A 15-inch laptop will rarely top anyone’s list of the most comfortably portable PCs out there. However, portability is just one benefit that laptops and convertibles have. Last year, HP introduced its Spectre x360 15, a high-end convertible made for artists, creative professionals, and the like. The company updated that device this year and fixed our biggest problem with an otherwise solid two-in-one: the new model features a quad-core Intel CPU and Nvidia’s MX150 graphics chip.
Those improvements alone should make the new Spectre x360 15 an improvement over its predecessor, but HP also made other small changes to up the convertible’s game. With a standard 4K display, claimed 13-hours of battery life, and an optional upgrade to an Intel hexa-core processor and Radeon RX Vega M graphics, the new Spectre x360 15 could be the two-in-one to get for creatives, media lovers, and workaholics who crave powerful, well-rounded performance in addition to portability and style.
Look and feel
HP’s newest big two-in-one is a leaner-looking version of last year’s model. If you’re familiar with the updates the company dished out to its Spectre line in the past few months, you’ll recognize the changes in the new Spectre x360 15. It’s edges are narrower and sharper than before, its CNC aluminum body has that sleek dark-ash finish with copper accents along its edges, hinges, and lid, and its speaker grilles have been moved to the top of the keyboard to allow more space for the new numeric pad on the right side. The geared hinges stick out when compared to the previous model’s hinges—not only do they gleam with their all-copper finish, but their internal gears mesh together when you open and close the machine’s lid. This makes for smoother movement and increased longevity. The hinges are also quite supportive no matter which position you’re using the Spectre x360 15 in, be it laptop, tent, tablet, or another.
|Specs at a glance: HP Spectre x360 15 2018|
|Screen||15.6-inch 3840 x 2160 WLED touchscreen|
|OS||Windows 10 Home 64|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-8550U (quad-core, up to 4.0GHz)||Intel Core i7-8705G||Intel Core i7-8550U (quad-core, up to 4.0GHz)|
|RAM||8GB DDR4 RAM||16GB DDR4 RAM||16GB DDR4 RAM|
|Storage||256GB PCIe SSD||2TB PCIe SSD||512GB PCIe SSD|
|GPU||Intel UHD Graphics 620 + Nvidia GeForce MX150||AMD Radeon RX Vega M||Intel UHD Graphics 620 + Nvidia GeForce MX150|
|Networking||802.11ac (2×2) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 combo|
|Ports||2 Thunderbolt 3 ports, 1 USB-A 3.1 port, 1 SD card slot, 1 headphone/mic combo jack, 1 proprietary power port|
|Size||0.7 x 14.1 x 9.8 inches (19.45 x 359 x 250mm)|
|Battery||6-cell, 79.2 Whr|
|Other perks||Fingerprint reader, IR camera, included active pen, optional Tilt Pen ($89)|
Subtle improvements like that make using the Spectre x360 15 pleasantly different than using its predecessor, despite the lack of any egregious skeletal changes. To accommodate improved thermals and upgraded processor and graphics options, the new Spectre 15 x360 is about 1.67mm thicker than the previous model, as well as a bit heavier (4.5 pounds instead of 4.4 pounds). If you’ve used last year’s model or any other 15-inch convertible, those minute changes in size and weight will probably go unnoticed.
But the wider portions of the machine’s edges make use of the space by including a solid array of ports: two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a full-sized HDMI port on the right side, as well as a power port, one USB-A port, an SD card reader, and an audio combo jack on the left side. Also adorning the right edge is the volume rocker and a sliver of a fingerprint reader, which is peculiarly separate from the power button on the left edge.
Many OEMs, including Dell with the new XPS 15 2-in-1, have incorporated power/fingerprint-reader combo buttons to avoid using space on the palm rests for the finger sensor and to make Windows biometric login faster and easier. HP didn’t give a reason for the separation of the two, but it may be because the Spectre x360 15’s power button has a raised, triangular shape, with a small light emitting from its inside. While the power button fits with the design of the rest of the machine, a power button/fingerprint-reader combo button would have saved a bit more space and could have allowed HP to include another USB-A or USB-C port.
Users often have an internal debate when choosing the display quality they want in their new laptop. HP made the decision easy for those interested in the Spectre x360 15—4K is the only option. All models of the Spectre x360 15 have 15.6-inch 4K touchscreens that are compatible with HP’s included active pen and its optional, $89 Tilt Pen (both of which we’ll explore in the next section). This pseudo-limitation speaks to the users HP is targeting with this device: creative professionals, avid media consumers, and those who are a mix of both.
