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HP Spectre x360 13 review: A real Surface Book rival with 4K display and pen

How do you make our highest-rated 13-inch Ultrabook even better? You toss in a high-res display, active pen, and a groovy new color option.

One big downside of the late-2016 HP Spectre x360 was the lack of an active pen for the 13-inch version. (One was included with the 15-inch variant). It was an odd oversight because HP previously offered a pen with the older model. Without an active digitizer, the Spectre x360 13 is a fantastic 2-in-1, but it is no real Surface competitor.

Windows Central Recommended Award

That all changed with a new option at the high-end. HP's new offering, priced at $1,199 and $1,599, adds a pen, a new "dark ash" color scheme, and a very impressive full 4K (3840 x 2160) display.

Did HP overshoot with this model? Or did it perfect an already-excellent machine? Read on to find out.

About this review

The Spectre x360 used in this report is a loaner unit supplied by HP. It features a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. The retail price is $1,599.

Spectre x360 13 4K Hardware – What's new and different?

HP offers two versions of the new Spectre x360 with 4K display and pen. There is the standard silver version with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for just $1,199, and the top of the line model with 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and the dark ash color for $1,599.

Both feature an Intel "Kaby Lake" Core i7-7500U processor with Intel HD 620 graphics. The new active pen is included in the box.

HP Spectre x360 specifications

CategorySpecs
OSWindows 10 Home
Processor7th-Gen Intel Core i7-7500U
Base frequency at 2.7GHz; Turbo to 3.5GHz
Display13.3-inch diagonal
4K (3840 x 2160)
IPS UWVA WLED-backlit multitouch-enabled
Edge-to-edge glass
Active penYes (ELAN), included
Memory8GB or 16 GB LPDDR3 SDRAM
Solid-state drive (SSD)256 or 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 620
AudioBang & Olufsen with quad speakers
WebcamFront-facing HP TrueVision FHD IR Webcam
Windows Hello capable
Weight2.9 lb (1.32kg)
Wireless2x2 802.11ac WLAN and Bluetooth
Portstwo USB 3.1 Type-C Thunderbolt ports
one USB 3.1 Type-A
one Headphone/microphone combo
Battery57WHr
PowerType-C Fast Charge
ColorNatural silver or dark ash

The big differences with the 13-AC033DX model come down to three changes:

  • 13.3-inch 4K display (versus Full HD).
  • Dark ash color (versus natural silver).
  • Active pen.

While I was OK with the natural silver in the past, I did ding the Spectre for its matching silver keys, which did not offer a lot of contrast when backlit. That problem is solved with the dark ash color and its near-black keys. I adore the gold trim, as well, and if given a choice would opt for dark ash over silver. HP made a very handsome laptop here.

Other than the above, the HP Spectre x360 is the same as the version I reviewed late last year. Because of that reason, I'll mostly focus on the display and pen for this review. For a deeper dive, you can check out my full review for more detail.

Is 4K in a 13-incher too much?

The 4K display panel type is the same as found in HP's 15-inch version of the Spectre x360. It's non-PenTile, which is a victory for many enthusiasts who do not care for the checkered pixels and who want "real" 4K resolution.

HP Spectre x360 13 4K

As noted in my Spectre x360 15-inch review, HP's display type is more natural and not as intense as IGZO, making it a bit easier to stare at for long periods.

But is 4K too much for such a small screen?

Usually, 13.3-inch Ultrabooks max at QHD (3200 x 1800, 276 pixels per inch), and it is rare to see 4K (3840 x 2160, 331 pixels per inch) at this size. In fact, this is the first 13-inch laptop I have used with a 4K display.

But it's not too much at all. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Windows 10 at 300 percent scaling handled apps and video just fine.

Typically, I prefer 15-inch laptops at Full HD because I'm spending more time behind large displays all day. However, I must confess that 4K at 13-inches works very well, letting me read and write without any eye strain.

