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HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) review

I’ll be frank: I love 2-in-1s. For me, laptops that can morph into tablets or awesome Netflix binging machines hold additional appeal over simpler clamshell designs. The problem? The 15-inch options are often less powerful than their clamshell equivalents. On paper, though, that’s no longer true with the introduction of HP’s 2019 Spectre x360 15.

Consider the configuration the company sent me for review. It features a six-core 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8750H, a fast CPU that powers the best mainstream 15-inch laptops. Then there’s 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), a 4K display, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti with Max-Q. That’s a powerful configuration for a premium price of $2,050.

It’s great to see a 15-inch 2-in-1 catch up to its clamshell competition in terms of raw power. But is that enough to make the latest Spectre x360 a true competitor?

Another gem-cut wonder with a solid but hefty build

Like it’s smaller 13-inch sibling, the Spectre x360 15 is designed to catch the light. Every angle is carved and chiseled like a gemstone, and indeed HP dubbed this the “gem-cut” version. It’s an elegant and gorgeous aesthetic that’s applied to every available edge, including the display, the keyboard deck, and the chassis.

Compared to other 15-inch laptops, like the Dell XPS 15 clamshell and the Lenovo Yoga 730 15 2-in-1, the Spectre x360 is a design that screams, “Look at me!” But it’s not over the top, at least not to my tastes. The Poseidon Blue color on my review unit gives it a sheen that’s not garish even as it stands out, and you can opt for the slightly more subdued Dark Ash Silver. If you want your laptop to fade into the background, though, then this isn’t the one for you.

At the same time, the Spectre x360 is a very large 2-in-1 with unusually thick bezels for a modern laptop. It’s heavy at 4.81 pounds, compared to the XPS 15 at 4.5 pounds and the Yoga 730 at 4.2 pounds. It’s also rather thick, at 0.75 inches compared to the XPS 15’s 0.66 inches and the Yoga 730’s 0.67 inches. This is a 2-in-1 that you’ll use with the display flipped around in media mode for watching video, but you’ll need to put it on a surface if you want to use it as a tablet for drawing or handwriting.

If you do hold onto this heavy 2-in-1 in portrait tablet mode, then you’ll appreciate those large bezels on the top and bottom. Even tablets like the iPad Pro are getting thinner bezels these days. Outside of being a bit of an eyesore, the bezels also make the Spectre x360 larger in depth and width than other 15-inch laptops that leverage tiny bezels to fit into smaller chassis. The classic example is the Asus ZenBook 15 UX533, one of the smallest 15-inch laptops around. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the even bigger-bezeled Acer Nitro 5 Spin. That design choice alone will turn off some who desire the sleeker and smaller look of something like the XPS 15. They’re worth the trade-off for 2-in-1 functionality, even if I wish HP had trimmed them down a bit in the end.

The Spectre x360 is a design that screams, “Look at me!” But it’s not over the top.

Thankfully, the Spectre x360 is also well-built, making you appreciate its hefty quality. There’s no flexing or bending in the lid, the keyboard deck, or the bottom of the chassis. It feels very much like a solid hunk of metal and glass and matches the tank-like Lenovo Yoga C930 in overall rigidity.

On another design note, the Spectre x360 15 shares its smaller sibling’s notched chassis and display corners. They’re at the rear, with one housing the power button that’s convenient to press on purpose and hard to press accidentally. The other is home to one of the USB-C ports, letting you connect a cable at an angle away from a mouse. The 15-inch model uses a proprietary AC connector, though, and so if you want full power then you’ll need that cord dangling from the left side.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

With all that chassis size, you might have expected more connectivity. But what HP does include covers the important bases. There are two USB-C with 40 gigabit per second Thunderbolt 3 support (with support for two 5K displays), a full-size HDMI 2.0 port, a USB-A 3.1 port, and a microSD card reader. That covers you for both future and legacy device support. Wireless connectivity is provided by an Intel combo card with 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.

