A short while back, Fortress of Solitude featured the review for the Acer Swift 7, the world’s thinnest laptop. I mentioned previously how the landscape for mobility has changed somewhat over the past two or three years, from the release of the first Ultrabook to the ever increasing range of gaming laptops. As more and more manufacturers compete in each of those categories, the consumer has a lot more choice of quality product. In 2016, HP launched their Spectre range, which received an overhaul in 2017 with the new generation of Skylake processors. Step up the HP Spectre 2017.
Build and Design
One of the upsides to an ever-growing range of competing Ultrabooks is that manufacturers tend to compete on a level beyond simple performance, as processing capabilities tend to even out the playing field towards the higher end. For some time in 2016, the Spectre held the title as the world’s thinnest laptop, ultimately usurped by the above-mentioned Swift 7. Still, at just 10.4mm in thickness at its thinnest point, the Spectre remains extremely thin. At 1.1KG in weight, it’s also very lightweight, lighter than the Swift 7. As with the Swift 7, the unit is extremely portable, being light and thin, able to fit into most carry bags.
But the thickness and weight aren’t all that the Spectre has going for it. The overall look is a minimalist’s dream, with a ‘rose gold’ (or copper – however you want to view it) and charcoal metallic finish, with even the standard HP logo stripped out to look a lot more simple. The copper hinge stands out from the rest of the unit, and while it may be prone to the odd fingerprint or 10, nothing a simple wipe down to bring back its sheen. The hinge also houses all of the connectivity options, from the three USB Type-C ports (two of which support Thunderbolt 3), 3.5mm audio jack, as well as the grills that release the hot air from the cooling system.
All this put together makes the device look and feel like a really premium unit exuding class and beauty.
Screen and Display
The Spectre has a 13″ Full HD display with 1080p resolution on an IPS panel. The screen produces great colours that are bright and beautiful, which also has great contrast. In terms of overall brightness, the Spectre is second only to the MacBook 12″, beating out the likes of the Swift 7 and Dell XPS 13. The numbers are impressive as well when it comes to the sRGB colour spectrum, once again second only to the MacBook. Where it fails to compete amongst the top is the colour accuracy, although you won’t notice this much thanks to the brightness, contrast and bold images.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard on the Spectre is nice to use, although isn’t the best I’ve had the privilege of testing on a laptop. The keys are adequately spaced out, although there isn’t enough real estate to make room for a numeric keypad as well. The key travel is listed at 1.15mm, which is a bit short in comparison to many laptop keyboards, although it still does feel good and crisp. In combination with the actuation weight, the keyboard makes for really easy typing, and once you do get used to it, it quickly grows on you, leaving you wishing you could have it on all other laptops.
Again, I’m not a fan of laptop touchpads, and I haven’t had much success in finding one that drastically changes my mind. The touchpad here is reasonably wide, but a but narrow. The single piece design is now almost a given on most laptops but has a bit of difficulty here in the responsiveness of the button clicks.
Performance and Battery Life
The review unit we received was the Core i5 Kabylake variant, with 4GB RAM and a 256GB SSD drive. For those in need of more power, the Spectre is also available with a Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. Despite its slightly more mid-range specs of the unit reviewed, the Spectre performed really well, even when running the standard benchmarks. Often times, the benchmarks don’t paint the full picture when testing performance, although it seemed on par with comparisons to the Swift. While the fully specced Spectre achieves an almost 40% performance boost compared to the Swift, the Core i5 with 4GB RAM achieves similar scores to the Swift 7 unit we reviewed.
The unit Kabylake processor sports the Intel 620 HD graphics, which isn’t considered for more serious gaming but gets the job done for most less graphic intensive games, or with settings towards the entry-level as default. The graphics scored around 30% more when running benchmarks over the Swift 7, although still down around 10% off the top of the table.
As with most Ultrabooks, the Spectre doesn’t include the standard fan for cooling, instead opting for a hyperbaric cooling chamber. This system uses smaller fans to create a pocket that sucks in cool air from the vents at the bottom of the machine and releasing the hot air from the vents on the rear. The cooling system was designed to keep running temperatures low, without too many peripheral noises on the super thin design. That said, the unit does tend to get slighter warmer than is expected when running more intense software and games. Additionally, the thin frame makes for less room for a large battery, the result of which makes for some average numbers when it comes to battery life. For the most part, the unit had an average battery life of just over six hours during normal to heavy usage, although this wasn’t far off from the Swift 7 to within an hour. However, when compared to many other Ultrabooks, the unit is down almost two hours on the average benchmark.
When the unit was first announced in 2016, many pundits referred to it as being the MacBook killer, or at least worthy competitor. Unfortunately, the Spectre doesn’t quite live up to this title. It does, though, offer quite a lot in terms of performance, although the same cannot be said about the battery life. Having relinquished its title as the world’s thinnest laptop shortly after its announcement, the Spectre still has a lot going for it in terms of its design and colour.
Where the HP Spectre really comes under pressure is with its pricing. At roughly R20,000 the unit is a really good buy, which is almost R3,000 more expensive than the Swift 7 or Asus Zenbook. The Core i7 variant, however, has an RRP of R30,000. While it may outperform those units in some or other category, when it comes down to it, the pricing comparison doesn’t match the difference in outright performance and quality. I do love the design of the unit, and while it may not be the thinnest any longer, there is a chance that this would catch the eye of prospective buyers.