I still think Full HD is a viable option for many due to its price point and battery longevity (more on that below), but after spending a few days at 4K, I'm sold.

Screen brightness is good but not exceptional. It gets plenty bright for indoor usage, but with the glossy panel, it will struggle outdoors.

The color and contrast of this display is 99 percent sRGB and 78 percent of AdobeRGB. It's tuned to be a little cooler at 7,500k, but out of the box, this panel does not need calibration.

Overall, I'm very impressed with the 4K screen. Everything looks fantastic, calibration is spot on, and brightness is satisfactory. I'd easily rank this Spectre's display near the top of my list.

An active pen for Windows Ink

HP noted that there were a few reasons for the omission of an active pen with the late-2016 Spectre x360. Part of it was the screen technology it wanted to use, which includes razor-thin side bezels, and it was just not ready or available for pen support. HP also said it received feedback from consumers who desired a pen option, and Microsoft's Creators Update due in April will bring more support for digital inking.

HP Spectre x360 13 4K

The pen and display technology are ELAN with Microsoft Pen Certification. You can use a Surface Pen with it, but the buttons won't be functional.

It's also the same HP Active Pen that comes with the 15-inch Spectre, complete with dual buttons on the bottom but no faux eraser button on top. That's a shame becasue such a button lets you quick-launch applications on the Surface, but not here.

Still, I'm a big fan of HP's Active Pens. HP borrows from the Surface Pen in design, weight and size, but that's a good thing here. It works so well, especially with the Creators Update, that I'm slowly working Windows Ink into my daily routine.

Unfortunately, there is no pen loop or way to anchor it to the Spectre x360, meaning you must throw into a bag or pocket. I'm not sure what HP could do here besides include a sticker loop (which the company did with the EliteBook x360). The Spectre is too thin to put the pen into the body, and to make the pen thinner would just be wrong for usage.

HP Spectre x360 15 review: The best gets bigger

Using a pen on a 13-inch Spectre is a lot easier and more reasonable than the 15-inch version, as well. Being under 3 lbs makes the smaller version just simpler to wield. You're more likely to use the pen with this model than its bigger brother, and it just makes more sense here.

Battery life takes a hit (and gets hot)

It should be unsurprising that the Spectre x360 13t with a 4K display is going to get less battery life. The original version with Full HD pushed eight maybe nine hours, but at 4K you will lose about 30 percent of your battery.

In real-world usage, I experienced around six to seven hours of battery life when set to 40 percent brightness. Much of that depends on whether you are taxing the Intel HD GPU and what screen brightness you use.

That may seem disappointing, but the 4K Spectre still packs the same 57Whr battery as the Full HD version. That means it is still a 2.9 lb (1.32kg) laptop that now pushes many more pixels at 4K.

Luckily, HP uses Fast Charge with the included Type-C AC adapter, making quick power refreshes a breeze.

I did notice a little more heat, and the fans kicked in more often, likely due to the extra processing power needed for the Intel HD chip.

While more battery is always better, the 4K Spectre brings a good balance considering what it is: a Core i7 2-in-1 with pen and a 4K display. There are not many laptops on the market with that feature set that weigh so little – and that look this beautiful. The battery tale is the same story with Dell and its XPS 15 line, which also offers a Full HD or 4K panel.

High-resolution display, or superb battery life? You can't have both in 2017.

Spectre x360 is your alternative to Surface Book

Despite getting less battery life, which is not at all surprising, I adore the 4K Spectre x360. As noted in my original review, you are getting an outstanding industrial design with a CNC-machined metal chassis, one of the best keyboards on the market, Windows Hello IR camera, and a device that can be a tablet, laptop, or presentation laptop.

HP Spectre x360 13 4K

The 4K display and pen is a winning combo for those who enjoy inking in Windows 10. Speaking of, the Creators Update runs flawless, which bodes well for later in April when the software is properly released. While I was skeptical of such a high-resolution display on a 13-inch laptop, after using it for a few days I'm finding it hard to give up. And I probably won't.