Once again, the keyboard is awesome, but the touchpad needs work

As I mentioned in my Spectre x360 13 review, HP has one of my favorite keyboards in this line of machines. I love the 15-inch keyboard’s substantial travel, precise mechanism, and numeric keypad, and I prefer it to the XPS 15’s and any Yoga’s version. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme stands out as a laptop with a keyboard that I like better than HP’s. I’ll also note that the Spectre x360’s backlighting now has two brightness levels versus the previous version’s on/off switch.

The touchpad, though, is a disappointment. First, there’s plenty of space for a larger touchpad. Second, it doesn’t support the Microsoft Precision protocol and the Synaptics drivers just aren’t as fluid. I’d take the XPS 15’s touchpad in a heartbeat. Also, some people might not like the fact that the touchpad is slightly offset from the space bar (due to the numeric keypad), but after a short adjustment period it didn’t get in my way.

I loved the 15-inch keyboard’s substantial travel, precise mechanism, and numeric keypad

Of course, the Spectre x360 is a 2-in-1, and so the display supports touch and the included HP Active Pen for Windows 10 Ink support. That’s a pen with 4,096 levels (1,024 interpolated) of pressure sensitivity but no tilt support – you’ll need to buy the $80 HP Tilt Pen if that feature matters to you. I found the pen good enough for taking notes and supporting my rudimentary drawing skills.

Windows 10 Hello support is also robust. There’s an infrared camera for facial recognition, and a much-improved fingerprint scanner that’s now located on the keyboard deck rather than along the side (where it was harder to locate). And in another nod to security, there’s a switch on the side that electronically removes the webcam (and the infrared camera) from the system so hackers won’t see it. I find HP’s approach preferable to Lenovo’s physical webcam cover, because the electronic switch removes an attack vector rather than merely obscuring the results of a successful hack.

A very good 4K display for content consumption, but not creation

The Spectre x360 15 has sported a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) IPS display for several years now, and it’s always provided a good experience for content consumption and productivity work. It has not, though, matched some other 15-inch laptops for content creators. A better choice might be the upcoming OLED version of the Spectre x360, although so far that version is expected to use a slower U-series CPU and lower-end Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU.

According to my colorimeter, the latest Spectre x360 continues the trend. Color gamut is average for modern laptops at 73 percent of AdobeRGB, which compares favorably to the Full HD display on the Acer Nitro 5 Spin and the 3:2 display on the Microsoft Surface Book 2. However, that’s well behind the more colorful displays on the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the XPS 15. Color accuracy is 2.21, which is better than all but the XPS 15’s excellent 0.6.

At 990:1, the Spectre x360’s contrast almost reaches the 1000:1 threshold that delineates today’s best displays, and it’s much better than the Nitro 5 Spin. The other displays in the comparison group are significantly higher, however. At 291 nits, the HP’s brightness is below the 400 or greater nits achieved by all but the Nitro 5 Spin, which also came in at less than our preferred minimum of 300 nits. Finally, the Spectre x360’s gamma is 2.3, meaning video will be slightly too dark.

HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) review Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Overall, this is a good display that’s a pleasure to use for productivity and content consumption – just as I expected. Netflix is a treat, particularly as I prefer to watch it, with the display swiveled around into media mode and the keyboard out of the way. But if you’re looking for highly accurate colors and a wide color gamut, then this isn’t the display for you – and that’s unfortunately, because a more dynamic display is likely even more important to creative types who would benefit from the more powerful CPU and GPU on the Spectre x360.

Audio quality was a standout feature, thanks to quad speakers (two downward firing on the bottom of the chassis and two firing up beneath the display) and Bang and Olufsen tuning. Highs and midrange are excellent, and bass is also good for a laptop. The speakers get very loud with minimal distortion, and so you won’t always feel the need to pull out your headphones to enjoy your favorite movie or TV show.

