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Review: HP Spectre x360 14

by Parm Mann on 29 March 2021, 14:01


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In the market for a top-class, ultra-portable laptop? There has never been such an impressive array of available options, and you can go right ahead and add HP's Spectre x360 14 to your list of potential candidates.

Eye-catching from the off, the Spectre's CNC-machined aluminium chassis oozes quality and stands out from the crowd with aggressively-angled edges and diamond-cut corners that manage to be different but not at all ostentatious. It is a very handsome piece of kit, and though it is neither the thinnest (16.9mm) nor lightest (1.3kg) laptop in its class, the all-metal chassis feels solid in the hand and does a fine job of staying fingerprint-free.

As the name suggests, this is a convertible solution whose display flips right over to create a makeshift tablet, and HP's implementation is better than most. The hinges offer good rigidity to help minimise unwanted wobble, the 3:2 aspect ratio bodes well for both laptop and tablet use, and there's a USB-C rechargeable MPP 2.0 Tilt Pen included as standard. Said pen can attach to the laptop's side magnetically, but better still, HP's bundle includes a tidy leather laptop sleeve with an integrated pen loop to ensure the accessory isn't lost at the bottom of a bag.

Presentation is top-notch, and there isn't a great deal to quibble with in the specification department, either. Our review unit, armed with a quad-core Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, onboard Iris Xe graphics, 16GB of DDR4 memory and a 512GB M.2 SSD, ticks most of the relevant boxes, but it is the display panel that truly helps elevate the user experience. HP has employed a 13.5in OLED touchscreen touting a tall 3,000x2,000 resolution, outstanding colour reproduction and truly inky blacks.

We've been fans of the 3:2 aspect ratio on Microsoft Surface devices for some time, and HP's OLED implementation is just as good, if not better. The display bezels are suitably slim, the webcam is kept up top where it ought to be, and though the resolution is a basic 720p, the camera does come accompanied with IR sensors for Windows Hello facial recognition. There's also a helpful digital privacy shutter that can be activated at the touch of a button to screen the camera and disable the mic.

As critics there's a natural feeling of caution when the superlatives begin to flow, but with the Spectre x360 14 it's all too easy to keep heaping praise. The four-speaker sound system, tuned by Bang & Olufsen, delivers some of the best audio we've experienced on a laptop of this size, and the keyboard and trackpad are similarly satisfying to use. HP's keys offer just enough travel plus a nice, quiet action, and having a fingerprint sensor in place of the right Ctrl key doesn't disrupt the experience. I do worry about accidentally hitting the power button located directly above backspace, but it hasn't happened yet, and the large, spacious trackpad does everything I want it to with no fuss.

The number of ports on thin ultra-portables tends to be limited, but HP manages to cover more than just the bare essentials. The laptop's left side is home to a solitary USB-A port, while over on the right there are two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 (either of which can be used to attach the 65W charger), a microSD card slot and a combination audio jack.

No laptop is perfect, mind you, and the Spectre x360 14 does have niggles to be aware of. The position of one of the USB-C ports on the angled edge is somewhat awkward - you can't quite see it without having to move the laptop round a bit - and for a system as fashionable as this, it's a shame to see some pre-loaded bloatware atop the 64-bit install of Windows 10 Home. Thankfully, the likes of McAfee and ExpressVPN are easily removed.

Buyers should note that the standard one-year warranty is shorter than HP's business-oriented EliteBook range, and for power users there are concerns regarding performance during demanding workloads. Intel Ultrabooks tend to be susceptible to throttling when the going gets tough, and the Core i7 featured here dropped as low as 2GHz across all cores in some of our most strenuous benchmarks. As such, the laptop is fast and responsive during everyday tasks, but isn't well-suited to tasks that favour many cores operating at peak speeds.

Last but not least, there's the small matter of price. Spectre x360 14 starts at £1,200 when equipped with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory and a WUXGA+ IPS display. Our Core i7 review unit, with 16GB of memory and the hugely attractive OLED panel, will set you back £1,600. A fair chunk of change, though HP is currently running a trade-in promotion giving up to a £500 reward when trading in a Macbook Pro, or up to £300 for a Windows laptop with 5th Gen or higher Core i7/Ryzen 7. Further details on that promotion are available here, now who's ready for some benchmarks?