HP Spectre x360 13 2019 review: This laptop gets stupidly good battery life
- 25 April, 2019 20:00
Oh HP Spectre x360 13, you’re such an overachiever. While others in your class just phone it in year-after-year, you’re always trying to improve yourself.
This year, you’ve really gone over the top. Besides a major body redesign with sculpted “diamond-cut” angles, you’re also packing Intel’s latest Whiskey Lake CPU and a 1-watt panel that just slays in the battery department. We won’t even bring up all the other goodness that you’ve pioneered: pen support, convertible design, biometric cameras, and awesome bang for the buck.
So while others are content with a new color swath or LED change, the Spectre x360 13 (2019 model) still manages to impress. Of course no laptop is flawless, but this new model still managers to improve upon the really nice one it replaces.
HP Spectre x360 13 specs
HP always puts top-shelf components in its Spectre laptops, and the x360 13 is no different. Our model, priced at $1449 via HP.com, is configured with the following:
- CPU: 8th gen Intel “Whiskey Lake” Core i7-8565U
- RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 RAM
- SSD: WD 256GB PC SN720 NVMe SSD
- Screen: 13.3-inch low-voltage 1920x1080p IPS touch screen with pen support
- Networking: WiFi 5 / 802.11ac
Of the specs shown here, the one that deserves a special call is the display. As the second laptop we’ve seen to sport Intel’s “1-watt panel” LPDT technology, the screen promises a major increase battery life. We won’t spoil the whole story (see our battery life section if you want to skip head), but it doesn’t disappoint.
The laptop is 12.1 inches wide about 8.6 inches deep. Its 0.57-inch girth sounds thick, but it’s actually comparable to that of other laptops in its class. For weight, our scale put it 2 pounds, 14 ounces, which is a few ounces heavier than Dell’s XPS 13 9380.
HP Spectre x360 13 Ports
The HP Spectre x360 13 sports two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right side, plus a microSD port and analog headset port. You probably can’t see it, but there’s also a tiny slide switch to let you disable the webcam.
The right side of the Spectre x360 13 is sparser, but it offers two very important things. The first is the USB Type A. Yes, the beloved square USB you’ve known for so long actually fits on this thin laptop, saving you from dongle hell.
The other feature that’s just stupidly clever is the relocation of the power button to the cut-out corner. Raise your hand if you’ve picked up your laptop and accidentally pressed its side-mounted power button, putting it into sleep mode or worse. We also find that side-mounted power buttons force a lot of head-tilting to find that button when you need it. The corner location fixes both of those issues.
It’s no surprise that the Spectre x360 13 uses a standard USB-C Power Delivery charger, but the charger’s design shows HP has been listening. The original USB-C brick HP used as recently as two years ago was literally a small brick as boring as what you’d get with an $11 hard drive enclosure. The company moved to a more modern shape with the last generation. With the Spectre x360 13 reviewed here, we see yet another evolution, with curved sides so you can wrap the 65-watt cloth-braided cable around the body for storage. (HP uses the same AC charger design on its thin, light, and leather-wrapped Spectre Folio.)
Keyboard, trackpad and amenities
The keyboard sizing and trackpad are mostly unchanged from the two previous designs. Key travel is plentiful and the overall resistance is fine, perhaps slightly stiffer than in previous models. There are also full-size home, end, and page-up and -down buttons on the right side. We realize some people appreciate these keys, but we always find our fat fingers hitting them by accident.
The trackpad is made by Synaptics (which we prefer), but its wide aspect ratio is controversial because you could activate it by accident. Also of issue to some is how it’s centered. There is no actual standard for how to center a trackpad, but the Spectre x360 13 puts it right at the U key. Other laptops from Dell, Acer, and Apple tend to be over slightly to the left, oriented at the Y key. The wide aspect ratio and right-aligned trackpad means a good amount of your palm is over the trackpad. We found the palm rejection to work fine, but we know from experience it won’t work for all.
The last two features we should give a shout out to are the biometric IR camera and fingerprint reader. We dig that HP moved the latter from the side of the laptop to the keyboard deck. It just makes a ton more sense and is easier to find. We also like that HP continues to support Windows Hello using an IR camera, which some PC makers are oddly ditching.
HP Spectre x360 13 Performance
None of this matters without performance. Our first test is Maxon’s CPU test Cinebench R15. The test measures multi-core performance while rendering a 3D model. We actually tested the Spectre x360 13 using the laptop’s default setting and a new “performance” profile HP uses to help tweak the laptop for higher performance (hence the name).