Toss in the dark ash color scheme with a $1,599 price, and you have your Microsoft Surface Book alternative. The closest model Microsoft has with this Spectre's feature set is priced at $2,699, though it has a slightly beefier GPU.

That contrast in price is starker with the lower-tier Spectre x360 at just $1,199. The cheapest Surface Book has an older and slower Core i5 with just 128GB of storage but still comes in at $300 more, at $1,499.

The cost comparison and value is evident. I think for $1,199 the Spectre x360 with 4K and pen is a steal. You are getting the best of HP and Windows 10 in a device that other companies would charge $2,000 or more for.

Now, the only thing I need HP to do with the Spectre line is ditch the Synaptics trackpad, which while good still pales in comparison to Precision trackpads. Otherwise, the Spectre x360 with 4K is (still) the best 13-inch Ultrabook you can buy right now.

What about speakers, typing, trackpad, benchmarks, and more? Read my full review of the Spectre x360 for all of that.

See at Best Buy (opens in new tab)

Pros:

  • Amazing design.
  • Excellent 4K display.
  • Active pen.
  • Best keyboard.
  • Windows Hello.
  • USB Fast Charge.
  • Fantastic value.

Cons:

  • No Precision Touchpad.
  • No SD card slot or HDMI out.
  • Battery life takes a hit.

Wallpaper images utilized in this review are under license from Shutterstock and mashe. You can purchases images from that collection here (opens in new tab).

Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

52 Comments
  • Where have all the decent mid range 17" laptops gone. It's either small and high powered or large and gaming specs... Standard 15" laptops just lull in that middle space as 'something for everyone else'. My Samsung RF710 is a great 17" laptop with space for two HDD's without losing the blu-ray drive. 1Gb dedicated video RAM and was less that £800. I cannot find anything with the same capabilities unless you go for a full gaming setup. Mine now has 2x2Tb SSHD's and it's proving hard to find a decent replacement. Not everyone wants a small screen!
  • well... the difference between a 15 and a 17 display is not that HUGE... you can always use an extern monitor if the size matters for you :))
  • You think. Put side by side there is a real difference. And it's not just the screen size. The form factor gives you more room for a better spaced keyboard, that second hard drive. Plus with better DPI scaling higher resolution can deliver much more real estate. Visual Studio on a 15" is just about acceptable IMO. There is other software too that works better with more space...
  • Aahhrg...no SD Card slot is really kinda hard for me to cope with. It means carrying always a reader with me, as I use it frequently (Camera). Great to see that active Pen is now available. Re Touchpad: What does Precision mean? Is that only software, or is also a special Hardware necessary, iow could HP change this via an Update?
  • Can't change the touchpad to Precision. It's hardware. HP includes the Synaptics touchpad hardware. I think they're quite good, but I've never used a Precision touchpad to compare. Daniel has been clear that he prefers Precision over Synaptics.
  • Yep
  • Surface Book precision touchpad is just awesome, so I guess that's what he's measuring against.
  • Anyone know if this bad boy let's ya use the USB C as an e-GPU thunderbolt port ?
  • It does. All HP's are good like that. Even their EliteBook does this.
  • Yup.  Use it with a Razer Core and a 1070 GPU.  Games play well but Razer is still working out some of the kinks.  I only plug in the eGPU when I'm ready to game.  Otherwise, I'm using the integrated video card with two HP 4k monitors that power the laptop via USB-C when I work.  It really is an incredible laptop.
  • Using a pen on 16x9 form factor? Just say no to this one, people. If you use the pen for note taking, it just doesn't work well.
  • Had they put a 1060 in this thing I would have found it very hard to resist.
  • Well, it would get about 2 hours of battery life and be 120F, or weigh 5lbs. 1060 would not work with this design, not yet.
  • Doesn't Lenovo have a convertable one coming out with a 1060 in it?
  • ...or was it only a 1050?
  • Only 1050. It's Lenovo yoga 7xx. I don't remember which one 😅
  • Ok thanks.
  • Yoga 720. The 15" model with the GTX 1050 is available on their US site now.
  • Yeah, the HP build looks so good though... Hopefully they do a quick refresh and add the 1050. Likely not though. 😢
  • I'd be shocked if somehow Lenovo don't underclock that 1050; no way can it run maxed and get sane thermals in think laptop
  • Will you be reviewing it? The Lenovo hardware actually looks pretty good as well.
  • Sure. Have X1 Carbon next.
  • @DanielRubino After getting shipping delays for over a month, I finally received my Spectre 13t 4k a couple weeks ago, and have been absolutely loving it. Question: Do you forsee any issue at all using the Spectre with a Thunderbolt ultrawide monitor like the LG 34UM88-P? I really want to order the ultrawide to pair with the laptop, but I am unsure whether the Spectre will be able to push the 3440x1440 resolution with the Intel HD620? I am guessing it can since it is pushing the laptops own 4k display, but i prolly wouldn't be able to run the internal display and an external at the same time? I have also heard some reports of HPs thunderbolt ports limiting compatibility with a variety of periferals. Your opinion / thoughts would be much appreciated. Great review.
  • Thanks, and yes, you should be able to do 4K out with the HD620 and still hit 60FPS if using Type C; Even HP's business EliteBook x360 has a 4K option and 4xPCIe for Type C for that purpose. You could always go the real expensive, but fun route, of using an eGPU.
  • Thanks. Appreciate the response. My problem isn't actually finding $500 to spend on a Razor Core, but justifying it... I don't understand how a PCI enclosure for a GPU could cost $500. Still playing with the idea, so we will see!
  • Yeah, it's definitely not cheap and not sure why it's so expensive. I'll review it soon, because it is super nice quality at least (plus it lights up! lol).
  • Beautiful device - not as much as Surface Book though
  • Ah, there is Hello signin!  Great.  This or the XPS 13 2n1?  
  • Comes down to (1) do you want/need inking (2) form factor abilities and then (3) battery life
  • I wish MS would have released the Surface Pro 5 - ideally with a bigger screen.  That would be my perfect device.  We do a lot of Excel/Power BI and the Surface screen is just  smidge to small.  My sales force travels a lot so, they prefer the form factor and weight though.
  • If it's anything like the late-2016 13" Spectre x360, it'll have garbage quality control. I went through five (5!) of them, and all had various keyboard, trackpad and USB-C issues to where it was unusable, especially given their $1,000+ price tags. Inexcusable. I can't recommend any laptop from HP.
