(Pocket-lint) - The HP Spectre x360 13 is a bit of a dream convertible laptop. Not much has changed in this 2020-2021 version apart from a shift to Intel's 11th Gen processors. But these bring a significant jump in performance, especially for gaming, with no downsides. 

You have plenty of laptops to choose from with this much cash to spend. You could get a (admittedly non-convertible) MacBook Air, a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, or a Lenovo Yoga 9i (although the Shadow Black model we saw we can't recommend). 

Particular benefits of the HP Spectre x360 13 include an ultra-small footprint, a near-perfect hinge design that's far more sturdy than most, and a great keyboard. This is a style laptop that doesn't compromise on the basics, and that matters because no matter how expensive a laptop looks or feels, you always take the outer gloss for granted quickly enough. 

Design

  • Dimensions: 16.9 x 194.5 x 306mm
  • Weight: 1.3kg (1.28kg measured)
  • Unibody aluminium shell

HP Spectre laptops are some of the most striking, and perhaps contentious, slim-and-light models we review all year. The HP Spectre x360 13's look hasn't changed much in this latest generation, but is still worth a mention. 

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It has a thing for angles - like the 45-degree cut-outs in the corners, and peaked contoured edges. It all gives the Spectre x360 a distinct and angular appearance - but not one that all will instantly like. However, HP tempers the look by keeping everything bar the screen border a sedate silver. A couple more striking two-tone finishes are available if you want to fully embrace the Spectre's provocative style.  

All the HP Spectre x360 13's panels are aluminium, rather than magnesium. HP could have used the latter to bring the weight below its currently perfectly respectable ~1.3kg. But then you'd lose some of the cool, metallic feel that works hand-in-hand with the laptop's severe look. 

The Spectre x360 13's build is exceptional too. There is zero keyboard flex, real Apple-grade rigidity, and the integrity of the flippy hinge is best-in-class stuff.

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Use the rival Samsung Galaxy Book Flex 2 on your knees and you'll notice the screen actually wobbles slightly from the motion. There's almost none of that in the Spectre x360.

However, the HP's footprint is actually one of the most notable things here. The Spectre x360 is tiny for a 13-inch machine, shaving off a significant amount of depth. Some of you won't appreciate this as much as the sub-1kg weight of lighter alternatives. But it helps this laptop fit in smaller bags or onto cramped tables.  

Screen

  • 13-inch IPS LCD touchscreen with stylus support
  • Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels)
  • 100% sRGB colour, 460-nit brightness

Part of this footprint is down to HP's cutting down of the screen border at the bottom edge. And, of course, because the HP Spectre x360 13 has a widescreen display rather than the 3:2 aspect ratio some prefer for productivity apps.  

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Are you in that crowd? HP caters for you too, now. Hunt down the 14-inch version of the HP Spectre x360 13, which trades the small footprint for more screen space and a larger touchpad. Yes, a "14 13", weird naming, isn't it?

HP sent us the "entry-level" screen version of the HP Spectre x360 13. It has a Full HD IPS LCD screen, rather than the 4K OLED you can get if you're willing to spend more (and probably sacrifice battery life as a result)

This LCD isn't a true wide colour gamut screen - but we still think it is great. It delivers very high contrast for this style of display, making blacks look rich and deep even when the brightness is maxed. And that top brightness is high enough to work outdoors comfortably enough. 

Resolution is the one obvious shortfall. While 1080p lets you see slight pixellation in text - which is why you might choose to buy a MacBook Air instead - it's still not a low resolution per se. Where almost all Windows laptops of this type offer 1080p as a starting resolution, and an ultra-high res one as a pricey upgrade, all MacBook Air models have 1600p screens, which wipe out that slight pixellation. 

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The HP Spectre x360 13 also supports a digitiser stylus, with pressure sensitivity. Looking online, it seems you may get one in the box with some packages, but ours didn't include the stylus (based in the UK, so it may be a regional thing). This doesn't seem as essential an accessory as it does in the Lenovo Yoga 9i, though, as there's nowhere to store then pen in the laptop itself. 

Keyboard and Touchpad

  • 2-level backlight
  • Textured glass touchpad 

The HP Spectre x360 13 is at heart a pretty straightforward laptop. It's a good job, then, that HP has the basics aced.

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For one, it has a very good keyboard. There's plenty of key travel, zero flex to the keyboard plate, and meaty-but-quiet feedback when you press the keys. This is not necessarily what you'd expect from a style-driven portable laptop in 2021. But HP has not forgotten this element is pretty important for those who actually work eight hours a day in front of the thing. 

There's a two-level backlight for confidence when typing in darker rooms. And the only concession to the Spectre's low-depth case design is that a row of function buttons are shifted to the right of the keyboard. We guarantee you'll press Page Up/Down accidentally a hundred times, but you'll get used to the layout in the end. 

The touchpad is trimmed down more substantially to fit the Spectre x360 13's shape, but is still very good. It has a smooth textured glass surface, and a confident clicker that isn't affected by pressure places around the pad itself. 

