HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) review: A prettier, more powerful convertible than the last

HP's Spectre x360 x15 convertible improves aesthetically and functionally, as well as under the hood, with features that include a privacy-preserving camera as well as an upgraded processor and GPU.

Credit: Mark Hachman / IDG

The 2019 edition of the HP Spectre x360 15 convertible has a hard act to follow. We previously awarded HP’s Spectre x360 15 (2018) an Editor’s Choice award on the merits of its powerful GPU, 4K screen, and solid battery life. This year's model improves both performance and battery life, with a slightly redesigned aesthetic that appears as functional as it is attractive.

There is a price to be paid for such power, though. While our review model (15-df0xxx) starts at $1,550 from HP.com, the price jumps to just over $2,000 for our review unit configuration—about $300 more than the price HP charged for our fairly similar 2018 review unit. At 4.62 pounds, the Spectre x360 15 weighs more than you’d expect. And in the ongoing flagship war between Dell’s XPS line and and HP’s Spectre line, the Dell XPS 15 9570 again comes out on top in terms of performance—though with a far less detailed display. It’s also significantly cheaper.

HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) basic specs

As befits a flagship, the HP Spectre x360 15 we tested is stuffed to the grilles with high-end parts. Here are the details.

  • Display: 15.6-inch ultra-wide viewing angle (UVWA) WLED (3840x2160) (as tested), or FHD (1920x1080p); protected by Corning Gorilla Glass NBT
  • Processor: 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H (6-core “Coffee Lake, as tested) or 1.8GHz Core i7-8565U (4-core Whiskey Lake)
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 1050Ti MaxQ 4GB (as tested); Nvidia GeForce MX150 2GB
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4
  • Storage: 512GB-1TB SSD (1TB as tested)
  • Ports: 1 USB-A, 2 USB-C (Thunderbolt, fast charging), HDMI, microSD, mic/headphones
  • Camera: FHD camera (user facing); IR depth camera (user-facing, Windows Hello)
  • Wireless: 802.11ac (2x2), Bluetooth 5
  • Battery: 80Wh (measured)
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home
  • Dimensions: 14.22 x 9.84 x 0.76 inches (19.35 mm)
  • Weight: 4.62 pounds, 5.46 pounds with charger, 5.50 pounds with charger and pen
  • Colors: Dark Ash Silver (Copper Luxe accents); Poseidon Blue (Pale Brass accents)
  • Bundled Accessories: HP Digital Pen
  • Price: Core i7/GeForce 1050Ti, $2049.99 (as tested), HP.com. A version with a Core i7-8565U and MX150 GPU is $1,599 from Best Buy.

A slightly chunky convertible

HP’s luxurious Spectre x360 laptop fills the gap between content creation and a true gaming PC. The chassis is made of CNC-machined aluminum, and you now have color choices: Dark Ash Silver with copper accents which cover the laptop’s vertical sides, or Poseidon Blue with similar pale brass accents. Our Blue review unit seemed to accumulate fingerprints and smears quickly, at least on the palm rest. 

As the name suggests, the x360 is a full 360-degree convertible, flipping easily from a normal clamshell orientation through tent mode into something approximating a tablet. The latter mode, though, is more theoretical than practical, as the laptop weighs a chunky 4.62 pounds—not something you'd want to hold in two hands, let alone one, for long.

HP Spectre x360 15 (late 2018) Mark Hachman / IDG

The HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) flips backward into tent mode. Toting around as a tablet, though, isn’t worth the effort. Note the large bezels, top and bit ottom.

The Spectre x360 15 (2019) construction seems sturdy enough, though there was a bit of chassis flex when the laptop’s base accidentally extended off the end of my desk and I tried to type—the base extends about 10 inches deep, after all.

Spacious fan vents on the right and left vertical edges pull cool air in and push hot air out. Unlike the Spectre x360 13 (2019), there’s no “quiet mode” control that shuts the fans off entirely. HP says this new Spectre x360 15 features larger dual fans with dual radiators, an IR thermal sensor, and up to three heat pipes. In the real world that means that even under load, the Spectre x360 15 (2019)’s fan noise was relatively unobtrusive, other than some slight whine. Sucking in such a large volume of air also means that the laptop shut down its fans quickly, though they would occasionally spin up softly even when not in use. The Spectre x360 15’s underside never exceeded being moderately warm when using HP’s recommended power settings, which balance performance and heat.

HP Spectre x360 15 (late 2018) Mark Hachman / IDG

There are sizable cooling vents on the HP Spectre x360, which help to minimize the time during which the laptop’s fan needs to be in use. Even after a lengthy stress test, the fan shut off a minute or so later. A microSD slot is also mounted on the side of the chassis.