  • There are always a few lemons when hundreds of thousands or millions of devices are manufactured. But you must be incredibly unlucky to get five in a row! I've had the late-2016 13" HP Spectre x360 for four months now and haven't had any of the problems you describe or the fan noise a few complain about in reviews. I did experience fast battery drain during sleep mode, but that seems to be a lot better now. Maybe I'm just incredibly lucky. But I think we'd see a LOT more bad reviews if that were the case.
  • I very well may have been incredibly unlucky. I still have a slight soft spot for the Spectre x360 - it's the best looking 2-in-1 out there to me. I may just be incredibly picky and critical, but I think anyone spending over a grand on a computer should be. A part of me wants to try it one last time (which is what I said after number three...) but I don't know... Best Buy doesn't want me buying and returning any additional laptops, and HP takes too long :/. The trackpad was my main concern. Even with very light taps, you can hear a noise as if it's bottoming out. Literally every HP laptop at Best Buy (and Costco) I tried does this. In fact, almost every other laptop that they had did this, including the Surface Book. I blame Synaptics for half-assing trackpads.
  • Looks nice. However, I'd prefer a 3:2 screen format -- 3:2 is, in my view, better for doing work (essentially, you can view taller documents) while 16:9 is fine for watching videos. Also, to me, an SD card reader is a must + HDMI standard size output.
  • yeah, 3:2 is nice, but some still prefer the wider design; for full hdmi/sd card HP does do that for their 4K Spectre x360 15" at least. Alternatively, there is the EliteBook x360. My review for that goes up tomorrow and it at least has HDMI out (still micro SD though).
  • I am in search for a new PC now and I really really want Surface Book, but although its super cool with all those features that no one is offering, I still can not justify its price. :( I am sad about it but I think this hp spectre is the one that can save people who have similar thinking as me but I really really want Surface Book too :P
  • "Windows 10 at 300 percent scaling handled apps and video just fine" Let's talk about Chrome on a secondary monitor, shall we?
  • Depends are you using Creators Update? They did a lot with scaling and external monitors with the update. Also, TBF I was just talking about using it as-is.
  • This is a nice, compact, laptop. I love the fact that it has a pressure pen. That's a big deal to me. However, the GPU is awful and CPU is just average. These specs are disappointing to me. There's not enough performance here for me to take this system seriously. HP needs to come out with a model that has Iris graphics or discrete graphics. HD Graphics 620 is too weak.
  • You aren't going to get U-series CPUs in ultra books of this size.   HP does offer i7 models with Iris Plus graphics as an option for the 1080p model. For some reason, not for the 4K model, at least not yet...
  • I have this laptop in the non-4k version with 16GB and a 1TB special order SSD.  But with the pen.  It's the best laptop I've ever had.  So portable, yet fast and quiet.  A dream travel device.
  • Hey how good is the hand writing and note taking experience?does the 16:9 reduce its utility as a paper notebook replacement on the table?
  • The 4K display is exciting. That's what I really wanted when I settled for the full HD model a few months ago. I'd be okay giving up an hour or two of battery life since I'm usually in places that have outlets nearby. However, inking/pen support is not something I've ever been all that interested in. Unless you're an artist or prefer handwriting or need to mark up documents a lot what's the point? I can use a basic passive digitizer for the occasional distance measurement map tracing and other simple inking features.
  • It seems from the language of this review and others I have read that only the 4k version has pen input amd not the 1080p one.
    Is that the case? I'm interested in a laptop for lots of programming work away from an outlet, but also want to handwrite my notes digitally.
    My budget is 1500$
    I'm either gonna get -
    Asus UX330UA + 9.7in ipad pro.
    Or
    Hp spectre x360 13t-
    ~1000$ one, 1080p, i5, 8GB, 256GB + ipad pro.
    Or
    ~1400$ one, 1080p, i7, 16GB, 512GB, No ipad pro. I want a great laptop not also what to write comments and annotations with a stylus. What would your opinion be?
  • HP sells the 1080p version with pen included on their website.
  • Or should I wait for the elite book x360?
    I returned a surface pro 4 because of its atrocious battery life. How's the pen and writing quality on this thing? Thanks
  • Pen feels like any Surface to me. I'm not artist, but I have no complaints about the pen except a missing programmable button. EliteBook x360 pen is also excellent.
  • Atrocious battery life?? Not here. Get 9 hours....☺ problems with it? Love mine, best thing I ever did.
  • Beautiful looking device but for me I think the 4k display isn't needed or really wanted. I'd rather have the precision touchpad, better battery life with a slightly lessor screen, and it would be almost perfect. The pen thing sort of awkward and nowhere to put it, aka, 'what do I do with my hands?' episode on How I Met Your Mother - that should be addressed. The magnetic attachment on my Pro and my wife's SB is fantastic.
  • hello daniel, what do you recomend 13 inch or 15 inch .. i want to get 15 in but do you think 13 inch is better in terms of cooling and battery life weight difference comfortable in one hand.. Do TB3 on both laptops support egpu.. thanks
  • 15" is really nice but significantly larger and heavier. It's a big difference. The 13" is more normal for using a pen, imo, but it's not bad on the 15. Both support eGPU.
  • thanks for the info.. waiting for computex to see if any thing new and power full comes up like asus zenbook pro 550 or even zenbook 4..