The good news is that the laptop’s default performance is fair considering its size and convertible design. We’ve found that convertible laptops tend to be slower than traditional clamshell designs. Much of it comes from the fact that you may actually hold it close to your body as a tablet, so the manufacturers are less willing to make the bodies excessively warm.
The bad news? The performance in “performance” mode in Cinebench R15 is actually worse. In fact, it gives the Spectre x360 13 enough of a haircut that its newer and slightly faster Whiskey Lake CPU actually performs more like a previous-gen Kaby Lake R-based convertible. Huh?
Because a 3D test that uses all available cores is not realistic for most people’s work, we also run Cinebench using a single CPU core to simulate much lighter workloads. Most applications, even new ones, typically use just a single core, so this may actually be of more value to most people.
The good news is the Whiskey Lake Core i7 in the Spectre x360 13 places it at the top of the convertible heap. But again, we see that odd backpedal when the laptop is set to “performance” mode.
If you’re ready to remove the Spectre x360 13 from your buy list because of those results, the next chart should make you feel better. We also run PCMark 8’s Work 2.0 Conventional test, which simulates performance on mainstream office applications. Unexpectedly, we saw the Spectre x360 x13 suddenly move to first place, and its Performance mode produce a small performance bump. That Dell XPS 13 9380, which uses the same CPU and has been trouncing all? It’s a mid-packer.
There are benchmarks and there is real-life usage, where your mileage can vary. What this seems to show is variation due to how HP tunes the laptop for “performance.”
Our last CPU test uses the free Handbrake encoder to convert a 30GB file using the Android Tablet preset. The encoder is CPU-heavy, and the more cores, the higher the performance. It also takes a long time to complete, so it tends to reveal any laptops that can’t take the heat and throttle performance as a result.
We again tested the Spectre x360 13 in performance mode and default mode. The results are actually quite good, with performance mode showing a decent uptick that’s really just a hair behind the results for two clamshell laptops with the same CPU.
If you’re interested in where it stands on CPU performance compared to older models, you can look at the 7th-gen-based “Kaby Lake” Spectre x360 13, as well as the 8th-gen-based “Kaby Lake R” Spectre x360 13 in our chart.
You get decent performance from the Whiskey Lake Core i7 in the newest Spectre x360 13 no matter what, but it’s probably not worth moving from the previous generation model. If, however, you are rolling an older 7th-gen Kaby Lake Spectre x360 13 with its dual-core CPU, and you care about encoding or multi-threaded performance, this 2019 model is a very big upgrade.
HP Spectre x360 13 Battery Life Performance
We know folks like to get torqued up about CPU performance in their ultralight laptop categories. Realistically, however, when all you do is run Office and the Chrome browser 95 percent of the time, it’s not that big of a deal.
Everyone cares about battery life. For our test we loop a 4K video short with the laptop set to airplane mode and a set of earbuds in place. The screen brightness for all of our tests is set to a fairly bright 250 to 260 nits. That’s about what you might set it to when working in an office setting.
As you can see the results are amazing. In fact, don’t call it the Spectre x360 13, call it the Spectacular x360 13. The laptop clocked in at just over 16 hours of battery life for video playback. For comparison, the previous Spectre x360 13 already hit a fairly phenomenal 12 hours of run time. HP claims up to 22 hours of video run time, but that’s at lower brightness settings.
Because the battery is the same capacity as the last model's and the CPU is mostly unchanged, much of the credit may go to Intel’s “1-watt” Low Power Display Technology.
In the end, it’s hard not gush about the overachieving HP Spectre x360 13. It's essentially everything we loved about about the previous Spectre x360 13, at a surprisingly reasonable price.
Want to avoid #donglelife? It has USB Type A. Want external graphics? It has Thunderbolt 3. Both IR camera and biometric Windows Hello support? Yup. Add in crazy-longer battery life and generally better performance (clearly there’s still tuning to be done), and you get yet another easy winner in what has long been our pick for best convertible laptop around.
That’s not even mentioning the value. A similarly configured Dell XPS 13 9380 will cost you about $1,400. In Apple land, a MacBook Air with the same amount of RAM and storage will cost the same but net you a far less powerful dual-core, low power, Core i5 chip. And neither the Dell nor Apple have touch or pen support at that price.
So yes, you little overachiever, you get an A.