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HP Spectre 13 x2 Pro review

Pros

  • Excellent hybrid design
  • 8GB of RAM
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Good battery life

There are a number of different interpretations of the hybrid tablet-notebook concept, but one of the most viable is the detachable screen version, as popularised by the Android-based Transformer from Asus, and its imitators. Joining the latter is the HP Spectre 13 x2 Pro, but in this case running Windows 8.1. This is basically the hybrid version of the HP Spectre 13, with a very similar appearance, although there are some notable differences in specification inside.

One difference is an extreme low power processor, in the shape of an Intel Core i5-4202Y. On paper, this has the same 1.6GHz clock speed as the Core i5-4200U of the non-hybrid Spectre 13 we tested. However, whereas a single core on the 4200U can hit 2.6GHz, the ceiling is just 2GHz for the 4202Y, which also only draws 11.5W at its base clock speed, rather than 15W. Additionally, the 4202Y offers a 9.5W mode running at 800MHz, and a super-miserly Scenario Design Power 800MHz mode which draws just 4.5W. So this is a processor very much with enhanced battery life in mind.

Another difference to the 4200U is the graphics. Where the latter integrates Intel HD Graphics 4400, the 4202Y includes the lesser 4200 variety, although in reality the main variation is the top clock speed – 850MHz for the 4200 versus 1GHz for the 4400 – as both have the same 20 execution units. So this won't be a particularly potent graphics accelerator, but it should at least be able to run most software requiring hardware 3D support. HP has sensibly not skimped on the memory, either, supplying 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM. Some vendors are still only including 4GB, often with no upgrade option, and having 8GB from the outset will keep this system usable for that little bit longer.

The storage provision isn't quite so impressive, however, with only 128GB of mSATA-connected capacity provided in the form of a LiteOn LMT-128M6M solid state disk. The non-hybrid Spectre 13 we tested came with the much more contemporary 256GB, and the Spectre 13 x2 Pro is also available with this capacity (but, curiously, with just 4GB of RAM). You can get by with 128GB, but that's really last year's Ultrabook storage size.

HP's hybrid implementation is one of the best we have seen, with the screen locking firmly and easily into place with two catches either side of a single sliding button. So it's simple to remove or replace, but the attachment is very solid. However, the Spectre 13 x2 Pro is rather heavy for an Ultrabook; even a hybrid. The whole package weighs around 2kg, and the tablet portion on its own is just under a kilo.

The dimensions are still in line with a 13in model, though, so this remains a relatively bag-friendly notebook, although you won't want to hold the tablet in your hands for long without resting it on something.

Weight aside, the tablet portion of the Spectre 13 x2 Pro is quite pleasant to use as a tablet. The touchscreen is accurate and smooth to operate. Colours are rich and viewing angles good, marred only by the rather reflective glossy surface. The resolution is a very acceptable full HD, although this isn't the most pin-sharp example of a 1,920 x 1,080 13in display we have seen.

Attaching the base, the Chiclet-style keyboard is comfortable, although the travel is quite shallow. But it's certainly good enough for lengthy bouts of touch typing. As we usually find with HP notebooks, the touchpad has been placed centrally, presumably for aesthetic reasons, where putting it beneath the spacebar reduces the chance of accidental triggering, although we didn't encounter any particular issues with this during testing.

Being a hybrid, the port allocation is more spread out than a regular Ultrabook. The keyboard base has USB 3.0 and HDMI on the left, plus another USB 3.0 and a combined headphone and microphone minijack on the right, alongside the power connection. The bottom edge that connects to the keyboard sports another combined headphone and microphone minijack, another power socket, and underneath a cover, a slot for microSD and a mobile data SIM. We would have liked to see a full-sized SD card slot, though, for use with a digital camera or camcorder, and there's no VGA or LAN on board for corporate users.

Performance is as expected for a notebook with such a mobility-oriented processor. However, it's still perfectly acceptable. The rendering scores of 1.84 in Maxon Cinebench R11.5 and 171 in R15 are relatively meagre, but still significantly ahead of portables based on Intel's Atom. Similarly, the result of 15.39 in the OpenGL portion of Cinebench R11.5 shows the Intel HD Graphics 4200 has some capability, but not a lot.

This is mirrored in the Futuremark 3DMark11 score of 687 and 3DMark Firestrike 1.1 result of 437. This notebook will be able to run 3D-accelerated software, but only at relatively low quality settings and resolutions.

More significantly, the Spectre 13 x2 Pro managed 1,910 in the Home test and 2,580 in the Work test from Futuremark's PCMark 8. These are a little behind the majority of current Ultrabooks, but not by enough that you would notice during everyday activities. This is still a system that will execute everyday business computing tasks with decent fluidity.

Even more significantly, the Spectre 13 x2 Pro lasted a hefty 391 minutes of PCMark 8's Home test in Power Save mode, so will easily manage a full day's work away from the power socket. It lasted an incredible 243 minutes of our 100 per cent CPU and graphics Battery Eater test, too. Most impressive of all, the Spectre 13 x2 Pro also achieves a very decent battery life when the screen portion is separated from the base. In the same PCMark 8 Home test, it endured 306 minutes, whilst still achieving a score of 1233. So you could use it as a standalone tablet for just about a full day as well.

Verdict

We were impressed by the non-hybrid HP Spectre 13 when we looked at it in June, and the Spectre 13 x2 Pro is also an enticing proposition. It is a little heavy, and there are a few small features missing, like the full-sized SD card slot. But overall this is a very workable hybrid, which really can be used comfortably as an Ultrabook or tablet.

Unfortunately, though, the model we looked at costs around the same as Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix. The latter has a clunkier, less funky design but gives you more corporate features for your money. So the Lenovo remains our favourite Transformer-style hybrid, although the HP Spectre 13 x2 Pro is a very good example of the genre, and a very desirable option nonetheless.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

HP Spectre 13 x2 Pro

Processor

1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4202Y

RAM

8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

Intel HD Graphics 4200

Storage

128GB LiteOn LMT-128M6M solid state disk

Optical disc

None

Display

13.3in LED backlit touch TFT with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Networking

802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE/HSPA+ 4G mobile data

Interfaces

2 x USB 3.0, HDMI, combo headphone / microphone, microSD card reader

Width x Depth x Height

340 x 230 x 18mm total; 340 x 217 x 6.9mm tablet only

Weight

1.99kg total; 0.99kg tablet only

Warranty

1 year limited