(Pocket-lint) - We've long heard Apple lauded for its laptop ranges, but the Cupertino company has arguably taken its eye off the ball of late: the MacBook Air looks a bit stale these days and the MacBook Pro hasn't changed much in a few years.
That gives Windows laptops like the HP Spectre x360 the chance to show off new design and innovation. And the x360 is really going for it. Created in association with Microsoft, this HP Spectre could become one of the lead laptops to drool after once Windows 10 arrives in July 2015.
Does it deserve the attention? Absolutely. The HP Spectre x360 looks great, feels great and has the stamina to get you through the day. All while costing a bit less than most of the competition, starting at £799.
If you want to make a slim and expensive-feeling laptop then aluminium is the go-to material these days. And it's what 90 per cent of the HP Spectre x360 is made of.
The lid, the keyboard surround and the underside are all aluminium, making the laptop feel quite a lot like a MacBook Pro. It's a bit curvier in parts, and borrowing from Apple in laptop-land is such an old and repeated tale it's barely worth telling. But it's a handy shorthand to use before we start telling you exactly how the HP Spectre x360 is different.
This is definitely an ultraportable, Ultrabook-style laptop - but it's actually a bit wider and heavier than something like a Dell XPS 13. Why? Just look at the 12.5-hour battery life claims. You don't get a Windows laptop to last for that many hours without packing in a pretty big battery unit.
In our experience, having used the laptop as our main work device, we found approaching 10 hours is closer to the mark. But that's not bad going, eh?
While the HP Spectre x360 may not be the absolute lightest laptop around (it weighs 1.44kg), it is light enough to carry around with you in a bag every day. It's a shade lighter than the MacBook Pro 13, for example.
HP has employed a killer feature too: the "360" of the Spectre x360's name refers to its ability to flip its screen around, to make it a giant 13.3-inch tablet. Of course, looking at it like this is really to get the wrong end of the stick.
Holding a 13.3-inch, 1.5kg tablet ain't fun. However, being able to pitch it in a tent-like position on those tiny train tables or turn the keyboard into a knee stand are both worthwhile forms.
The HP Spectre x360 automatically switches off its keyboard when the screen is rotated around back, so you're not going to accidentally delete all your treasured photos by pressing keys with those knobbly knees.
There's no magic to how this 360-degree mechanism works. Well, engineering-wise there might be, but from a consumer point of view it's easy as pie to use. Quite simply, it's like a normal laptop hinge that doesn't stop when it hits the usual 130-degree mark. It just keeps on going, while being able to hold itself at any angle (as long as you don't go flapping it about, that is). The HP x360 feels secure and strong, not like a weak link that might fail two months in.
Is this hinge a must-have? Absolutely not. But it gives HP a defining feature extra over the competition. And unlike the Lenovo Yoga Pro 3, it doesn't seem to mean a price hike for the pleasure.
HP has also sprinkled some magic on the Spectre x360's screen. It's a 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS LCD display. That might not be enough to earn it Apple's Retina badge, but it's as high-res as you can go without bumping into scaling issues with a screen of this size. Besides, plenty of Windows apps still look quite, well, wrong on ultra-high ppi portable laptops.
HP also makes a version of the laptop with a QHD (2560 x 1440 resolution) screen, but as that bumps up the price by £200 (although that version comes with other upgrades, mind) it's a league or two above the exact one we're reviewing.
The 1080p screen in our review x360 offers great colour and solid viewing angles, with the usual slight loss of brightness you get when viewing anything but the very best IPS screen off-axis.
It's a glossy screen too, a sign that HP is aiming for a real mainstream audience here, rather than the more hardcore crowd where something like the Lenovo X1 Carbon's matte panel might appeal.
Crank the brightness up high and the HP Spectre x360's blacks start looking a little blueish, but stick to 50-60 per cent brightness and they look just about perfect. That's all you'll need for using the laptop at home or in Starbucks, anyway. And students looking for a laptop that will double as an Netflix-flinging TV-replacer could do much worse than to get hold of a HP Spectre x360.
What sets this HP screen apart from that of any Apple laptop or the recent bargain-tastic Asus UX305 is that is also has a touchscreen - as you may have already garnered from its self-professed tablet skills. It uses the same capacitive tech as any tablet or, for example, the Microsoft Surface Pro, which makes it feels great in use.
Touchpad and keyboard
Check out that trackpad: it's bloomin' massive. As well as giving you lots of room to play with, being around half as wide as the screen, it makes using all the gestures that Windows 8.1 supports a doddle. Not all of these are enabled as standard, though, but you can even use three-finger button presses and four-finger flicks if you really want to go for it.
