HP's Spectre is a commuter's dream machine. It's the slimmest laptop we’ve ever tested, making it super easy to slip into your work bag before you leave for the office. And while other ultraslim laptops offer shallow, uncomfortable keyboards, the typing experience on the Spectre is a joy. It's really speedy, too.
Unfortunately, the Spectre's below-average battery life undercuts its selling point as an ultraportable work machine. Plus, its port selection is limited. Otherwise, it's hard to find fault with a laptop this sleek and versatile.
The Spectre's slim design is stunning. Measuring 0.41 inches thick and weighing 2.45 lbs., it makes superportable systems like the Lenovo Yoga 900 (0.59 inches and 2.8 lbs.) and Dell XPS 13 (0.6 inches and 2.7 lbs.) look downright chunky. There's a caveat, though: the Spectre has a larger footprint than the Yoga 900 or XPS 13. In fact, the XPS 13 (11.98 x 7.88 inches) is a lot more compact overall than the Spectre (12.8 x 9.03 inches), even if it's a bit thicker.
The Spectre isn't just thin and light — it's also a gorgeous piece of tech. The system's shiny copper hinge, which has a mirror-smooth finish, oozes luxury. I could complain about the hinge picking up fingerprints, but that's a small price to pay for a notebook that looks this sophisticated.
Don't expect any extra durability credentials here, though. The Spectre is a consumer-focused system, and while it feels sturdy, it's not certified to withstand drops, dings, extreme temperatures or humidity. Workers who want that kind of protection should give the business-class HP EliteBook Folio G1 a look.
Connectivity options are limited to three USB-C ports on the back of the system. All three are good for charging, data transfer and video out, and two of them have Thunderbolt 3 support for connecting up to two external 4K monitors. It's nice to see HP embracing USB-C — which is quickly becoming the standard connector for mobile devices — but the lack of a full-size USB port could be a nuisance for workers who want to plug in older accessories. Thankfully, adapter cables for both USB 3.0 and Ethernet are included in the box. You'll have to shell out for an HDMI adapter if you need one, though. That's the price you pay for a device this thin.
The Spectre's display is 13.3 inches of bright, 1080p bliss. The 1920 x 1080-pixel panel cranks out crisp text and vivid colors. While watching the HD trailer for Disney's "Moana," I could make out every blade of grass in a lush field, and the vibrant blue waves really popped.
The display is brighter than any of its rivals, which is nice for a system this mobile; a bright display is easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight. Topping out at 359 nits of brightness, it far outshines the XPS 13 (318 nits) and Yoga 900 (284 nits).
Keep in mind that since this is a consumer-focused laptop, its display has a glossy finish that picks up a lot of reflections. Glossy screens tend to look sharper and more colorful, but for work I might prefer an anti-glare matte screen like you'll find on business-class ultraportable such as Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
The Spectre comes equipped with a Trusted Platform Module, which enables hardware-based encryption. It lacks biometric authentication, though, so it can't sign you in with a fingerprint reader or facial recognition. Then again, neither the Yoga 900 nor the XPS 13 offers those features, either. That’s typical for consumer-focused systems.
The Spectre has set a new standard for keyboard comfort on ultraslim laptops. HP did not compromise on the typing experience here, offering a relatively generous 1.3 millimeters of key travel on each stroke.
That's slightly lower than the 1.5 mm that we look for, but the keys felt so responsive and snappy that I hardly noticed. I never once wished for my desktop keyboard while typing out this review on the Spectre, and I'm a picky typist.
Mobile workers will love the Spectre's svelte design, but they'll lament its subpar battery life. The system ran for just 6 hours and 13 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's nearly 2 full hours shorter than average, and well behind rival systems such as Lenovo's Yoga 900 (7:57) and Dell's nontouch XPS 13 (11:54). Those are both better options for workers who want a laptop that's guaranteed to last through a long business flight.
The Spectre blew through every productivity task I threw at it without a hint of slowdown. The system offers really powerful performance compared to any ultraportable laptop, which is pretty impressive, considering its thin profile.
My review unit came equipped with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage. That allowed me to edit a large spreadsheet while switching between more than a dozen tabs in my Chrome browser — including one streaming HD video — without any hiccups.
In fact, the Spectre bested all rivals on the Geekbench 3 performance test, which measures overall performance. It racked up an impressive score of 7,026, topping the Core i7-powered Yoga 900 (6,264) and the Core i5-powered Dell XPS 13 (6,391).
It also screamed on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in just 3 minutes and 56 seconds. That beats both the Yoga 900 (4:18) and XPS 13 (4:38).
HP sells the Spectre in a handful of hardware configurations. The low-end model comes equipped with a 13.3-inch nontouch display, a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage for $1,170. That's a pretty good sweet spot for most workers.
Our review unit was a slightly pricier model, offering a beefier Core i7 processor for $1,250. Finally, a high-end model is available with 512GB of storage for $1,500.
There's no option for a higher-resolution display, but frankly, it's for the best. Additional resolution would only drain the Spectre's battery faster, and 1080p is more than sufficient for on-the-go productivity.
Workers who prize portability above all else will adore the Spectre's unprecedented slimness. They'll also like it's top-notch keyboard, speedy performance and head-turning good looks.
But a portable design won't do you much good on the road if you're always running out of juice. The Spectre's weak battery life is its Achilles' heel, especially since its closest rival — Dell's nontouch XPS 13 — ran for nearly twice as long on the same battery test. Dell's system also provides a better selection of ports and comparable performance, though it's not as slim or sleek as HP's laptop.
Still, commuters who spend most of their time plugged in at their desk — and appreciate technology with a sense of style — might prefer the superthin Spectre.