HP Spectre 15 x360 2017 Review: Hardware Doesn’t Mean Everything

HP has been stepping it up the last couple years in terms of laptop quality. If you compare their top end models, or even their mid range Envy line, to the top end models from a couple years ago, you will see how much better they are at building laptops. The Spectre, HP’s high end consumer line, checks off many of the boxes that a demanding consumer is looking for: great specifications, small form factor, metal housing, extensive IO, and Windows Hello compatibility. Unfortunately, the above doesn’t tell the whole story.

While HP decided to revise the design language of the smaller 13-inch Spectre x360, they did not make any major design changes to the larger 15-inch version. This is my first 15 inch device since my Dell XPS 15z in college. After a few years of using devices 13 inches and smaller, this is a hefty laptop. While it’s got a relatively small footprint for its screen size, it is still much larger than any of the other computers I have used recently.

Design:

While the Spectre x360 feels premium, it loses some of that premium feeling with it’s size. The 15 inch model (.7  inches) significantly thicker than the 13 inch model (.53 inches). That difference is over 30%. By comparison, the Dell XPS 15 (.66 inches) is only 10% thicker than the 13 inch model (.60 inches). The XPS 15 also is able to fit in a smaller footprint (14″x9.27″ vs 14″x9.88″). The top half of the HP Spectre 15 is really big and heavy. As a result, it is very hard to open the lid without using two hands. It was actually a chore to pry the two pieces apart.

While it is nice to have a touch screen on any device, I did not use this device as a tablet at all, and only flipped the keyboard around as a stand a couple times. I am not sure how many people will want to use a 15 inch tablet that is this heavy. In order to achieve the 360 degree hinge, I think HP limits their design, and therefore I think the benefit is not worth the lost potential.

Screen:

The model I tested had a 4k 15-inch screen. I did not see an option for anything less than that. While I understand that HP wants to pitch their device as premium, I wish there were more options. I would opt for a 1440p screen if it meant taking some off the price. Having been used to using 13 and 14 inch screens, it’s nice to have the extra real estate of a 15 inch screen, and it makes feel less obligated to use my desktop. If this was my only device, I wouldn’t feel as obligated to get a monitor. On first glance the screen seems to be tinted a little blue, and unfortunately does not get very bright.

Trackpad and Keyboard:

This keyboard is actually really enjoyable to type on. One benefit of having a larger device is key spacing, which can be just as important as key travel for a comfortable keyboard. Thankfully, the 15 inch x360 has both. While the trackpad is smooth, it seems to overreact a little bit to my motions. I tried reducing the sensitivity of the trackpad in settings, but I wasn’t able to get it to a comfortable middle ground.

Other:

  • The Spectre 15 does have a good number of ports. I’m not sure exactly why it has two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the same side. It might make more sense to put one on either side, but I guess it’s nice to have 2. A full sized HDMI also makes it easier to connect to monitors that I don’t have adapters for.
  • Windows Hello works with an IR sensor rather than a fingerprint scanner. While the Matebook X has led me to think the fingerprint scanners are better, this IR sensor is still relatively fast, which is nice.

Specifications and Performance

The model I used, which is the base model at the time of writing, has a quad core i7-8550U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD. If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking that the Spectre x360 15-inch is a great device despite a couple of shortcomings. And considering the specifications that this device has, I would normally tell you yes. Unfortunately, that’s not the whole story. After using this computer for two weeks, I’m starting to think getting a high end device in 2017 with only 8 GB of RAM was a mistake. I never would have thought that before, but since this device is an HP, and it is not upgradeable, I will likely return it.

Even after shutting down every program, I still have memory usage of 20-30%. I tried everything I could think of to resolve this – uninstalled memory-hungry programs, did a clean installation of Windows, and called HP support, but nothing worked. It’s ironic, because I had no problems with using the 4 GB of RAM in the Surface Laptop. My old 13 inch x360 (early 2017) had a lot of problems with RAM usage and running hot, but I was smart enough to get the 16GB RAM model. How is it possible that a quad core processor with 8 GB of RAM can’t handle Spotify? HP really needs to get their ducks in a row when it comes to background processes.

Conclusion:

Performance that doesn’t match specifications is a discussion that I would normally reserve for phones. While performance differs manufacturer by manufacturer, I didn’t expect to be so disappointed by a relatively high specced device.

If I wasn’t clear enough in my rant, the only way I’d recommend this device is if you can get a 16GB RAM model for a reasonable price. I implore HP to solve whatever is causing the issues I have experienced on the four consumer laptops I have used from them in the past year. HP has made great strides in making their hardware look great, now it’s just a matter of making their software just as great.

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