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There's a hint of pre-click float, which is usually something to complain about. But here it actually seems deliberate, to lend the pad a greater sense of click depth. 

The HP Spectre x360 13 also has a little fingerprint scanner, below the arrow keys. It is not as subtle as a pad built into a keyboard key or a power button, but then HP doesn't exactly have much space to work with here and its responsiveness is sound enough. Plus, as you can see, subtlety isn't the name of the game when it comes to design. 

There's also, sadly, no room for a good webcam. A 720p camera sits in the screen surround, and it doles out a soft, noisy image like the vast majority of laptops in this class. Puts it on par with a MacBook then, but that's another way of saying it's not nearly good enough for this day and age.

Performance 

  • Intel Core i7-1165g7 CPU
  • 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • 512GB Intel Optane SSD

The HP Spectre x360 13 is an Intel Evo laptop. This is a new quality seal from Intel that ensures you get quick-resume from sleep, a Thunderbolt 4 port, fairly fast charging, and good battery life too. And it all revolves around Intel's 11th Gen processors. 

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Our HP Spectre x360 13 has an Intel Core i7-1165g7 processor with 16GB RAM and a 512GB Intel Optane SSD. This makes Windows 10 fly. And while it doesn't quite have the raw power of the MacBook Pro's M1 processor, there are not going to be any compatibility headaches - as this is a more conventional CPU. 

Gaming is the most noticeable performance improvement you'll see in this generation. Laptops like this traditionally use the graphics chipset baked into the main processor, and Intel's traditionally are not all that good. But the HP Spectre x360 13 has the Intel Xe chipset, which brings performance up to that of an entry-level Nvidia dedicated graphics card. 

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We've tested a bunch of laptops with Xe graphics recently. They let you play Skyrim at Ultra graphics settings, Subnautica at a fairly pretty Medium, Euro Truck Simulator 2 with everything turned on, and Kingdom Come: Deliverance at 900p with good results. 

How about GTA V? That runs just fine too, delivering frame rates in the 40s at the default graphics settings. Intel has finally caught up with AMD, delivering results similar to what you'd see in a Ryzen 7 4700U laptop - like the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 - or a last-gen Intel one with a dedicated Nvidia MX350 graphics card. 

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We've been waiting for this moment for ages: you can treat a laptop like the HP Spectre x360 13 a bit like a last-gen games console, even though it is not remotely made for the purpose. 

The HP Spectre x360 13 is also silent when you do light work that doesn't tax the processor, causing the fans to start spinning. These latest-generation chipsets seem to have a better handle on heat than their predecessors. It's not silent when you run GTA V, of course, but avoids the annoying high-pitch whirr you sometimes get with small laptops. 

The HP Spectre x360 13's speakers are reasonable, but not quite as the same level as those of a MacBook Pro or Lenovo Yoga 9i. There's the small portion of bass that largely separates good speakers from poor ones and the tone is even enough, but maximum volume doesn't break out of the so-so laptop mould. 

Battery Life

  • 60Wh battery
  • 65W charger
  • USB-C charging

The HP Spectre x360 13 has a 60Wh battery - the same size this series has used for a few generations now. It's a mid-size battery - which is no surprise given the laptop's footprint - but lasts very well considering the laptop uses an Intel CPU, which aren't quite as frugal on power as the latest AMD Ryzen models.

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In our hands it lasted 12 hours 15 minutes when streaming video over Wi-Fi at the sort of brightness level you might use indoors. Not bad, right? The Intel Evo mark guarantees nine hours of general use, so the HP Spectre x360 13 is a good way ahead of that. 

Its charger is a 65W brick - uh oh, it's not exactly in keeping with the laptop's elegant style - but at least it'll bring the charge to around 50 per cent in a mere half-hour. 

Verdict

The HP Spectre x360 13 is a laptop focused on quality. Its build is exceptional. You get the cool and hard feel of aluminium, very low-flex panels and a non-wobbly convertible display hinge. Its keyboard is far better than the thin, clicky designs used in plenty of slim laptops. And while the weight isn't dramatically low, this laptop's footprint is among the smallest in its class. 

Sure, you don't get a slot-in stylus and for the deepest display colour you'll need to upgrade to the 4K OLED version, but HP has aced the parts that affect your day-to-day experience using this machine. Don't be confused by the funky angular design, HP knows the importance of getting the basics right. Oh, and it costs less than the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which is an added bonus. It's top marks all round.

Also consider

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

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It's pricier for the same spec, but you have to pay big to get the comparable Dell XPS convertible. It also has a shallower keyboard and a larger footprint, although the touchpad is a lot bigger too, which may appeal. 

MacBook Air

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Apple doesn't make a convertible laptop - but the Air is probably the laptop you might consider in this HP's stead. It has a sharper display and doesn't use a fan at all, so stays silent 24/7. However, the keyboard is shallower, which may be an issue for those who spend a lot of typing tapping out emails and docs. 

Writing by Andrew Williams.