HP Spectre 13 Review

Alex Kidman 23 August 2016


HP’s exceptionally thin laptop is as much about style as it is performance, for both better and worse.

The reality for any laptop in 2016 is that if all you want is a very basic machine, you don’t have to pay all that much. If you want a machine that stands up and demands attention from people, however, you’re playing in a space that’s as much to do with style as it is with features. We’ve seen more than a few of these machines of late, most of which opt for very thin cases or hybrid tablet/laptop approaches. The HP Spectre 13 is most distinctly a laptop only, but it’s got a few quite unique style tricks to bring to the party.

HPSpectre 13
Front cameraHD Webcam
ProcessorIntel Core i5-6200U/Intel Core i7-6500U
Memory8GB LPDDR3-1866 SDRAM
Battery4-cell, 38 Wh Li-ion
Interfaces3xUSB C
SoftwareWindows 10 Home


Upsides: Why you’d want the HP Spectre 13

  • You want something thin but differentiated: In the thin and light space, most laptops ape the design of Apple’s MacBook. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it does lead to a lot of similar looking units. This isn’t a charge you can level at the Spectre 13, which has a more business/luxury look to it. Obviously this is a taste call, but we reckon it looks great, and certainly unlike anything else in the style space.
  • Triple USB C power: Like competing units such as Apple’s MacBook or Samsung’s Galaxy TabPro S, the HP Spectre 13 charges via USB C. Unlike those laptops, however, you don’t have to pick between charging or plugging in other peripherals, as the rear hinge of the Spectre 13 houses three USB C ports. Only one of them is the power port, giving you room for other peripherals, and HP includes a USB-C to USB A type adaptor in the box to make the transition to your new Spectre 13 even easier.
  • Great keyboard: One of the most overlooked aspects of laptop design is making a keyboard that not only looks good but is very comfortable to type on. Apple’s managed it with the flattened keys on the 2016 MacBook, while HP’s opted for a more raised design for its Spectre 13 keyboard. It looks less fancy, but it’s actually a little more comfortable for fast typing over a period of time.
  • Processing power: With a choice of either a Core i5 or Core i7 processor, the Spectre isn’t just a good looker; it’s going to be capable of most tasks, excluding high end gaming or video production that you throw at it. Compared to the Core M processor found on the MacBook, it’s a definite step up.
  • Good for video enjoyment: Speakers on laptops are never stellar. There’s just not enough separation space between the speakers for that. Still, the Bang & Olufsen speakers on the Spectre 13 provide decent sounds, and when paired with its full HD display, make it a very pleasant Netflix-watching machine.


Downsides: Why you might not want the HP Spectre 13

  • Battery life is ordinary: There’s a price to pay for the HP Spectre 13’s thin profile, and it’s in the quantity of batteries HP can stuff into the chassis. Combined with a more battery-sapping Core i5/7 processor, and the Spectre 13 was always going to struggle. In our battery rundown test, looping fullscreen video at maximum brightness with power saving disabled, the Spectre 13 gave up the ghost after 5 hours and 21 minutes. That means you could probably count on it for a full workday’s use if you’re moderate, but comparably, we managed 11:10 with the Galaxy TabPro S and 8:26 with the Surface Pro 4 in the same test.
  • No touchscreen: Manufacturers offer touchscreens in much cheaper laptops than the HP Spectre 13, but in the two models offered in Australia, they’re notably absent.
  • Gets very warm: The other issue with having a very high power processor in a thin frame is that there’s only one place for the heat to go. That place is your lap, and we noticed that if we pushed the HP Spectre 13 hard it would notably warm up to a level we weren’t entirely comfortable with.
  • Wide body: The HP Spectre 13 is competing with units such as the MacBook, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book and Samsung’s Galaxy TabPro S. All of those units are markedly smaller than the Spectre 13, which makes them easier to throw into a bag than the Spectre 13.
  • Hinge limits screen angles: The Spectre 13’s very attractive hinge holds the display up on two small crescent hinges. It’s a cool looking design, but with one practical flaw. You can only tilt the screen up to around 120 degrees before the hinges stop you flat. So unlike other hybrids, there’s no full back screen tilt, or ability to flip the screen around for tablet use. Perhaps that’s why there’s no touchscreen option.


Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?

The HP Spectre 13 is undoubtedly HP’s style play above all, and, as such would be a good option if you need an ultrabook style PC that stands out from the crowd. The Spectre 13 certainly manages that.

However, with an asking price of either $2399 or $3099 depending on configuration, you’ve got quite a few style/hybrid choices you could opt for instead. That kind of money could get you Apple’s MacBook, Samsung’s Galaxy TabPro S, the Razer Blade Stealth or Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book PCs, for example, all of which feature better battery life than the Spectre 13 can manage.

Where can I get it?

HP sells the Spectre 13 through its Australian web store.

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