A capable Ultrabook that’s held back by an average screen.
HP have been eager to push their Spectre lineup of units, aiming to offer a somewhat ‘premium’ look and feel product that exudes both grace and glamour Their latest offers comes in the form of the HP Spectre XT, which tries to stand out in a market that is already full to the brim with other manufacturers touting thin and lightweight devices. So does the Spectre XT grab your attention long enough for you to fall in love with it?
Build quality & Design
What’s suitably striking about the Spectre XT has to be its design and finishing. The premium aluminum finish certainly ups the XT’s desirability factor, and the almost flawless design carries on to the base of the unit as well. The bottom half of the XT is one entire piece, and the back has a slight rubbery feel to it, making it much more comfortable to carry around and avoid slipping from your grasp. There’s also a silver velvet sleeve that you can carry your precious XT around in if you’re too good for a traditional laptop bag.
HP haven’t included too many ports on the Spectre XT, but there’s still enough here to keep most users happy. The right side hosts a USB port, card reader and headphone jack, while the left side has another USB, full-size HDMI, and a Gigabit Ethernet port with a small spring-loaded cover.
My one gripe with the Spectre XT has to be the power cord. Since the power port is located on the side, the power cord sticks out in a rather unflattering manner, and also makes it quite difficult to slot in certain USB drives into the adjacent port. If HP had maybe redesigned the power adapter to use an ‘L’ shaped connector you wouldn’t face this issue, so hopefully this is something that HP could take into consideration.
The Spectre XT has fairly acceptable specifications for an Ultrabook, which should be perfect for everyday tasks. Gaming and more intensive programs will suffer, but again most Ultrabooks aren’t designed for these purposes anyway. The only thing worth noticing here is that you’ll apparently be stuck with the 4GB of RAM – it’s soldered onto the motherboard, so upgrading that component won’t be possible. Still, 4GB is enough to run a myriad of programs at the same time without any slowdowns.
Benchmarks & Performance
The Spectre XT held up well through my regular working day, easily accommodating my multiple web browsers, email, and the often memory-hungry TweetDeck. The XT didn’t show any signs of slowing down, and only on one occasion did Firefox die on me (thanks to a dodgy Flash banner). For everyday tasks for the regular workaholic, the Spectre XT does quite well under pressure. Of course, the bundled SSD makes things easier, with the XT booting up to the desktop in about 18 seconds, and resuming from sleep in just under 2 seconds.
Screen & Audio
While the Spectre XT does impress with its appearance and performance, one area where it did seem to suffer was in the screen. HP have gone with a glossy black plastic bezel that surrounds the screen, which is really something I’d expect to see on one of their other laptops, and not on the XT.
The screen itself is nothing special, clocking in at a standard 1366 x 768 resolution. The unfortunate thing though is while it does offer a decent amount of brightness whether plugged in or on the go, the colors tend to change quite easily if you tilt the screen even by the smallest angle. HD playback was passable, but again any shift in the screen will skew the colors a bit.
HP has been known to usually deliver some capable sound in its laptops, and the Spectre XT does at least do this justice. The now-standard Beats audio provides plenty of bass through the two speakers near the hinge and the two hidden beneath the edges of the XT.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The keyboard on the Spectre XT was surprisingly comfortable to use and lacked the loud clicking noise found in other Ultrabooks. The keys were responsive and evenly spaced out, and while I usually crib at Ultrabook keyboards, this was one that didn’t disappoint (in fact, this entire review was typed up on the XT). The top row of function keys (F1-F12) have been hard-mapped to various system functions, such as brightness, sound, and media control – you can always get back the default Function operations by holding down the Fn key on the lower left of the keyboard. The added bonus of course is that the keyboard is backlit, which you can easily turn off or on with the F5 key.
The trackpad on the XT is also very comfortable to use – the glass finish gives the trackpad an almost dream-like smoothness, and of course multi-touch gestures for zooming and scrolling are also supported. Even clicking on the trackpad requires little effort, so overall it’s probably one of the best trackpads I’ve used so far.
Battery life, Heat and Noise levels
Here again was where I thought the Spectre XT could have done better. On a full charge, I started writing up this review while running a few websites in the background and the screen at medium brightness. After about 3 hours and 40 minutes, I was down to 15% battery life, so I’m guessing that the XT would be great for quick off-site client presentations, but not ideal when you’re squatting on the ground at a convention trying to bash out a few articles. Powermark was able to get a little under 5 hours of juice out of the XT, but again battery life will vary depending on what you’re running when the XT isn’t charging.
The Spectre XT did very well when it came down to staying cool, with fan noise being hardly audible, even during benchmarks. The XT did get slightly warm, but it wasn’t uncomfortable to continue using it on my lap.
The Spectre XT is quite a capable Ultrabook, and certainly does exude that ‘pick me up and caress me’ feeling. Having said that, it unfortunately doesn’t wow with its screen, which should have been much better to keep up with the overall premium look and feel of the XT. Battery life on the XT is also up for debate – with consumers spending more time on the go, you’d not want to be caught out trying to get something important done when your laptop dies on you. Still, the Spectre XT does have some very desirable qualities like a much sought-after keyboard and trackpad, which is often overlooked in other Ultrabooks. If you’re willing to overlook the screen quality and the sometimes-annoying power connector that’s jostling for extra space, then pick up and enjoy the Spectre XT.