HP says it will offer the Spectre x360 15 with two screen options, each with trade-offs: a super bright, 650-nit 1080p Sure View option, which helps shield your screen from someone looking over your shoulder; and what we tested: a more conventional though still impressive 4K display. Viewing angles are excellent, with little to no loss of brightness when viewed from an extreme angle. However, its 300-nit maximum brightness, while comfortably above the 250-nit threshold that we consider to be adequate, feels a bit spare for a laptop at this price. HP obviously made its decision to maximize battery life. Still, we’d prefer the option of dialing it down ourselves.

You’ll also see a rather sizable chin surrounding the screen, though HP says that it’s shrunk by about two millimeters. All told, the bezels have shrunk about 11 percent from the prior generation, HP says, although it’s far from an edge-to-edge screen.

HP Spectre x360 15 (late 2018) Mark Hachman / IDG

Our review unit shipped in Poseidon Blue, with Pale Brass accents.

The HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) does not ship with Intel’s 1-watt LPDT panel. The 13-inch Spectre x360 does, however, offering whopping battery life for those who favor it. 

What’s new: Diamond edges and a privacy camera

The most distinctive new visual element on the Spectre x360 (2019) are the angled, “diamond” edges on the rear corners of the laptop. But they’re not just aesthetic improvements—HP tucked the power button on the left rear corner, and a USB-C port on the right rear corner. Even the lower corners of the screen have a similar diamond cutout. The right rear corner’s angled edge neatly accommodates the USB-C port as well as a connecting cable. (Both USB ports support Thunderbolt.) It all fits together nicely.

HP Spectre x360 15 (late 2018) corner better Mark Hachman / IDG

The most distinctive visual element of the HP Spectre X360 15 is the way in which its rear corners have been flattened to accommodate a USB-C/Thunderbolt port on the right rear corner...

While I’m not convinced that the angled corners offer any functional improvements over side- or rear-mounted ports, I’m happy to cheer stylistic flourishes like this one. If I were to compare the Spectre x360 with its rival, Dell’s XPS laptop, I’d give the edge on aesthetics to the HP Spectre x360.

HP Spectre x360 15 (late 2018) Mark Hachman / IDG

...and the power button on the rear left corner. The headphone jack and an HDMI port sit alongside. 

One of the more intriguing features of the HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) is what HP calls its Privacy Camera Kill Switch, designed to disable the webcam when not in use. And when we say “disable,” that’s exactly what we mean: a physical switch on the right-hand edge of the Spectre’s chassis literally removes the Windows driver from Windows, preventing it from working. It even disappears from the list of available devices. When you flip the switch back, the camera returns. 

HP Spectre x360 15 (late 2018) Mark Hachman / IDG

When flipped on, the kill switch electrically disables the webcam.

It’s a novel solution, and plays into the growing (though possibly unfounded?) concern that hackers may use your webcam to spy on you without your knowledge. Still, we can’t help wondering: Most smart speakers ship with a button that disables the microphone. HP’s solution, like the Lenovo Think Shutter and others, leaves the mic up and running. Why?

(The Spectre x360 includes far-field mics that picked up my voice readily across a quiet room. The laptop can also listen for the wake word “Hey Cortana” even when asleep, though you’ll need to enable that functionality within the Settings > Cortana >Talk to Cortana Windows Settings menu.)

Disabling the camera will also ripple through other apps. Windows Hello will only sense the presence of the fingerprint reader, for example, and Skype won’t think you have a camera available, either. 

A decent typing experience

Typing on the Spectre X360 15 (2019) can be a mixed bag. The key travel is a generous 1.5mm, with two backlighting levels, and the feel is springy, without excessive resistance. 

HP Spectre x360 15 (late 2018) Mark Hachman / IDG

As a lefty, I was pleased to see HP include a dedicated numeric keypad, as it has previously. (Unlike right-handed gamers who use the WASD keyboard, some lefties use the number pad for keyboard control.) As a result, the backspace key isn’t tucked away to the far upper right of the keyboard, as it normally is. The Insert, Delete, Page Up, and Page Down keys reside there instead. representing a slight change from other keyboard alignments.

The Spectre x360 15’s keys are just a little too small to be entirely comfortable under my fingers, though. Ironically, if you prefer a larger key, you should probably choose the Spectre x360 13. Though it’s a smaller machine, it forgoes the number pad, giving the keys more room to spread out. (To be fair, Ben Patterson reviewed the HP Spectre x360 15 (2018) and found no fault with the keys, so the difference may be subjective.) 

The Spectre x360’s trackpad is a bit smaller than most, and aligned almost, but not quite, in line with the space bar. Some small, obsessive part of me rebelled against confining my wrists to the left part of the chassis, but it really should make no difference in day-to-day use.

