I’ve written more than once in these pages that I’m not wild about 15.6-inch convertible laptops, finding them too heavy for comfortable use in tablet mode. But if you’re shopping for a desktop replacement that can occasionally fold and stand for a presentation, you might as well get the most powerful desktop replacement you can. As of now, that’s the HP Spectre x360 15 (starts at $ 1,599; $ 2,049.99 as tested), a stylish six-core, 4K-screened beast with superb battery life. It easily replaces the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 as my favorite plus-size hybrid—even if the lighter, 13.9-inch Lenovo Yoga C930 remains our Editors’ Choice.
Big Changes Since Last Year
While several configurations of the Spectre x360 15 are available, HP chiefly promotes just two. The $ 1,599 model sold at Best Buy is much like our May 2018 review unit, with a quad-core Core i7 CPU, relatively modest Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB solid-state drive.
The $ 2,049.99 version seen here and sold on HP.com raises the ante considerably with a six-core, 2.2GHz Core i7-8750H processor and the Max-Q version of Nvidia’s 4GB GeForce GTX 1050 Ti. It combines 16GB of RAM with a 1TB solid-state drive and the same 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) touch screen as its sibling.
Either way, the Spectre is one of the five or six best-looking laptops you can buy, a sleek slab with wedge-y, edgy sides and corners, available in Poseidon Blue with Pale Brass accents (contrasting trim and hinges, pictured here) or Dark Ash Silver with Copper Luxe accents. It measures 0.76 by 14.2 by 9.8 inches, about the same as the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 (0.74 by 14.2 by 9.5 inches), and is minutely heavier at 4.7 pounds. The XPS 15 2-in-1 is trimmer at 4.4 pounds, while the Yoga C930 is much easier to carry at 3.1 pounds.
The chassis is made of fingerprint-prone machined aluminum with almost no flex if you grasp the screen corners or pound the keyboard. The diagonally cut left and right rear corners hold the power button and a Thunderbolt 3 port respectively. You’ll also find the power connector, an HDMI port, and an audio jack on the left side; a microSD card slot, a USB 3.1 Type-A port, and a second Thunderbolt 3 port are on the right. A tiny sliding switch on the system’s right edge disables the webcam if you’re worried about snoopy spies.
Getting the Job Done
The webcam captures bright and sharp if slightly noisy images at 1080p rather than the lowest-common-denominator 720p resolution. You can use either its face-recognition ability or the fingerprint reader in the palm rest to sign into Windows Hello.
The keyboard offers handsome, thin lettering; two levels of backlighting; a numeric keypad; and dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys. Unfortunately, it also offers HP’s trademark placement of the cursor arrow keys in a row, with half-size up and down arrows squeezed between full-size left and right, instead of the proper inverted T.
After a few minutes’ practice, you’ll enjoy a comfortable typing feel, with adequate travel and firm feedback as the keys hit home. The extra-wide touchpad glides and taps smoothly, though it clicks with a hollow feel.
The Spectre’s sound is above average. Its Bang & Olufsen speakers aren’t raucously loud but can fill a room with clear tones, distinguishable mixed tracks, and even a bit of bass without being tinny or distorted. Preinstalled HP Audio Control software offers music, movie, and voice presets and an equalizer. It’s one of a slew of house-brand utilities for everything from a Windows 10 tutorial to assigning functions to the stylus buttons, accompanied by more software ranging from McAfee and Dropbox trials to Windows’ Candy Crush Friends Saga and Royal Revolt 2: Tower Defense.
The abovementioned stylus, the HP Active Pen, is a two-button, AAAA-batteried unit that showed good palm rejection and kept up with my scribbling and sketching on screen with only one or two missed strokes. Alas, there’s no cubbyhole or garage in the laptop, so trying not to lose the pen will be up to you.
As with other 4K displays, fine details look sensational on the Spectre’s screen. Viewing angles are wide, and colors are rich and well saturated. On the minus side, while contrast is good, I found myself wishing the screen were brighter—it doesn’t fall off as swiftly as some if you turn brightness down to save battery life (the movie image was still quite visible during our battery test at 50 percent brightness), but it’s not very sunny even if you turn it up all the way. Calling it dim might be an exaggeration, but calling it a disappointment wouldn’t be.
Big Screens Hit the Test Bench
For our performance comparisons, we matched the Spectre against four other 15.6-inch laptops. Two are 2-in-1s with quad-core processors: the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 is a convertible, and the Microsoft Surface Book 2 is a detachable. Two are conventional clamshells, but with six-core CPUs to give the HP a fair fight: the MSI P65 Creator and Dell XPS 15. As you can see in the specifications table below, they offer a variety of Nvidia discrete graphics chips.
The HP had no trouble proving itself one of the most powerful convertibles you can buy—it probably won’t satisfy hardcore gamers, but it is a potent productivity machine. It also impressed by lasting nearly 17 hours in our battery rundown test, far longer than you’ll be able to carry it.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the storage subsystem. The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
We consider a score of 4,000 in PCMark 10’s office productivity suite to be excellent. All the laptops except the Inspiron cleared that hurdle, but the Spectre finished a small step ahead of the XPS 15 to take first place. All five SSDs aced PCMark 8’s Storage test, with the HP second to the MSI in a photo finish. (Variance is usually minimal on this test among systems that have the same grade of high-end SSD.)
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Chalk up another win for the HP, by the barest of margins over the XPS 15. Video editors and 3D designers, or indeed anyone who uses highly multithreaded software, will find the six-core systems, as expected, in another league than their quad-core competitors.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The hexa-core portables crossed the line three abreast. The Inspiron held its head up high while the Surface Book 2 languished in last place.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Judging by the more challenging Fire Strike subtest, the contenders finished in Nvidia parts-list order, with the MSI Creator and its GeForce GTX 1070 topping the Microsoft detachable and its GTX 1060. The Spectre landed in the middle of the pack, while the Inspiron’s GeForce MX150 graphics were outclassed.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
Second verse, same as the first. The HP and the Dell XPS 15 finished in a dead heat, their scores indicating that you can play modern games at 1080p resolution (forget about 4K) but will have to turn the image quality down a notch or two.
Video Playback Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
The Surface Book 2 has two batteries, one behind its screen and one in its keyboard base, which give it an obvious advantage in this marathon. The HP crushed the other single-battery systems in an extremely impressive result for any desktop replacement, let alone one with an energy-hungry 4K display.
A Diamond-Faceted Dynamo
At the risk of repeating other reviews, 15.6-inch hybrids are niche systems, destined to be used primarily in laptop mode and only rarely propped up in stand or tent mode for a presentation or rested in a lap as a jumbo tablet. That said, the 2019 Spectre x360 15 fills that niche quite well.
Its trim, two-tone design makes it a visual standout, while its beefy CPU and GPU guarantee it won’t keep you waiting on your favorite applications. Its keyboard is comfortable (except for those accursed HP cursor arrows), and its screen, while not the brightest, is colorful and attractive. We narrowly prefer the Lenovo Yoga C930 for reasons ranging from its lighter weight to its stylus slot, but if you’re determined to go big, the Spectre can accommodate you in all of its orientations.