Finally, some real power in a mainstream 2-in-1

For the first time, a mainstream 2-in-1 enjoys the same level of power as equivalent 15-inch clamshell laptops. Today, that means building in a six-core 8th-generation Core i7-8750H, a fast CPU for advanced productivity and content creation tasks. HP and Dell experimented with Intel’s G-series CPU that mated 45-watt quad-core CPUs with AMD Vega mobile GPUs, but that platform never carved out more than a niche.

Based on our benchmark results, the Spectre x360 15 lives up to its promise. In Geekbench 4, the HP managed a strong 4,942 in the single-core test and 21,076 in the multi-core test. That’s faster than all but the ZenBook 15 UX533’s single-core test, and it promises very strong productivity performance.

Then, according to our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265, the Spectre x360 is also suitable for more demanding tasks as well. Its score of 153 seconds is in line with other laptops running 45-watt six-core CPUs (such as the XPS 15) and it’s much faster than those with 15-watt quad-core U-series processors.

Throughout our testing, we found thermal performance to be a positive. The fans only spun up when the CPU was working particularly hard, and we’ve heard laptops whose fans were much louder at full speed. Compared to the XPS 15, we found the Spectre x360 to be an overall quieter machine, especially on battery where the fans rarely ramped up to more than a quiet hush. When running the 3DMark stress test, temperatures never exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit on the bottom of the chassis or 101 degrees on the keyboard.

The Spectre x360 15 goes toe-to-toe with other high-end mainstream 15-inch laptops.

The 15-inch Spectre x360 includes the same HP Command Center utility as the 13-inch model, although there are only three modes (Recommended, Performance, and Cool) and no Quiet mode. Unlike its smaller sibling, though, the Spectre x360 15 didn’t gain the same performance benefits from switching modes. Moving to Performance, for example, actually showed slightly slower results – leading me to suspect that HP has some work to do on the firmware, the software, or both.

The Spectre x360 uses a Toshiba 1GB PCIe SSD that was quite fast in reading data – second only to the Samsung SSD in the Surface Book 2 – and close to the fastest laptops in our comparison group in writing data. The XPS 15 suffered a bug during our testing and so its write speeds are an outlier here, while the Nitro 5 Spin suffers from its slower SATA SSD.

The Spectre x360 15 is a 2-in-1 that goes toe-to-toe with other high-end mainstream 15-inch laptops. It’s the first time you can benefit from all the flexibility of a 2-in-1 without limiting yourself to productivity tasks.

The GPU is also faster than your average 2-in-1

The Spectre x360 uses the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Max-Q, a GPU that’s proven quite capable of solid 1080p gaming as long as you run at reasonable graphics settings. It’s the same GPU as in the XPS 15, in fact, and that’s another first for a 2-in-1.

To begin with, the Spectre x360 performed well in the 3DMark synthetic benchmark. It scored 6,648 in the Fire Strike test, which is second only to the XPS 15 in equal or lesser GPUs. The Surface Book 2 was faster thanks to its GTX 1060.

Moving on to real-world results, the Spectre x360 performed as well as we expected given its components. It tore through our casual benchmark title, Rocket League, at 234 frames per second (FPS) in 1080p performance and 126 FPS in high quality. It also performed well in Civilization VI, which measures both the CPU and the GPU, where it achieved 68 FPS in 1080p medium settings, and 41 FPS in ultra.

HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) review Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

When considering a more GPU-intensive title, Battlefield 1, the Spectre punched way above its weight class. It achieved 86 FPS in 1080p medium, and 71 FPS in ultra. That beats out every machine in our comparison group except the Razer Blade 15 Base with its GTX 1060 Max-Q. It took a step back, though, in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, with 31 FPS in 1080p high, and 23 FPS in ultra.