HP Spectre x360 15 (late 2018) Mark Hachman / IDG

For some reason, the fingerprint reader took about a second to record my fingerprint. But the Spectre x360’s “wake on fingerprint” feature is very convenient. 

Though last year’s Spectre x360 placed the fingerprint reader along the side of the chassis, the current 2019 model places the small fingerprint reader near the top of the palm rest. While the Spectre x360’s fingerprint reader didn’t seem as responsive as that within the Huawei Matebook 13, I didn’t notice any accuracy issues in my time with the Spectre x360 15. In my experience, error rates on fingerprint readers can increase over time, forcing you to recalibrate.

There’s also the previously mentioned HD-quality user-facing camera, whose IR component is Windows Hello-capable. Turning off the camera via the “kill switch” also disables the Windows Hello depth camera, though the fingerprint reader can be used instead. The redundancy is a thoughtful touch, allowing a user to maximize privacy without sacrificing all the convenience of Windows Hello.

One area the Spectre x360 15 (2019) doesn’t shirk on is audio performance. Sound booms from the four integrated speakers. Even rarer, I noticed distinct stereo separation between the right and left speakers. The Spectre seems to push the midrange pretty strongly, somewhat overwhelmingly in parts. On the other hand, one of the test songs I use, Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, sounded the best I can remember hearing from laptop speakers.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 hp audio control Mark Hachman / IDG

What is it about PC makers' house-brand audio apps that makes controls so difficult to find? HP’s Audio Control app is no different—there’s no link within Windows’ own Settings menu, so discovering it is almost an exercise in trial and error. 

HP’s Spectre x360 bundles an HP Pen which inks well, though with noticeable latency before the ink appears. It’s a standard two-button pen; by default, one button is used to select text or other objects, while the bottom button erases. Unfortunately, erasing with the nib never works all that well. The Spectre also lacks a holster or slot to store the pen, so good luck trying to keep track of it. The included pen uses a standard AAAA battery; HP also offers an HP Tilt Pen with a rechargeable battery for $79.99.

HP Spectre x360 15 pen Mark Hachman / IDG

HP includes a pen with the Spectre x360 15, but no place to store it.

A significant amount of bloatware ships with the HP Spectre x360 15. Several HP apps, including the HP Audio Control app and HP Command Center, provide useful controls to adjust performance and other settings. HP ePrint tracks your printing orders. HP JumpStart offers tips and tricks, and HP Pen Control allows you to assign actions to the pen buttons.

There’s also the usual complement of Windows bloatware: two Candy Crush games, Fitbit Coach, and more. A Dropbox promo offers 25GB of space free for a year, however, and a year’s subscription to McAfee LiveSafe is also included.

Improved performance and battery life

HP positions the Spectre x360 (2019) as a device for “creative enthusiasts,” such as amateur or professional photographers or video editors. HP said it’s trying to shoot for a middle ground between those who might need graphical horsepower and those who might use the Spectre x360 for more traditional drawing apps, hence the pen.

HP’s Spectre x360 15 (2019) doesn’t use the absolute latest 8th-gen mobile chips, but the six-core Coffee Lake 2.2GHz Core i7-8750H chip is an H-series part, the family of premium, 45-watt Core parts for notebooks. Launched in the second quarter of 2018, it offers excellent performance against rivals powered by quad-core processors. Alternatively, you can opt for a version of the Spectre x360 15 (2019) powered by a 1.8GHz Core i7-8565U, a 15-watt, more modern Amber Lake Core processor that should offer better battery life.

From a testing standpoint, we’re transitioning from a database full of the older 3DMark 8 scores to the more modern 3DMark 10 benchmark. Both tests focus on the same real-world productivity tasks, even using apps like OpenOffice to drive spreadsheet calculations.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 hp command center Mark Hachman / IDG

Though you can adjust the thermal profiles, we couldn’t discover any meaningful difference in, say, dialing up the performance. 

It’s worth noting that while the included HP Command Center software allows you to run the Spectre x360 in Performance and Comfort modes, our tests showed little difference. As an example, our HandBrake test finished a minute faster under Performance mode—but that worked out to about a 4 percent improvement, with the fans at their full, noisiest speed all the while. Results tested using Cinebench and PCMark 10 were equally inconclusive.

The default is “HP Recommended,” which actively adjusts system performance in response to temperature. This mode appears to be perfectly adequate for everyday use. (A “Quiet” mode appears on the HP Spectre x360 13, but was removed from the 15-inch model because of its inability to turn the fan off completely with a discrete GPU, we’re told.)

