MWC 2015 Preview – HP Spectre x360

Upon hearing the news that my beloved Surface (RT) 2 wouldn’t be receiving a full Window 10 update, I started looking around at replacement options. And while I’ve seen a lot of great looking laptops, ultrabooks, and tablets, like the new Dell XPS 13 or the newest Lenovo Yogas, nothing really caught my eye. Believe me, the Dell XPS 13 looks great for a fairly standard looking and fairly pricy laptop, but since I’m used to Surface-level hardware, I was looking for something better. And then I saw this guy get announced on the MWC show floor. If you’re looking for a new or replacement laptop, you would do well to give HP’s new high end entry a look.

Out of all the MWC laptops and 2-in-1s that were announced, this was the only one to catch my eye. It has a machined aluminum construction that looks exquisite, yet it doesn’t ape the style of other fruit-based offerings. This is probably because the Spectre x360 is a collaborative design effort between HP and Microsoft. And if getting Microsoft involved in the design process creates something like this, I encourage other OEMs to do the same.

Specs

Inside the machine, you’ll find a fairly standard complement of componants, including the latest Intel Broadwell U-series Core i5 and Core i7 options, at least 4 GB of RAM, 2×2 802.11 AC wireless, and an M.2 SATA SSD with options from 128GB to 512 GB. HP’s decision to include an M.2 SATA drive rather than the faster M.2 PCIe type was based on a cost/power ratio. HP decided to gamble on using a slightly slower 128GB drive rather than a slightly faster 64GB drive. I think they chose right. In my experience, just having an SSD will be quick enough for most people, whether it be a SATA component or a PCIe component. I doubt most users would be complaining about speed.

The display panel is also a 13.3″ IPS LED panel with 10-point touch that comes in 1080p or QHD resolutions. I haven’t seen it in person yet, but from what I’ve heard, it’s quite a beauty. And with all that power and beauty, HP’s managed to throw in a battery rated at about 12 hours in real use. Once again, I haven’t tested this, but from what coverage is available so far, it looks like this battery claim is pretty accurate.

Yes, It Flips

But then there’s that hinge, and yes, this is a 2-in-1 design.

Like many modern laptops and ultrabooks, this guy’s screen flips 360 degrees so that you can use it as a laptop, or swing the keyboard around and turn it into a tablet. However, this is the first hinge I’ve seen that does this without protruding in any meaningful way. The above picture is of the laptop closed, but it doesn’t look all that different from when the screen is flipped around.

The bottom is a bit rounded, so it won’t lie completely flat near the top edge of the display, but the rear quarter of the bottom panel is flat, so it shouldn’t impact your usage of the device in tablet mode. This is also a versatile and fully flexible hinge. You can set the display in literally any angle, and it will sit there. According to PCWorld, there is still some monitor wobble to be found with this hinge, but it’s significantly better than Lenovo’s offerings.

Keyboard

Finally, let’s talk about the keyboard. This is the one thing that has prevented me from buying an HP for several years. Their keyboards simply suck. They typically use shallow island-style keys with weird media buttons on the side that make touch typing simply ridiculous.

However, for this laptop, Microsoft and HP wanted to get the keyboard right. During the press conference, they said they spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get the keyboard right. While it’s hard to tell from afar, it does look good. The keys are better spaced out than the Dell XPS 13, which always seemed a bit cramped to me. Key travel is rated at 1.5mm, which is pretty darn good.

HP Makes the Next Surface?

HP’s collaboration with Microsoft made this happen. While HP can probably be credited for most of the design of the laptop, we can’t really be clear of exactly how much influence Microsoft had on the hardware. What we do know is that Microsoft had some significant impact on the design of the software.

Reportedly, Microsoft received prototypes of the device from HP’s manufacturing partners at the same time as HP did. HP submitted final system images to Microsoft for testing before the product was even finished. No OEM has ever done that before with Microsoft. However, the results shine. This laptop will be mostly bloat free, will run well and optimized thanks to Microsoft helping to craft system drivers, and Microsoft was able to optimize the drivers to such an extent that battery life increased from 11 hours to 16 hours.

In any case, I’ll definitely be taking a look at this laptop for a future replacement. Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that nobody up until now has actually worked with Microsoft to this extent. I can understand that by giving Microsoft a portion of the reigns for creating the system build, that the OEM is potentially losing out on competitive advantages. Afterall, if an OEM finds a bug or a driver update and patches it for their own models without telling Microsoft, they will retain an advantage over competitors. However, this attitude degenerates the entire Microsoft ecosystem and prevents real performance progress from happening on an industry level. I’d rather that OEMs like HP start working to improve the entire market, and work on things like design or quality or price to differentiate their products.

Price

Oh yeah, price. Well that’s also the best part of this story. Most of the high end ultrabooks or 2-in-1s with these kind of specs run from $1200 – $2000. By keeping prices down with decisions like using M.2 SATA instead of M.2 PCIe, HP has managed to bring the starting price of this laptop down to $900.

A $900 starting build will get you a U-series Core i5, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. However, for $100 more, you get 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which provides a great price/performance ratio.

Even Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 will only give you an i3, 4GB of RAM, and a paltry 64GB SSD for $900.

In any case, I’m going to keep an eye on this guy. While I can’t fully confirm that it’s good stuff until I have my hands on one, it looks pretty promising.