HP Spectre 13 review: this is the MacBook Air killer

Sleek, beautiful, powerful. The Spectre has (almost) everything

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  • Superb design
  • USB-C-ness
  • So light


  • Only a Full HD display
  • Feels slightly flimsy
  • No backlit keyboard

Thin and light doesn't mean lacking in oomph – today's power laptops are the perfect blend of performance and portability and this HP Spectre has everything in spades.

The 13-inch HP Spectre goes right up against the MacBook Air and other thin-and-light ultraportables such as the Asus Zenbook.

HP Spectre 13 design

The Spectre boasts a latest-generation high-end Core i7 processor and Full HD display yet is only 10.4mm thick. We love the sleek lines of this laptop. Since the MacBook Air first arrived in 2008, the thin and light laptop hasn't changed a great deal. But what we have had is increasingly phenomenal power under the hood.

HP's latest does innovate, with its gold (sorry, copper) fingerprint-attracting edging and sleek black finish, but while the overall aesthetic is world's apart from most people's perception of HP, there's not a huge amount to distinguish it from the ultraportables of several years ago (we're thinking particularly of Asus' luscious Zenbook line here). Apparently the Spectre's colouring is 'dark ash silver and luxe copper'.

You'll get plenty of people thinking the finishing is rose gold instead though! The way the screen almost 'floats' above the keyboard is pretty darn cool. Note there’s also a new, trendy version of the HP logo which HP is using on its consumer gear in the Envy and HP Spectre lines.

A nice touch is the Spectre comes complete with its own sleek sleeve – we wish more laptops would come with their own bespoke outfit!

HP HP Spectre 13 specifications

  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-6500U 2.5Ghz
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage:512GB
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520
  • Display: 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 (166 ppi)
  • Touchscreen? No
  • Dimensions: 229 x 325 x 10.4 mm
  • Weight: 1.1kg

HP Spectre features

The Spectre's keyboard is our favourite here – the keys have a lovely spring-like click to them and we're impressed by how comfortable it is to use. Unusually for a product in this class, the Spectre doesn't have a backlit keyboard, presumably down to the need to save space.

Overall, the Spectre oft-seen standards such as Bluetooth 4.x and 802.11ac Wi-Fi are supported, while there’s also a solid state SSD drive and it's possible to specify it with a vast 512GB version.

Lightweight laptops are never going to deliver the best audio, but HP has clearly taken audio seriously with the Spectre - it has four speakers on board and the sound has been tuned by Bang & Olufsen). It certainly impresses.

Like the Apple MacBook and super Dell XPS 13, the HP Spectre goes all out with its support for the latest super-fast USB-C connectivity standard. When a new standard needs to be adopted, we look to new tentpole devices to lead the way. USB-C is supported on a handful of smartphones, such as the new Google Pixel and more and more laptops are also supporting it.

HP Spectre 13 performance

In terms of battery life, the HP Spectre can manage up to 8 hours according to HP (we managed around six to seven in everyday use). As a comparison, Apple reckons the MacBook can attain around 11 hours of iTunes movie playback and around 10 hours of web browsing. When we reviewed the 2016 revision of the MacBook we found we were getting around 8 hours of regular use, with as much as 10 hours with light use.

The HP Spectre is also available in a variant that's £150 cheaper (£1,150). It skimps slightly on the processor – a Core i5 instead of the i7 and has half the storage (256GB rather than 512GB). If you like to store everything on your laptop, then plump for the 512GB model. You won't regret it. If you don't need to store everything then 256GB is probably enough.

Let's get one thing out of the way first – a Full HD display is no longer enough to win out in a category like this. Laptops should have more and when you're paying at least £1,000 you should definitely have more. So the HP Spectre falls at the first hurdle. While it's a good screen, it's not a great screen. If you've used a highly pixel dense screen before – like on a retina MacBook Pro, for example, you will notice the step back. We also miss laptops like the Spectre being able to connect directly into HDMI cables without expensive adapters. USB-C should make this a bit easier as time goes on.

T3 Verdict

What’s great about the HP Spectre? Just look at it! Absolutely sublime. It's a thoroughbred laptop. For the most part the spec sheet is exemplary.

When you combine the looks with the excellent performance it's an intoxicating mix that many rivals can't match. We're really disappointed the Spectre only comes with a Full HD screen when rivals are forging ahead. As we said above, the Spectre's display won't be good enough if you're used to a higher resolution display, such as on a retina MacBook Pro.

Yet ,with that speedy Core i7 under the hood, the Spectre has enough get-up-and-go for even the most complicated tasks. The large SSD is welcome, and we love the keyboard, too (although we want it to be backlit).

We thought battery life could have been a little better. But overall, The Spectre is the perfect balance between super performance, future-proofing, a sumptuous design and a price that isn't astronomical.

Check out our guide to the best laptops