(Pocket-lint) - Spectre is the name given to HP's top-end style laptops. They tend to be some of the most eye-catching around, but have never quite reached the level of public recognition as the Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro.

There's no downside to this mild under-appreciation for us buyers when they turn out as well as the 2020 Spectre 13 x360, though. This 13-inch laptop is slick, beautifully made, and the pricier version reviewed here provides more tech per pound than either Apple or Dell.

Want a slim laptop that can play games well? Get a cheaper HP Envy laptop instead. But otherwise the only real reason to be put off is the HP Spectre X360 13's design, which is more likely to divide opinion than almost every other laptop in this class. However, love it - and here's why.

Design

  • Dimensions: 306 x 194.5 x 16.9mm / Weight: 1.3kg
  • Aluminium case in natural silver finish

HP tries to make its Spectre series laptops stand out with bold design motifs. There was a gold and bronze Spectre one year, for example, but it's the sharp contours that are the most consistent trait.

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The HP Spectre 13 x360 is packed with unusual angles. Look at the 45-degree cut-off parts at the bottom of the screen and top of the base. Its sides are also sharply embossed, while even the keyboard keys and trackpad are severely squared-off.

It's an unusual choice when other high-end gadgets are deliberately softened. Phones have curved screens and rounded corners. TVs use subtle or curvy stands to offset the almost surround-free panels. HP takes a different approach.

Whether you like the HP Spectre 13 x360's appearance is one of the main things to think about here, because look and feel are a big part of the appeal one of these ultra-high-end laptops.

Pass the 'like' test? Then the HP Spectre 13 x360's actual construction is excellent. Its case is aluminium - and has a feel that's very similar to a MacBook, rather than the slightly more plastic-like touch of a magnesium alloy laptop.

The whole structure of the HP is also very rigid. Its screen doesn't bend. The keyboard doesn't flex. Neither do the larger blank bits below its keys. We only notice mild flexing when carrying the Spectre around with the hinge closed.

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This is also a hybrid machine, one with a 360-degree hinge. And there's no annoying wobble to the display, which affects quite a lot of hybrids, including HPs from previous years.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 is a class act - and a highly portable one too. It weighs 1.3kg and, thanks to its trim screen borders, has a very small footprint. Side-by-side with the Microsoft Surface Book 3 you'd never guess they had similar screen sizes, at least in terms of inch figures. The Spectre is radically more portable.

Screen

  • 4K BrightView micro-edge AMOLED
  • Anti-reflection Corning Gorilla Glass
  • 400-nit brightness

An incredible screen only makes the HP Spectre 13 x360 more flexible for use outdoors. We are reviewing the top-end version, which has an amazing 4K resolution OLED display. These OLED panels are easy to find in tablets, thanks to Samsung, but are rare in laptops.

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Each pixel of an OLED panel provides its own light source, resulting in contrast levels impossible with an LCD screen. In a dark room blacks still look truly black - even at max brightness - which is simply not the case with any LCD.

In your average lit room you are more likely to notice the HP Spectre 13 x360's excellent colour than this contrast. It's extremely punchy and rich. And thankfully HP baked in quick controls to let you rein in any over-saturation.

Right click on the Windows homescreen, select HP Display Control, and you can flick between sRGB, DCI P3, Adobe RGB and Native colour profiles. If you're not doing work that requires one of these standards, just trust your eyes and pick the one you prefer.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 has a glossy touchscreen, usually the enemy of the outdoors, but we are highly impressed by its visibility outside. This laptop has an excellent reflection-busting coating that copes with direct sunlight very well. You will want to use maximum brightness outdoors still, but can even get away with watching a movie in the sun.

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There are just two negatives to the OLED display. It is harder on the battery than the 1080p LCD used in the cheaper versions, and LCDs tend to be a little better at making whites look pure. But when rivals offer laptops with LCD screens for more money, the HP Spectre 13 x360 starts to look like a good deal.

You also get a stylus in the box. It's a pressure sensitive full-size pen that you can happily use as a doodling tool.

Keyboard and trackpad

  • HP Imagepad touchpad with glass surface
  • Keyboard backlight
  • Full-size keys

We've seen a few companies follow Apple's lead in making very shallow keyboards with little key travel. Dell has done it. Asus has too. But the HP Spectre 13 x360 has conventional key depth, and is therefore great for typing.

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The keys have a pleasant springy feel, with a good amount of tactile feedback. No keys apart from the up/down directionals feel small. There's a backlight too.

No space is wasted here, and the extra row of function keys to the right tells you where the real space savings are made. The space between the front lip of the HP to the back of the hinge is unusually small. This is a "short" laptop", leaving relatively little room for the touchpad.

It leaves the pad as a wide and squat rectangle, which you may not love if, say, you are upgrading from an old MacBook Pro. If we were planning on doing some in-depth Photoshop work on an image at home, we'd consider plugging in a mouse.

However, size aside, the HP Spectre 13 x360's touchpad is great. Its surface is textured glass, the clicker is firm but not laboured - and there's no wobbly slack to it. And if HP had used a taller trackpad, the entire laptop would need to be larger.