PCMark 8 breaks down into three separate tests: Work, which focuses on spreadsheet, text editing, HTML, and VOIP calls; the Home test, which leans a bit more into photo editing and light gaming, and the Creative test, which aligns more with HP’s target audience. The latter emphasizes photo and video editing as well as gaming applications, and stresses the GPU more than the other two tests. We’ve used the PCMark Work and Creative tests, here.  Note that HP’s Spectre x360 Kaby Lake-G experiment from yesteryear outperforms the Spectre x360, as does the MSI GS65, a true gaming notebook that we added for comparison’s sake. 

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 pcmark work Mark Hachman / IDG

Here, the Spectre x360’s performance falls midway down the pack, though you’ll notice no slowdowns in everyday office tasks. 

In both PCMark 8 tests, the HP Spectre x360 15 falls a bit behind its chief rival, the Dell XPS 15, though some of that may be due to the far greater resolution of the Spectre x360’s screen.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 pcmark creative Mark Hachman / IDG

The PCMark Creative test taps the Spectre x360’s GPI a bit more heavily. Again, though, the Dell XPS tops it.

PCMark 10 combines a number of more modern workloads under one umbrella, offering a single score as well as the opportunity to dig down into individual tests in the scoring summary. Our database happens to include several competitors, presenting a fairly comprehensive performance landscape. The Spectre x360 15 dwells in the middle of the pack. 

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 pcmark 10 Mark Hachman / IDG

Note that our limited PCMark database compares to the Dell XPS 13, not the 15-inch model. Still, there’s nothing to frown at, here. The Acer Predator Helios is another gaming PC. 

Maxon’s Cinebench benchmark renders a 3D scene using all available CPU cores and threads. Think of this test as a sprint, or as a deadlift—it’s a quick test of the available power of the CPU. Here, the Spectre x360 does well.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 cinebench retry Mark Hachman / IDG

In the Cinebench rendering tests, the Spectre x360 15’s 6-core processor chews through the benchmark quickly.

HandBrake, by contrast, is more of a marathon. The open-source video conversion tool converts a full-length Hollywood movie into format appropriate for an Android tablet. It’s a good way to understand if the laptop can hold up under load, and whether the cooling solution is up to snuff. It’s still largely CPU driven, though. Note the time: Taking just 33 minutes to transcode a roughly 90-minute movie is excellent, both from a relative performance standpoint as well as a practical use of the Spectre’s computing power.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 Handbrake Mark Hachman / IDG

Under load, the HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) holds its own. This is an excellent HandBrake  result.

For an evaluation of the GPU, we turn to the 3DMark tests. Our tests typically use the Sky Diver DirectX11 test, spanning a range of notebooks. We also directly compared the Dell XPS 15 9570 and HP’s Spectre x360 15 in a more advanced benchmark, Fire Strike, which we normally use with gaming PCs. Here, Dell’s XPS 15 (score: 6,881) is 4 percent better than the tested Spectre x360 (score: 6614).

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 3dmark sky diver Mark Hachman / IDG

There’s a great deal of variance in these 3DMark comparisons, mainly due to the GPU. This result indicates that the Spectre x360 15 (2019) performs close to what you'd expect from a premium content-creation PC, without quite reaching gaming-PC status.

Finally, there’s battery life. We would expect a discrete GPU and 4K screen to crimp battery life somewhat. HP predicted we’d see about 13.5 hours, using local video playback as a test. That’s the way we test, too, though we usually dial up the brightness to what we consider to be usable levels: between 250 and 260 nits of luminosity. Inside, the HP Spectre x360 15 includes an 80 watt-hour battery, at the high end for 15-inch notebooks.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 battery life Mark Hachman / IDG

Over ten hours of battery life is perfectly acceptable for the HP Spectre x360 15, though it’s still outmatched by Dell’s offering. Dell’s panel is only 1080p, however.

Remember, the Spectre x360 x15 (2018) can be configured with either a 650-nit SureView panel, or, like our review unit, with a 4K panel that puts out about 300 nits, maximum.

Should you buy the HP Spectre x360 15?

If the more powerful Kaby Lake-G version of the 2018 HP Spectre x360 15 convertible earned itself an Editor’s Choice award, then it’s not too much of a stretch to award the 2019 version one, too. The 2019 version outperforms the 2018 version in most of our benchmarks, including graphics, and offers more battery life as well. In terms of the competition, though, you’ll have to decide: Dell’s XPS 15 9570 is undoubtedly a better value, though HP’s Spectre is simply more attractive. That price tag, though....

HP makes its case by including a powerful 6-core processor, 4K screen, and discrete GPU. It’s also worth applauding HP’s continued push to improve, not just iterate, with its angled aesthetic and camera kill switch. HP’s Spectre x360 15 continues to drive hard to build upon an already excellent design, and its continuing commitment to innovation earns it our top award. 

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Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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