Next generation Windows Ultrabook with Beats Audio.
Last week I reviewed the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the first of the next generation Ultrabooks I have had a chance to try out. This stealth-fighter-looking machine had a lot of things to love, but in the end, its limited amount of free hard disk space and so-so battery life didn’t justify its enterprise-oriented price. This week, I test-drove another new Ultrabook, the HP Spectre XT Pro. While HP has positioned the Spectre XT Pro as an enterprise system, it offers plenty of features, and an attractive price, to make it well-suited for the consumer market. It is also the follow-up to the Folio 13, which was my top Ultrabook of 2012.
Design & Features
I place emphasis more on function than on form, but I was definitely impressed with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s black matte finish and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic body. In contrast, the HP Spectre XT Pro sports an all-metal design in brushed silver. I am not a big fan of this look, even though it has become the industry standard as manufacturers try to capture the MacBook look. The red Beats Audio badge on the sound bar adds another layer of glitz I could do without.
The Spectre XT Pro weighs in at 3.07 pounds, which is lighter than the 3.25-pound HP Folio 13 from last year (the heaviest of the Ultrabooks I reviewed last year). This is on par with the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, but the Spectre has a 13.3-inch display versus the X1’s 14-inch display.
Its dimensions are 12.46 inches by 8.83 inches by 0.57 inches. The extra-thin width (perhaps the reason behind the XT moniker) is among the thinnest of any Ultrabook available today.
The XT Pro has a 13.3-inch display, which is pretty much the standard today among mainstream Ultrabooks. Sadly, HP also stuck with the ()standard 1366-by-768 pixel resolution you will also find with most Ultrabooks, including the Folio 13. Lenovo chose to bump the resolution of its 14-inch display on the X1 Carbon to 1600-by-900 pixels. One of the things I like about the Folio 13 is its stable display, something that’s been lost with the Spectre XT Pro. While this isn’t an issue when using it on a stationary desk or table, using it on a moving train or plane can be a bit of an experience. The display also has a glossy finish, which can be a bit problematic when using it in a well-lit space or when in an office with the display facing a window. The display is brighter than the Folio 13 and colors are clear and vibrant. Side-angle viewing has also been improved over the Folio 13, with much less of a drop in image quality.
The ImagePad clickpad that supports multi-touch gestures is responsive and has an on/off button to help avoid mishits when typing. The integrated mouse buttons were a bit temperamental and oftentimes required multiple attempts to perform the desired task.
The Folio 13 had arguably the best keyboard of any Ultrabook I reviewed last year and, thankfully, HP has stuck with the same design for the Spectre XT Pro. It offers the right amount of tactile feedback to help alert you of any mistyping. Furthermore, the keys are well-spaced, allowing for a comfortable typing experience. Another added benefit is that the keyboard is backlit, which makes working in low-light conditions easy.
Trying to cater to the consumer market, HP has added Beats Audio to the Spectre XT with four speakers. Like the Dolby Advanced Audio of the Folio 13, I was a bit disappointed with the XT Pro’s sound, which I found to be rather thin and a bit tinny. However, when you plug headphones into the audio jack, the Beats Audio shines with crisp sounds and sufficient (but not overpowering) bass.
The Spectre XT Pro has a fair number of input/output ports. On the left side of the machine, you will find a full-sized Ethernet port for connecting to wired networks, full-sized HDMI port and USB 3.0 port. On the right side, there is a USB 2.0 port and SSD/MMC memory card slot. It appears that this feature is starting to gain traction, a trend I wholeheartedly support. There is also a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack. For those using an older VGA monitor or projector, you will have to use an adapter.
For wireless connectivity, the Spectre XT Pro features Intel Centrino Advanced-N 802.11 a/g/n wireless and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Spectre XT Pro comes with a third-generation Intel Core i5-3317U processor at 1.70GHz. This chip is at the low end of today’s offerings, with no upgrade options available. This is one way HP can keep the Spectre XT Pro priced around $1,000. The XT Pro also comes with standard 4G of memory and a 128G solid-state drive. However, HP has opted to go with the same Samsung SSD that is in my Folio 13. While I would prefer to have the option of upgrading to a 256G SSD, I was happy to see that HP hasn’t burdened the drive with utilities and extra applications that can suck up precious disk space, as was the case with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Even with my customary collection of programs, I still had 90G of free hard disk space.
For video conferencing and chat, the Spectre XT Pro comes with an integrated HD webcam.
You have your choice of either Windows 7 Pro or Windows 8 Pro operating systems. You also get Microsoft Office Starter, with reduced-functionality Word and Excel, pre-installed, but overall HP goes easy on the bloatware.
As mentioned, the Spectre XT Pro only comes with the Intel Core i5-33017U CPU 1.70GHz. This was the low-end offering for the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, but the Spectre is $300 cheaper.
Compared to the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the performance of the Spectre XT Pro was mixed. In processes that relied on both the processor and hard drive, the Spectre benefited from the superior Samsung SSD, besting the X1 Carbon, shockingly, by over 20%, even though the ThinkPad has a better processor. This was somewhat evident with processes that relied heavily on the processor, where the X1 Carbon’s performance was nearly 10% better.
The Spectre has integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, typical of most Ultrabooks and notebooks. While this is more than enough for general video viewing, it’s not intended for hardcore gaming.
From a cold start, the Spectre boots up in roughly 20 seconds, nearly 33% faster than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. From sleep mode, the Spectre awakens almost instantaneously.
The Spectre has a four-cell (45 Whr) lithium-ion battery. The HP Folio 13 I reviewed last year had a six-cell battery, which gave you longer operating time between charges, but also added to the weight. The smaller battery did shave nearly a quarter of a pound off the weight of the Spectre, but how much of a hit did battery life take as a result? HP claims the Spectre XT Pro can give you up to seven hours of battery life, but I have to assume that is when Wi-Fi is disabled. Using the typical Windows Power Saver settings, which included having Wi-Fi on, I was able to get nearly 6.5 hours of battery life, roughly a full hour more than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and only roughly 30 minutes less than what I was getting with the Folio 13.
HP continues to impress with its Ultrabooks. The Folio 13 I reviewed last year was my favorite of 2012 and, from what I’ve seen of the Spectre XT Pro, I think it will be difficult to knock HP off the pedestal. Really my only complaints are with the display, both in the disappointing resolution and the wobbliness. Having the ability to upgrade to different processors and a larger hard drive would also be nice, but the Spectre XT Pro is more than enough PC for the typical user. It offers good, but not great battery life and is light enough for any road warrior. The backlit keyboard is one of the best I have come across on a notebook. Add in a good collection of ports and an SSD/MMC slot, and HP again delivers a well-rounded machine. At $1,099, HP has delivered a high-end Ultrabook with a mainstream price.
- Vast majority of overall hard disk space is free
- Above-average battery life
- Multi-touch gesture-enabled trackpad
- Best-in-class backlit keyboard
- Audio was thin and tinny
- Screen a bit wobbly, especially when using in a moving vehicle
- Mouse buttons a bit temperamental
- Middling display with high-gloss finish
- No upgrade options
- Low-end processor by today’s standards
$1,099 (currently $811.06 from Amazon.com)