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Most usual extra features are here too, including a fingerprint scanner below the arrow keys for sign-in.

However, a Windows Hello compatible camera is the one missing part - so you can't sign in using your face. The webcam itself is not good either as it's a 720p camera whose image looks soft even when there's plenty of light around. This seems a shame when most of us are video calling more than ever before.

Connections

  • 2x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C (Thunderbolt 3)
  • USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
  • Wi-Fi 6 ax 201 (2x2)

Given the minimal attention given to the camera, it's perhaps a little surprising the HP Spectre X360 13 has a security slider on the side. This disables the camera, to give those worried about privacy peace of mind.

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General connectivity is fairly good for an ultra-slim laptop too. The Spectre has two USB-C ports (both specced up to the fast Thunderbolt 3.0 standard), a single full-size traditional USB-A, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a microSD slot.

HP also uses the cut-off corners of the laptop, one for a USB-C, another for the power button. Having a cable sprouting out at a 45-degree angle looks odd, but has not caused any practical issues.

Performance

  • Intel Core i7-1065G7
  • 16 GB LPDDR4-3200 RAM
  • 1TB SSD with 32 GB Intel Optane Memory

We noticed only one little performance issue with the HP Spectre 13 x360, and it's something you can tweak. Leave the laptop sitting for a while and it takes longer than most to get back running again. However, this is likely because it enters a hibernation mode after four hours, rather than the usual sleep mode it can recover from in a second. You can change this in Windows's power settings.

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The HP Spectre 13 x360 has a low voltage processor, the same as just about every other recent high-end laptop in this class. It's the Intel Core i7-1065G7, paired with a hefty 16GB RAM and a fast 1TB SSD. This SSD is one of benefits of buying a Spectre over the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (which has a 512GB SSD in the spec that costs more).

Lots of storage and RAM let you use the HP Spectre 13 x360 lazily. You can install more apps, keep more tabs open, and not feel the effect as quickly as you might in an 8GB RAM laptop. It's a great workhorse in that regard.

We also regularly edit massive images and video on computers less powerful than this one, so the Spectre makes light work of it all. That said, those who edit video all day should also consider a laptop with more power and shorter battery life.

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The HP Spectre 13 x360 is not great for gaming either, just like every other Spectre laptop we've reviewed. HP's own, cheaper, Envy 13 is actually much better for games. It has an Nvidia MX350 GPU, a low-end card but one that can play much newer games more comfortably.

The Spectre is a generally quiet laptop, too, one whose fan system doesn't create too much noise even when working maxed-out. However, after a period of heavy use the underside does become quite warm.

Battery life

  • 60Wh battery
  • 65W USB-C charger
  • Fast charge: 50% in 30mins

The HP Spectre 13 x360 has a fairly high capacity battery considering its small footprint. It's a 60Wh cell, a good chunk larger than the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1's 51Wh battery.

Judging by HP's own claims the OLED screen has a significant impact on battery life. It says the LCD Spectre lasts up to 16 hours 30 minutes of video playback, and this OLED version 11 hours.

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We found it just about reaches the all-day standard when streaming YouTube, lasting seven hours and 55 minutes. Working away on it at maximum brightness the battery lasted around five hours.

In an ideal world the HP Spectre 13 x360 would last an hour or two longer, but a battery hit seems a fair compromise in this case. You still have the option of better stamina and a less impressive LCD screen if that is what you'd prefer.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 uses one of the USB-C ports to charge. You'll only have access to one when it's plugged in, which makes us all the more grateful HP kept a USB-A connector here.

Verdict

The Spectre x360 has a very small footprint, and is light but also about as rigid as they come. But the attention to detail in the design goes far further than all the sharp angles and machined aluminium. 

The screen doesn't wobble and its 4K OLED panel looks great in both a cinema-like dimmed room and outdoors on a bright and sunny day. The keyboard is great, the trackpad is smooth, and you get Thunderbolt connectors for your new gear, as well as a USB-A for all those old accessories.

Sure, an HP Envy is still a more practical choice if you want to spend less and play games more. But it doesn't have a number of the Spectre's stand-out features.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 is one of the best slim and light laptops HP has ever made. Indeed, it's easily one of the best slim and light laptops released this year.

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Also consider

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Microsoft Surface Book 13

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The Surface Book is a more dynamic hybrid than this HP, with a fully detachable screen. Spend big and you can also get one with a fairly powerful graphics card. However, it is far bigger and much heavier than the HP, and barely seems portable by comparison. The Microsoft's chunky screen borders also look a little dated in 2020.

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MacBook Pro 13

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Apple doesn't make a true hybrid laptop - but a MacBook Pro 13 seems a sensible alternative to the HP Spectre 13 x360. We love Apple's touchpad, and while the screen doesn't match this one's OLED for contrast, it's still great. However, to roughly match them spec-for-spec you have to spend far more with Apple.

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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

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This is the HP's clearest rival. It costs a little more at RRP, the battery is smaller, and you can't get it with an OLED screen. But it's a great laptop, and one to consider if you like the idea of a soft-touch keyboard surround rather than the bare metal used in the HP. Still, for hardware per pound the Spectre edges it out. 

Writing by Andrew Williams.