It's a glass-topped trackpad so feels nice and smooth, the only real issue being that when you're not used to it, it's easy to rest an idle thumb over it while flicking the cursor around with your other hand. There are palm detection measures to help out, but we ended up disabling them in order to make the pad feel as responsive as possible.
When it comes to clicking, the x360 has a very deep depression that gives strong feedback but also causes a decent amount of noise. It'll create fans and haters alike, we're sure.
The keyboard is a bit more conventional. It's your classic Ultrabook chiclet design, with crisp-but-slightly-shallow feedback. It's similar to, and about as good as, Apple's traditional laptop keyboard (not the odd, ultra-shallow one of the 12-inch MacBook).
Its one obvious keyboard customisation is something fairly sensible given the Twitter-savvy crowd likely to pick up a HP Spectre x360. Look at the keyboard's right side: there's a giant hashtag button. Did we accidentally press it a dozen times when trying to hit the Enter button? Absolutely. But you'll get used to that within a day or so.
The HP Spectre x360 has a keyboard backlight too. It's not variable and the backlight function button (F5) stays lit whenever the thing is off which is a bit distracting. But don't dwell on it too much otherwise it'll make your OCD flare up.
It's starting to seem like the HP Spectre x360 is the laptop that has just about everything. And it's not too shabby on the power front, either.
It uses the Intel Core i5-5200U CPU clocked at 2.2GHz. It's the same CPU used by the Acer Aspire S7 and gets you a lot more power than one of the Intel Core M CPUs we're starting see appear on many long-lasting laptops, including the new 12-inch MacBook.
The HP Spectre x360 only has integrated Intel HD 5500 graphics, but that'll let you play some pretty modern games at low settings. We tried the cult favourite Euro Truck Simulator 2, and it handles the game perfectly well at medium settings. That's better than we were expecting, if anything.
To equate this HP to the MacBook line-up, it's more powerful than the MacBook Air 13, but a bit less punchy than the MacBook Pro 13. But then the closest equivalent MacBook Pro 13 to this particular version would cost you £1,199, which is £300 extra.
You can get he HP Spectre x360 in a few different specification setups too. Our test version has 8GB RAM and 256GB, costing £899 direct from HP. Direct from the maker again, the QHD screen version is £1,199 and also gets you 512GB SSD and an Intel Core i7 CPU. That's not a bad deal at all.
Elsewhere, there's a (relatively) budget model with 128GB and 4GB RAM for £799. However, if you're going to dump some more demanding bits and bobs on the HP Spectre x360, the 8GB RAM upgrade is probably worth the extra.
Performance with the 8GB version on review here is pretty much perfect; smooth as you like. The SSD isn't the insanely fast kind found on some of the latest MacBook Pro models, but with read speeds of 450MB/s and writes of around 250MB/s, it's still lightyears faster than a standard hard drive.
If you're not going to push the HP Spectre x360 much, it'll stay pretty cool and silent. Straightforward office work just builds up a little warmth towards the back of its underside. After gaming for a while, however, the left part of the underside does get pretty toasty as HP hasn't worked too much on making heat distribution even. But then if you want a gaming or ultra-performance laptop, this isn't it.
One more obvious niggle is the speakers. They fire out of each side of the Spectre x360, but sound a little bit weedy compared to other beefier-sounding Ultrabooks. If you are out for a Netflix machine, consider getting hold of some separate speakers too.
It's a pretty small complaint about a laptop that gets almost everything just-about right, though. And if you want to use this as the brains of monitor-equipped home PC, there's nothing stopping you. With an HDMI port, mini DisplayPort and three USB 3.0 sockets, connectivity is very good for a pretty skinny and light machine.
At first glance the HP Spectre x360 may seem to rely on gimmicky extras a little too much. A 360-degree hinge, ultra-wide trackpad and touchscreen may put off some people who are just out for a long-lasting, slim laptop.
But don't be put off. These features are worthy additions to what is already a rock-solid, high-value portable laptop. The x360 works just about perfectly as an everyday workhorse thanks to its great battery life and sound aluminium design.
Starting at £799, it manages to make Apple's laptops look expensive once more, something not many Windows machines have managed of late. And it's even more affordable than the like-minded Lenovo Yoga Pro 3.
For real budget buyers, the Asus Zenbook UX305 gets you more of a cut-throat system that still seems high-end. However, if you also want glossy extras like a keyboard backlight, versatlie hinge design and touchscreen, then jump right in: the HP Spectre x360 is an accomplished all-rounder.