side of the computer for privacy protection, though I’d have preferred a physical shutter like the one found on HP’s Elite Dragonfly business laptop. If you don’t want to use facial recognition to log in, there’s a Windows Hello fingerprint scanner just below the keyboard that works exactly as you’d expect.

The Spectre x360 13 has a smaller footprint than Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1.
The Spectre x360 13 has a smaller footprint than Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1.
HP managed to fit a Windows Hello-compatible webcam inside the small bezel above the display.
HP managed to fit a Windows Hello-compatible webcam inside the small bezel above the display.

As part of the shrinking, HP moved the speakers from just above the keyboard to the underside of the laptop where most 2-in-1 computers have them. I didn’t really notice a huge difference in the speaker performance with the change — they are still loud and clear and sounded quite nice when watching the latest season of The Expanse or in video calls.

Sadly, despite offering three different display configurations, including a 4K OLED option, HP is still using a 16:9 aspect ratio, which isn’t as comfortable to use for productivity work as a 3:2 or even 16:10 screen. That cramped feeling is magnified on a 13.3-inch screen, and it just feels so much smaller than the XPS 13 2-in-1’s or Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 when browsing the web or working in documents.

The review unit I’ve been testing has HP’s low-power 1W 1080p display, which is bright and vibrant and works well for both everyday work and media consumption. It’s not as punchy and jaw-dropping as the OLED screen would be, but it has better battery life and a much lower price tag so it’s likely the best option for most people. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1’s display beats this one in max brightness and aspect ratio, however.

The new x360 has the same sharp-to-touch and sharp-to-look-at beveled sides as the last few iterations. It also has the same port selection: two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports and a microSD card slot on the right and a 3.5mm audio jack and USB-A port on the left. The USB-A port is now half-covered by a trap door that I assume allows HP to fit it in a thinner chassis. Despite the trap door, I was still able to plug USB cables into the port with one hand, though it does take a little more deliberate action than before. Either way, Dell’s computer doesn’t even have a USB-A port, so this is a win for HP.

There’s a trapdoor obscuring half of the USB-A port, but it’s still possible to plug in cables with just one hand.
There’s a trapdoor obscuring half of the USB-A port, but it’s still possible to plug in cables with just one hand.

The backlit keyboard is unchanged from prior models, save for the addition of a microphone mute key in the function row. It’s a perfectly fine keyboard, with good spacing and travel, though the column of cursor control keys on the right side makes the whole thing feel a little off-center, which takes some getting used to. HP’s keycaps are a little slippery as well, but overall, the keyboard is much more traditional-feeling than Dell’s polarizing low-profile keyboard on the XPS.

As I mentioned earlier, the trackpad on the x360 is much better than before, even though it has the same dimensions and glass construction as prior models. The upgraded drivers mean everything from single finger tracking to two-finger scrolling to multifinger Windows 10 gestures are much more reliable and easier to use than on prior models. Perhaps the most significant change is the improved palm rejection; my cursor doesn’t jump erratically across the screen nearly as often when I’m typing in a document.

Like many other recent laptops, the Spectre x360 has Intel’s latest 10th Gen Core processors, in either i5 or i7 options. They are paired with the much-improved Iris Plus integrated graphics, which don’t exactly turn the x360 into a gaming computer but do help a ton with creativity workflows in apps like Photoshop and Premiere Pro.

The x360’s keyboard is well-sized and has good travel. And the trackpad finally works as it should.
The x360’s keyboard is well-sized and has good travel. And the trackpad finally works as it should.

My review unit has the Core i7-1065G7 chip with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage (boosted by 32GB of Intel’s high-speed Optane storage). It performs very similarly to other computers with this platform and has no issues handling everyday workflows of dozens of Chrome tabs, writing in Word, communicating in Slack, and keeping up with Twitter and email. It can also handle streaming 4K video from YouTube without any issue, as you’d expect.

The x360 supports Wi-Fi 6 and has an option for integrated gigabit LTE, though my review unit was not equipped with the latter. Few consumer-focused laptops even provide the option for LTE at this point, so it’s nice to see HP ahead of the curve here.

HP loves to make huge battery life claims based on local video or audio playback loops, but in mixed usage, the x360 is no different than every other modern thin-and-light laptop or 2-in-1. With my usual workflow and the brightness set to 50 percent, I averaged just under seven hours between charges, which is right in line with every other 13-inch 10th Gen laptop I’ve tested. That’s not quite a full day of use (and not nearly as impressive as the double-digit battery life I saw from prior x360 models), but unfortunately, it seems to be about all we’re going to get with current options.

Finally, while I didn’t encounter any notable bugs or software issues on the x360 in my week or so of testing, I have to note that HP still includes annoying bloatware like McAfee trials on all of its consumer laptops, even ones that cost well north of $1,000. It’s an annoying and frustrating thing to deal with on an otherwise excellent laptop, and HP should give it up.

If you’re in the market for a new thin-and-light laptop or 2-in-1 right now, the top options are this Spectre x360, Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1, or Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3. All three have sleek, modern designs, similar performance and battery life, excellent keyboards and trackpads, and bright, sharp displays.

The Spectre gives you the smallest footprint of all of them, plus both Thunderbolt 3 (which is not found on the Surface Laptop 3) and USB-A ports (which are lacking on the XPS 13 2-in-1), and it comes in at a lower price when similarly configured. The main thing you give up with the Spectre is the better screen ratios found on the Dell or Microsoft computers, which may be a deal-breaker for some. Frankly, it is for me. I much prefer a taller aspect ratio for everyday work. But if you don’t mind using a 16:9 display, then the Spectre x360 is an excellent thin-and-light 2-in-1 laptop.

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