HP Envy Spectre XT (nb-13-2006tu) Ultrabook
HP Envy Spectre XT review: a good looking Ultrabook that would kill if it had a better screen and a quieter cooling fan
- Very fast SSD
- Dual-band Wi-Fi
- Comfortable keyboard
- Reflective screen and narrow vertical viewing angles
- Creaky hinges
HP's Envy Spectre XT looks and feels almost like a premium Ultrabook -- it's small, light and easy to carry on a daily basis. It's quite a noisy unit though and it could use a much better (and less glossy screen). We love its keyboard though, as well as its very fast SSD and the fact that it includes dual-band Wi-Fi. If you don't mind fan noise and can put up with reflections, then go for it.
Price$ 1,399.00 (AUD)
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The HP Envy Spectre XT is a 13in Ultrabook that will no doubt earn its fair share of interest from users who want something small and light and which looks good, too. HP has put a big emphasis on style with this unit, some highlights being its thin, tapered edges, a chrome trim around the chassis, and a keyboard backlight that looks absolutely gorgeous when typing at night. But it's an Ultrabook that could still use some refining. In particular, it's a loud little thing, its screen is way too glossy, and there are aspects of its build quality that could be better.
Specifications and performance
In the engine room of the Envy Spectre XT there is a third generation Intel Core i5-3317U CPU with integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM and a 128GB solid state drive. It's a typical configuration for an Ultrabook and one that will serve up good performance for office applications, communications and even some multimedia work, such as transcoding files for mobile devices.
Our Bender 3D rendering test was completed in only 48sec, while our iTunes MP3 encoding task took 56sec. Both times are good for an Ultrabook and indicate that there is nothing wrong with the way the components work together. Even a tough task such as our AutoGordianKnot DVD-to-Xvid file conversion test was completed in 56min, and this is a test where anything under one hour is a fantastic accomplishment.
Graphics performance by the Intel HD 4000 controller in the Intel CPU was up to the performance we expected, returning a score of 5298 in 3DMark06. It's a tad slower than the Toshiba U840W (5503), for example, but much faster than the Sony T Series Ultrabook (4085). But its the storage department that provides the most impressive performance. Its 128GB SSD notched very fast rates in CrystalDiskMark (462.7MBps for reading and 257.5MBps for writing), and our own file duplication tests were also blisteringly fast, recording 163 megabytes per second (MBps), which is the same rate as the fastest Ultrabook drive we've seen to date, the SSD in Dell's XPS 13. Boot up time was 17sec.
Like many Ultrabooks, the HP Envy Spectre XT has an internal battery that can't be replaced easily by end users. It's a decent battery though that gives the notebook a useful lifespan away from a power outlet. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the Spectre XT lasted 3hr 38min, which is a time that's similar to the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook, for example, and about 10min better than what the more powerful ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A recorded in the same test.
Unlike both the Samsung and ASUS models though, which have higher-than-usual screen resolutions for the Ultrabook category, the HP Envy Spectre XT features bog-standard 1366x768-pixel screen. It's also a very glossy screen that can drive you crazy when it reflects light sources behind you, and its vertical viewing angles are not up to the standard of those two laptops either — we spent a lot of time adjusting the tilt on this model. This screen is disappointing considering that the Envy Spectre XT looks and mostly feels like a premium laptop, but it's important to note that it's not as expensive as the ASUS and Samsung models, and the screen quality is a big reason why.
The hinges that hold the screen could also stand to be a little better. They feel quite cheap and there is some creaking noticeable as they move. This is in contrast to the base of the unit, which feels very well built (it's metal, as is the screen's lid). Noise can also be an issue from the laptop's cooling fan. The way the Envy Spectre XT has been designed, the exhaust vent is practically on the underside of the chassis and too easy to block when you use the Ultrabook on your lap. Furthermore, all other ventilation slits are on the bottom panel.
When using the Ultrabook on your lap, the exhaust vent will either get partially or fully blocked and you will hear the whirring of the fan as it works — even if all you're doing is browsing the Web. It gets louder when the CPU is under load. It's not just the sound of air being pushed either; there is a rustling sound from the fan as well, which can be very annoying. It's much different to the cooling system on the Toshiba U840W, for example, which has vents that are on the spine of the laptop and a fan that doesn't make as much noise.
While we're not fans of the fan in the Envy Spectre XT, we're fans of its input devices. The keyboard, in particular, is backlit and looks gorgeous while typing in the dark. It only has two states, on or off, so it's not as advanced as the backlight on models such as the Samsung Series 9, for example. The keys themselves have a matte finish, feel soft to hit, and they possess a good amount of travel and feedback considering the chassis is 18mm thick (not taking into consideration the 3mm thick feet on the base).
The touchpad, too, is big (91x57mm) and performed well in our tests. It supports two-finger scrolling, three-finger flicks and four-finger swipes. It was responsive and accurate in our tests, and it didn't get in the way at all while typing. The left- and right-click buttons are located under the pad itself in order to maximise its space, and we were able to perform click-and-drag operations without experiencing any problems.
Beats audio processing is present in this Ultrabook and the little 'b' logo above the keyboard adds to the style and "street cred" of the device. In practice, the audio from this laptop is quite enjoyable to listen to, especially considering how small the chassis is (18mm thick, 315mm wide and 225mm deep), but don't expect it to be rich and bass-heavy. The overall sound is can be flat and there is distortion at the loudest volume levels, but you can use the equaiser to tinker with the frequencies and make it a little better than the default sound, depending on the type of music that you listen to. For casual listening, as we said earlier, this laptop will be enjoyable.
The thin edges contain few ports between them, including HDMI, an SD card slot, Gigabit Ethernet, a combination headphone/microphone port, one USB 2.0 port (on the right) and one USB 3.0 port (on the left). We're disappointed that it only has two USB ports and that only one of them is capable of USB 3.0, but it's a necessity of the thin design to have as few ports as possible. The Gigabit Ethernet port is also smaller than usual in order to fit the thin chassis, and it expands when you need to plug in a cable.
We're pleased that this Ultrabook includes a dual-band Wi-Fi module (an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 module), which can also support Intel WiDi (wireless display). If you've got a dual-band router, then you can put this notebook to good use on it and steer clear of the 2.4Ghz band, especially if you live in an area that's cluttered with other 2.4GHz wireless networks. You also get Bluetooth and a built-in webcam.
The Envy Spectre XT is an Ultrabook that's meant to look good, be easily mobile (it's only around 1.4kg) and yet not cost too much. At $1399, it straddles the fence between mainstream and premium models, but you can definitely tell it's not premium by the disappointing screen. It's also quite a noisy laptop that can drive you crazy when you use it in a quiet environment. The best parts of this Ultrabook are its comfortable backlit keyboard, a very fast solid state drive and the inclusion of a dual-band Wi-Fi adapter.
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