Overall, the Spectre x360 was competitive with similarly equipped laptops like the XPS 15, and it even competed well with the Surface Book 2 and its theoretically much faster GTX 1060. The HP also looked good when running our upcoming revised gaming benchmark suite, demonstrating that it’s a solid 1080p performer in titles like Fortnite, Battlefield V, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

Of course, this 2-in-1 has a 4K display, and so we ran our suite of benchmarks at that high resolution as well. While the Spectre x360 stayed above 30 FPS in a few titles, such as Rocket League and Civilization VI and Battlefield 1 at 4K and medium settings, it fell short on the rest. Simply put, it’s not a 4K gaming system, and that’s to be expected. Note that 1440p wasn’t an option on our review unit.

In the final analysis, the Spectre x360 shouldn’t be considered a hardcore gaming laptop, and that’s obvious from these gaming results. Rather, it’s meant to provide good 1080p gaming at a decent level of graphical detail, and it’s quite successful at doing so. And if you run creative apps that will benefit from a discrete GPU, then the Spectre x360 has you covered there, as well.

Surprisingly decent battery life

HP packed in 82 watt-hours of battery life into the Spectre x360’s chassis, which is a good deal of capacity. At the same time, there’s a 45-watt CPU inside that can suck down some power when it’s being fully utilized, and a 4K display that’s also hard on the battery. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting a great deal of battery life.

I was pleasantly surprised. In our most CPU-intensive Basemark web benchmark test, the HP lasted for just under four hours, a strong result that was third in our comparison group behind the Full HD versions of the XPS 15 (with its 97 watt-hours of battery) and the ZenBook 15.

In our web browsing test, the Spectre x360 lasted for eight and a half hours, again behind the XPS 15 and the ZenBook 15 but impressive for a laptop with a 4K display. And when looping through our test Avengers trailer, the Spectre x360 managed 12.5 hours, competitive with the same two laptops running Full HD panels and stronger than the other comparison machines.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 Compared To

Overall, I was impressed with the Spectre x360’s battery life. It’s capable of getting me through a good portion of a full working day, at least if I’m not pushing the CPU too hard and am willing to turn display brightness down a bit. There aren’t many – if any – other laptops utilizing six-core CPUs and 4K displays that can do much better. A 1080p model isn’t currently offered.

Our Take

Like its smaller sibling, the Spectre x360 15 is a meaningful update. It looks better than ever, it gets good battery life considering the components, and it’s great for Netflix binging with its pleasant 4K display. But it’s also the fastest 2-in-1 we’ve tested, and it’s the first I’ve used that didn’t make me feel like I was sacrificing power for flexibility.

Is there a better alternative?

One 2-in-1 that competes with the Spectre x360 is the Surface Book 2. Microsoft’s unique take on the 2-in-1 offers a shockingly light 15-inch tablet that manages to pack in some serious performance. The thing is, the Surface Book 2 is limited to a 15-watt quad-core 8th-generation Core i7, meaning its processor performance is well behind the HP. And although the Surface Book 2 sports a GTX 1060 GPU, its gaming performance isn’t universally as far ahead as one might expect. The Surface Book 2 is also very expensive, at more than $3,000 with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.

The most direct clamshell competitor is the Dell XPS 15. It offers the same CPU and GPU and indeed performance similarly to the Spectre x360, with its display offering the most meaningful advantage. It’s also slightly more expensive, at $2,310 ($2,150 on sale) for the same Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 1TB SSD, and 4K display.

Another 15-inch clamshell option is Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme. It’s a well-built laptop with superior expandability, and it, too, offers the same CPU and GPU. Like the XPS 15, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme has a superior 4K panel that also supports high dynamic range (HDR) for an even better video experience. The Lenovo is also much more expensive for the same configuration, at $3,000 ($2,700 on sale).

How long will it last?

The HP Spectre x360 is a robust laptop that should last as long as you’ll need. It’s built around up-to-date components and should perform well for years. The 1-year warranty is the industry standard, and as usual we wish it was longer.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Spectre x360 is the first 2-in-1 that didn’t make me feel like I was sacrificing performance for a convenient form factor.

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