HP Spectre x2 review: Like the Surface Pro 4, only cheaper
HP Spectre x2: Features & connectivity
A quick scan around the Spectre x2’s edges does reveal some nice little additions. The first of these is given away by the strip of gloss black along its top edge: it’s this that hides the Intel RealSense 3D cameras. RealSense 3D tech allows the HP to employ a variety of 3D-scanning and depth-sensing trickery, but does it actually add anything to the experience? Well, unless you count the ability to 3D scan your friends’ faces, and utilise Windows’ Hello face unlock feature, not really. The deciding factor will be whether third-party applications actually do anything useful with the technology.
The rear-facing RealSense cameras can also take bog-standard 6MP photos, but the quality isn’t anything to write home about. The rear-facing camera often struggles to lock on to focus, and even when it does, the resulting images are soft and lacking in detail. The front-facing 5MP camera takes slightly clearer-looking snaps, but closer inspection reveals photos that are smothered with noise-reduction and sharpening artifacts – selfie fans will be crestfallen.
Even the built-in B&O speakers are disappointing. Volume is reasonable, and no amount of tweaking the pre-installed Bang & Olufsen EQ software does much to fatten up the sound. There’s enough clarity to watch movies, or just check out the occasional online video, but you’d never choose to listen to music on the Spectre x2 unless you had no other options.
Connectivity is pretty good on the whole. Personally, I’m pleased to see HP has embraced the benefits of USB Type-C, even if it means I’ll have to carry a USB Type-C to USB-A adapter around. The Spectre x2 has two USB Type-C ports, one on either edge, either of which can charge the tablet’s internal battery or connect to external USB 3 adapters, docks and power external displays. There’s also a microSD slot for good measure, and wireless connectivity stretches to 2×2 stream 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.
HP Spectre x2: Performance and battery life
The Spectre x2 comes in two flavours. The £699 model I have here is powered by one of the newest Skylake-generation Intel Core m3 processors and comes with 4GB of RAM; the £899 model takes that up to an Intel Core m7 processor and 8GB of RAM. Whichever you choose, you get 256GB of speedy SSD storage, which is generous given the asking price.
You might expect a dual-core processor that uses a mere 5W of power and runs at 900MHz to drag its heels, but it’s far from sluggish. An overall score of 23 doesn’t sound particularly startling, but that’s dragged down mercilessly by the demands of Alphr’s brutal multi-tasking tests. In the image-editing tests, it scored a competitive 54, and a score of 32 in our video transcoding test is equally respectable. This just goes to show how good the Intel Core M processor is at providing instantaneous 2GHz bursts of Turbo-boosted power – it only flounders once you push it flat-out for extended periods.
That means, in everyday use, you’re only liable to notice the Spectre x2’s limited reserves of power once you press it with something like video rendering or heavy-duty RAW file processing – and once you up the workload in tablet mode, you may also notice yourself getting sweaty palms, as the rear of the device gets rather warm.
HP hasn’t used a particularly quick SATA SSD, either. The Samsung drive gave decent sequential read speeds of 465MB/sec, but the write speeds topped out at 74MB/sec, which is very slow by today’s standards.
If you’re expecting astonishing battery life, prepare to adjust your expectations there, too. Despite the power-efficient CPU, the Spectre x2 isn’t anything to Skype home about. With the screen brightness cranked up to a fairly bright 170cd/m2, our video rundown test kept going for 6hrs 7min. Bear in mind, though, that 170cd/m2 is excessively bright in most indoor conditions – dial the brightness down, and I’d be surprised if you couldn’t squeeze nearer eight hours out of the Spectre.
HP Spectre x2: Verdict
So, you’re left with a choice. You can either spend £699 on the HP Spectre x2, or you can spend £860 on the Core m3 Surface Pro 4 and Type Cover. For me, the decision is easy. Despite having half the storage, the Surface Pro 4 does everything the HP does in a more refined package. In fact, the vastly superior display quality swings it for me alone, and for that, I’d happily put up with the smaller SSD.
Don’t get me wrong, the HP Spectre x2 is a competent, reasonably-priced hybrid, and if the price shrinks yet further in the future it may become something of a bargain. But when its major selling point is being cheaper than one of the best tablets money can buy, being roughly half as good doesn’t cut it. Sorry, HP, but I can’t get excited about this Surface Pro 4 rival.
Further reading: The best laptops of 2016 – these are our favourite portables