The display is a good one, with bold colors, deep blacks, and good touch responsiveness. It’ll be a no-brainer for those in the target consumer category, but others may yearn for a cheaper option with an FHD display. Restricting the Spectre x360 15 to a 4K panel naturally raises its price, but some may also be concerned by how quickly it depletes battery life, too. HP estimates an average of 12 to 13 hours of battery life on the Spectre x360 15, depending on the model, and we’ll dive into our battery findings in the Battery Life section of this review.
Where HP gives users options is with the Spectre x360 15’s internals. Our review unit has an upgraded quad-core Intel Core i7-8550U CPU (the Kaby Lake R configuration) with Intel UHD Graphics 620 and an Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. For those who want even more power and graphics capabilities, the convertible comes in a Kaby Lake G configuration, featuring a quad-core Core i7-8705G CPU with Radeon RX Vega M graphics.
Keyboard, trackpad, and Tilt Pen
It’s remarkable how much moving a PC’s speakers can change the landscape of the keyboard, trackpad, and palm-rest area. Compared to the 2017 Spectre x360 15, the new convertible has a more spacious keyboard area, so much so that an entire numeric keypad now sits on the right side of the chassis.
I go through phases with number keys—there are months when I barely use them and then other months when I use them constantly. During the latter times, it’s invaluable to have a numeric keypad at your disposal, so I was happy to see it included in the new machine. The keyboard in general is quite comfortable with its 1.5mm of travel. The finish on the keys isn’t too slippery either, giving them a polished-yet-secure feel.
Some will be disappointed to know that the trackpad is Synpatics-based and not a Precision touchpad. It’s also strangely small—so many similar and smaller laptops fully embrace the gigantic trackpad trend, but HP didn’t on this 15-inch convertible. Centered to the regular keyboard keys and not the full keyboard space, it feels oddly out of place as it occupies an inefficient amount of space in the palm-rest area. Over a half-inch of unused space hugs the top and bottom of the narrow trackpad, and I often found myself wishing the touch-sensitive area was more spacious.
The Spectre x360 15 comes with HP’s active pen, but the company also has an $89 Tilt Pen that’s compatible with the device. There are more differences in the hardware of each pen (although it may not seem that way when you look at the pens side-by-side) than there are when you compare the performance of each pen. The active pen sports two programmable side buttons and runs on a AAAA battery, while the Tilt Pen has one side button, one top button, and charges via a USB-C port hidden in its cylindrical body. A rechargeable battery adds to the convenience of the Tilt Pen, although the active pen should last weeks before you need to change its battery. However, the Tilt Pen can only be charged with a USB-C cable that does not support SuperSpeed or Thunderbolt charging, essentially limiting you drastically if you always have those special cables with you instead of regular USB-C 3.1 cables. The proper cable comes included with the Tilt Pen, but it’s still a weird caveat that a $89 stylus shouldn’t have.
Nevertheless, HP pushes the Tilt Pen as a more natural writing tool than its active pen. It also supports “presentation mode,” which lets you use the pen to move the cursor, flip through slides, and highlight important points without needing another device like a clicker. The Tilt Pen does indeed produce more precise strokes at more angles than the active pen does, making it a better choice for artists and other creative professionals.
However, both the Tilt Pen and the active pen are pressure-sensitive, and I didn’t notice a huge different between the two when pressing harder on the display to produce a thicker, more opaque stroke. Both were actually inept at producing very light strokes—even when I felt the tips of each pen pressing ever-so lightly on the machine’s display and saw the cursor indicator on the screen, no lines appeared in my sketch. Producing even the lightest stroke possible takes a bit more pressure than you’d think, which will frustrate and hinder some users.
While HP installed a few of its own programs on the Spectre x360 15, most users will get the most out of HP Pen Control. The program lets you customize the actions associated with the two side buttons on the active pen. One would think Pen Control would customize the Tilt Pen as well, but it doesn’t—instead, you must go to the Pen & Windows Ink section of Settings to program actions for the top and side button on the upgraded stylus.
I’ve always appreciated that HP includes the active pen with its convertibles rather than forcing users to pay extra for it. Most who opt for a convertible instead of a laptop expect to use the device to its fullest potential, and it’s hard to do so without a stylus. After using both the active pen and the Tilt Pen, I’d recommend the latter only to creatives who need precision or to professionals who give presentations often. Otherwise, the included active pen is more than enough to take notes, mark up documents, sketch out basic ideas, and more.