A second look at the Spectre x360: the best laptop HP's ever made

The HP Spectre x360 is arguably the best convertible ultrabook released this year. That's a huge compliment considering the competition has been fierce throughout 2016. HP hit it out of the ballpark with the Spectre x360, bringing a super premium and thin design to the convertible form factor, offering high-end specifications at a relatively bearable price.

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As our very own Daniel Rubino claims, the HP Spectre x360 is the best 13-inch laptop this year. I agree with him, but best doesn't necessarily have to mean perfect. I'm definitely not the first to admit that the Spectre x360 has some drawbacks, some of which might not actually be drawbacks to everyone. They are to me however, and I think it's a good idea to address them first.

So let's talk about the trackpad. It's not great. It feels great, and it's definitely big enough, but it's using Synaptics for the drivers and technology, rather than Precision which Microsoft recommends. Laptops like the Surface Book and Dell XPS 13/15 use Precision touchpads, whereas HP continue to use Synaptics even on their most premium devices.

It's a shame, because when compared side-by-side, Precision touchpads are just better in every way. They're very similar to the trackpads found on the Macs, which is basically the best a trackpad can be. Synaptics is not at this level, nowhere near in fact. It's unfortunate, because it's my biggest gripe with the Spectre x360 — I just cannot get used to the trackpad.

I'd rather give up configurability of Synaptics trackpads in exchange for the better overall experience of a Precision trackpad.

There are much more configuration options with a Synaptics trackpad over a Precision one, and a lot of people say with enough tuning, you can get the Synaptics trackpads to feel relatively similar to Precision ones, but it's still not perfect. I'd rather give up configurability in exchange a much better experience overall. I know many will disagree with me in this regard, but Precision touchpads, in my opinion, are the best and the only trackpads hardware makers should be using in their premium devices.

Second, and again this probably isn't much of a problem to everyone, but the lack of an SD card reader is also a bit of an issue for me. I use SD cards a lot, and there isn't a slot for one here. The Surface Book and XPS 13, both laptops which I have owned previously, have a slot for an SD card. The Spectre x360 does not.

I understand the Spectre x360 isn't exactly playing in the same ballpark as the Surface Book or XPS 13, but it's super difficult not to compare them. The Spectre x360 is an amazing laptop, even if it's a convertible first and foremost, so it's a shame to see some of these things that I've come to know and love on other laptops omitted from the Spectre. That said, the SD card reader issue can be bypassed by using some kind of adapter, something Apple fans are already accustomed to.

The final issue that I think is worth mentioning is the speakers. They're okay, but they aren't anything special. That's the case with a lot of ultrabooks, but the Spectre x360 has speakers tuned by Bang and Olufsun. I was expecting these speakers to be better, but they're at best, average.

What's more, I continue to run into a bug that I assume is more related to Windows than the hardware itself, but sometimes Windows won't listen to the volume controls. I'll turn the volume down, but the audio will continue to output at wherever it was before. Muting will mute, but I can't adjust the volume even though the UI is telling me that I have. A fix for this is to restart, which is fairly simple, but frustrating. It's an issue nonetheless.

Now, let's move onto what I absolutely love about the Spectre x360. I probably love the keyboard the most, being very tactile, clean and sexy to type on. It's a pleasure typing on the Spectre, so much so that I actually prefer the typing experience on my Spectre over the Surface Book or XPS 13. That's a huge compliment, considering the Surface Book is considered to have the best keyboard on an ultrabook.

I admit, there are some quirks with some key positioning. I dislike how the Page Up, Page Down, Insert, Home, etc. keys are positioned down the very right hand side of the keyboard. I expect to find the backspace and enter key buttons at the very edge of a 13-inch laptops keyboard, but on the Spectre 360 that's not the case. It's a little disorientating at first, but it's something you get used to quite quickly.

I also love how the Spectre x360 includes a Windows Hello camera that uses facial recognition just like the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. More often than not, hardware makers will implement either some kind of fingerprint reader or iris scanner on their devices for Windows Hello, but the best Windows Hello is facial recognition. I'm so glad the Spectre x360 has facial recognition, because it works great and is something I simply cannot live without now that I've been using it so long.

I'm a big fan of the 1080p display, which looks great at this 13-inch size.

The screen is another thing HP has done tremendously well. It's touchscreen, which is always nice, but it's also sort of bezel-less. Not at the top, like on the XPS 13, but on the sides. It's enough to make it look great, whilst maintaining a camera up to that's good enough for Windows Hello. I'm also a big fan of the 1080p display, rather than 4K, at this screen size. It's 13 inches, so 1080p looks fine if you're using the device at a normal distance. I've had no issues with screen quality whatsoever, and actually prefer it over other devices 1080p screens too.

The only issues I have with the screen are mostly Windows 10's fault. Out of the box, Windows sets its display scaling too high, making elements too big and giving you real estate similar to that of a 1366x768 screen. I simply lowered my display scaling setting in the Settings app to 125%, which makes it far more bearable, but Windows 10 isn't great at 125% scaling. Some elements look weird, such as the Action Center that display notifications in an odd manner. And some Win32 apps don't scale correctly at 125% either. Because of this, apps like Photoshop either look too small or too big on the Spectre x360. Just something to keep in mind.

Finally, let's talk hardware design. I think I speak for everyone when I say the Spectre x360 is a beautiful device. It looks great, it's super thin, and it's made of metal which gives it a premium edge over plastic/carbon-fibre. It's obvious that HP has paid a lot of attention to the design on the Spectre, from things like the straight-cut metal along the sides of the device all the way down to the smooth curves of the corners and the incredible geared hinges that just looks and feels phenomenal.

I think the design is the best part about the Spectre x360. It's just a classy, sexy, thin, and light device that will have even MacBook users turning their heads. It's superb to see HP building devices like this — it was only a few years ago that HP, Dell, and their PC compatriots were building utter rubbish laptops. I'm glad HP is now focused on building premium devices that are a joy the use, and I honestly think the HP Spectre x360 is the best laptop HP has ever made.

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Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter and Threads