Look at the high-end, stylish Windows laptops released over the last five years and you'll see quite a lot that look a bit like a MacBook of one kind or another. The HP Spectre 13 is a concerted attempt to make something that looks about as far from a MacBook as possible, while still having the same level of design and portability cred.
Indeed, like us, you might even think it looks better. But this laptop has caused many a raised eyebrow. Some of you will love it. Others will be blinded by the light reflecting off its shiny bits.
At £1299, though, it's a pretty massive investment. And it's not the all-purpose beast a MacBook Pro at the same price offers. Is its standout design enough to make it the Windows 10 laptop to go for?
HP Spectre 13 review: Design
HP doesn't want the HP Spectre 13 to look like any old laptop, and it certainly doesn't. The shape may be similar to that of last year's 13-inch HP Spectre x360, but its visual impact is in an entirely different class.
If the Aztecs still existed and formed a tech company, the HP Spectre 13 is the sort of laptop you could imagine them coming up with. There are more than a few jutting angles here and there, the HP logo has been given a fancy chopped-up haircut, while the ultra-glossy gold-colour metal used to form the laptop's hinge make the Spectre 13 something you can imagine being buried in some rich guy's tomb as a prized possession (ok, so maybe we're mixing up our Aztecs and Egyptians a bit - you get the idea though).
The lid and main part of the Spectre 13 are metallic grey, cast in aluminium. This clashes dramatically with the gold of the backside, which returns in the lettering and sides of the keyboard keys, but in more muted form.
Its big banner claim has nothing to do with the colour accents, though. HP says this is the thinnest laptop ever, at 10mm thick. It sure is supremely thin, and brilliantly light too, at just 1.3kg. That's closer to the weight of some 11-inch laptops, and similar to the MacBook Air.
What makes this HP a truly successful design is that there's no sense of structural compromise to get down to those skinny dimensions. The Spectre 13 is stiff as you like, which may be helped by the use of carbon fibre on the bottom instead of aluminium.
HP Spectre 13 review: Connections
The Spectre 13 is clearly meant to be a vision of the laptop that grabs some attention. Has it gone too far, though? HP has ditched all traditional USB ports and all standard video connections in favour of USB Type-C ports. This is the kind used in the 12-inch MacBook - the same laptop that may thought was too far ahead of its time.
There's one port used to charge the laptop, while another two are compatible with the Thunderbolt 3.0 standard. That means you get loads of bandwidth, enough to connect multiple high-data peripherals if you attach the right hub or connector.
You only get the one USB-C-to-USB cable in the box, letting you plug in, say, a mouse or external hard drive. If you're someone forever attaching things to your laptop rather than simply firing whatever you're working on up to Google Drive, this may get on your nerves. There's also no memory card slot, which is another potential headache to deal with. All the ports sit on the back too.
The HP Spectre 13's ports are powerful little things, but make sure you're prepared to live with them before you drop nearly £1300 or more on one of these.
For all its glamour and forward-looking connectors, the HP Spectre 13 is ultimately a very traditional laptop. The hinge extends back less than most and it doesn't even have a touchscreen. HP doesn't think a laptop needs so be slathered in tablet sauce to justify its existence - and nor do we, especially one this good looking.
HP Spectre 13 review: Screen and keyboard
The Spectre 13's display is great too, even though it doesn't jam in as many pixels as you might expect for the cash. This is a 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS LCD screen. Yep, it's not OLED like the top-end Spectre x360 either.
Still, colour and contrast are both great. Colours aim for a natural look rather than an overblown one, while contrast levels destroy the quasi-rival Lenovo Yoga 900. This is a tasteful screen.
However, as there's no touchscreen you have to use the trackpad to control 24/7. It's a big pad with a super-smooth surface, and a mouse button response that, for once, just feels right. Loads of Windows laptops have issues with button layout, or the workings of their trackpad drivers. But it seems HP has put in the extra effort required here.
The HP Spectre 13's keyboard is good too. Its key action is very crisp and light, with the sort of definition you can only get in an ultra-rigid laptop frame. It feels a little more hollow than the keys of a MacBook Pro, and the key action bottoms-out abruptly, but in a 10mm-thick laptop the Spectre is a bit of an achievement. We could type away on it all day without problems, and indeed have been.
As you'd expect of a laptop this pricey, the HP Spectre 13 has a keyboard backlight. However, it doesn't have a graduated backlight intensity control, which would have been nice.
HP Spectre 13 review: Performance
If having a decent keyboard in a laptop this thin is a nice surprise, the CPU the HP Spectre 13 packs-in is a bit of a jaw-dropper. instead of the Intel Core M series processor used in a lot of very thin and light laptops it has an Intel Core-i7-6500U.
This chipset can produce a lot more heat than a Core M, requiring fans that snatch up more of the minimal space available in this tiny frame. But HP has managed it, somehow.
It means the HP Spectre 13 absolutely has the power to become most people's "main" computer. It'll glide through Photoshop tasks, and can handle more intense tasks like serious video editing, which a Core M will struggle with a little.
Its 8GB RAM tells you this really isn't meant to be a number-crunching powerhouse, but the 512GB-as-standard SSD does help explain why the HP Spectre 13 is quite as expensive as it is. High-capacity SSDs still aren't cheap.
The Spectre 13 can even handle some recent-ish games if you really turn down the visuals. This is far from a gaming machine, but the Intel HD 520 graphics used in this chipset probably aren't as bad as you might imagine. It'll out-game an iPad.
There are a couple of ways you pay for this extra power, though. The first is noise. Its CPU fan whirs away all the time, which you might find distracting if you're used to a passively-cooled laptop. Almost all Core i-based laptops have an always-on fan, though.
Where this becomes a bit of an issue is when you start stressing the laptop with heavyweight tasks. At the slightest whiff of exertion the fans become quite a lot louder, struggling to ferry all the heat created by the CPU through the little heat vents by the back-most bit of the gold hinge. Not to say that other laptops don't do this, we're fairly used to it in the MacBook Pro - although that only tends to kick in serious fanning when fully necessary.
The HP Spectre 13 acts like a star, basically, getting in a bit of a hissy fit if you ask it to do too much. We didn't see it overheating despite playing high-end-ish games for a decent chunk of time, though. Pop in your headphones or turn on a podcast and just forget the whirr.
HP Spectre 13 review: Battery life and sound
Battery life does make us wonder what a HP Spectre 13 with a Core M CPU would feel like, though. With a Core i7 CPU its stamina is fair, but not close to the longest-lasting ultra-portable laptops.
If you put in some overtime, the HP Spectre 13 won't last you a full work day either. And we can't really argue if that's a deal-breaker for you. Using the machine for writing and browsing, it lasts just under seven hours. That's not terrible, but is a way off the eight-hours-plus we ideally want to see from an everyday portable work machine.
Give the Spectre 10 a very tight task like playing back a locally stored video and it'll last a couple of hours more, but as soon as you hear those fans working a bit harder, you know the battery drain is ramping-up. And it doesn't take all that much.
It's a great excuse for HP to come up with a cheaper, but still as nice, Core M version soon, though. So here's hoping.
One aspect we'd like to see improved, too, is the speaker array. As you'd guess from looking at the laptop, the sounds comes out of the patterned grilles to the left and right of the keyboard.
They're Bang & Olufsen speakers, and go reasonably loud. However, they don't have the extra mid-range or bass mileage of a genuinely decent laptop speaker - again, the result of a super-slim build. You'll occasionally hear some mid-range distortion at max volume too. You may get a hi-fi name, but you don't really get hi-fi sound.
Quality, quality, quality with a side order of shiny gold hot pants is the HP Spectre 13's way. Whereas other recent HP laptops have made a great impression with their price, this one wants to make its design presence the appeal.
It works, particularly as the build quality, screen colour and contrast, keyboard and trackpad are all sound. The use of a punchy Intel Core i7 CPU is great in power terms, but it does mean the Spectre 13 is both noisier and less long-lasting than you might hope for.
We still find a pricey but USB-less, memory card-less Windows laptop hard to swallow for £1300. But then we just take another look at that super design and almost all is forgiven. In the style stakes this is the Windows 10 laptop few other companies can compete against.
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