Thursday, 20 July 2017 16:41

HP Spectre x2 (2017) – What rises above the Surface (review)

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HP Spectre x2 (2017) is a premium Windows 10 PC tablet/detachable keyboard – a style popularised by Microsoft’s Surface Pro. In some respects, it beats the new Surface Pro 2017 – and that is saying something.

Microsoft, however, is happy about that. As Tina Flammer, Microsoft Australia Surface product marketing lead, said, “Microsoft produces Surface as reference devices to show the world what the right combination of hardware and software can achieve. Its mission is to help users create more – ideate, create, get work done and use touch. We want OEMs to have the flexibility to out-design or provide more features or better value. Surface drives innovation.”

Now there is no way you could be disappointed if either the Spectre x2 2017 or the Surface Pro 2017 (referred to as Pro from here) turned up under the Xmas tree – it is just that HP uses 2 x USB-C, Gen 1 (5Gbps, DisplayPort, upstream/downstream charge) ports, whereas the Pro has a proprietary ribbon power/dock connector and a full-size USB-A 3.0. HP has bundled the keyboard and active stylus which are options on the Pro. But enough of the comparisons – a shootout article will follow once both have been reviewed.

Spoiler alert: HP x2 Spectre 2017 makes it a two-horse race in the detachable stakes. Please don’t confuse this with reviews of the current Intel Core m, and other 2016 models that are still on HP’s website and in runout at major retailers.

First, some background. HP has taken the lead as the number one PC maker and is the only one to experience five consecutive quarters of growth. For the most part, this is due to the renewed vigour after the split from HP Enterprise under Australian-born chief executive Dion Weisler and a new HP focus on design (what it looks like) and R&D (what is under the bonnet).

“The real trick in this business is to segment the market, segment again, and when you've done that do it one more time. Figure out where the pockets of growth are going to be, where the heat map is going to take you. We've been looking at areas of premium and gaming – very attractive parts of the market as services,” Weisler said.

In the notebook space alone it ranges from (entry level to the top level) Stream and Chromebook (student devices), Notebook, Pavilion, ProBook, Envy (upper level consumer), Omen (Gaming), Spectre (premium consumer and business), EliteBook (enterprise), and Z-Book (workstations) – with well over 200 models/variants. It has by far the widest range covering all “pockets of growth”.

You will also find some similarities in the chassis between the ranges – x2 is detachable PC tablet/keyboard Pro like, and x360 is a 360° hinge similar to what the Microsoft Book can achieve. You can get these in the ProBook, Pavilion, Spectre, and EliteBook range with the major differences being things like MilSpec, screen resolution, and warranty.

HP Spectre x2 headerThe review model was HP Spectre x2, model 12-c004TU – an Intel Kaby Lake i5-7260U with 8GB RAM, 256GB NVMe SSD and a 12.3” 3K2K (referring to the 3:2 ratio, 3000 x 2000 resolution)

The only HP website I can find is HP US here

Note that there are different models – 12-c003TU (i5-7260U, 8/128GB) and 12-c006TU (i7-7560U, 8/512GB).

Out of the box HP Spectre x2 - 12-c004tu (part number 1PM41PA)

  • The tablet
  • A leather sleeve/pouch
  • HP Active Pen (AAAA battery included)
  • HP metal keyboard
  • Fast Charger 5V-9V/3A, 10-12V/5A, 19/4.33A, 20V/3.25A, total 65W
  • Adaptor to convert to a wall charger or power cord for inline charger
  • USB-C to USB-A female adaptor

First impressions are the nice Spectre box — and the delight that the box has the whole kit — keyboard, active stylus, USB-C adaptor and a leather sleeve.

It is in a nice Dark Ash with a copper u-shaped kickstand, gold highlights, and a matching metal faced keyboard and pen.

Specifications. Australian Specifications are here

Model

Review: HP Spectre x2 Core i5-7260U, 12-c004TU part number 1PM41PA

Note: Core i7-7560U 12-c006TU part number 1PM43PA

Display

12.3”, 3000 x 2000, IPS WLED (included White LED plus RGB)
Edge-to-edge glass

Processor

Intel Core i5-7260U, 2.2/3.4GHz, 2 core/4 thread

Graphics

Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640

RAM

8GB-LPDDR3-1866 (soldered in – not sure if there is a retrofittable 16GB option)

SSD

256GB, PCIe, NVMe, M.2

microSD

Yes (size unspecified)

Wireless

Intel 8265, AC, 2x2, MIMO, Wi-Di

Bluetooth

4.2

Keyboard

Full size, chiclet, 1.5mm/60g throw
Oversize glass touchpad with up to four finger gestures

Stylus

HP 2 button active (battery operated) stylus – no details available

Audio

2 x Bang & Olufsen, front firing speakers with HP Audio boost

Ports

2 x USB-C, Gen 1, 5Gbps, DisplayPort 1.2
Interchangeable - power delivery upstream (charging tablet) and downstream (charges devices)
1 x 3.5mm combo audio
1 x microSD
POGO Pins for keyboard power and data

Dimensions

29.39 x 20.71 x 0.77 cm (tablet); 29.39 x 20.71 x 1.32 cm (tablet and keyboard)

Weight

0.76 kg (tablet); 1.13 kg (tablet and keyboard)

Battery

41.58 WHr
Claimed up to 8 hours at 3K2K (continuous FHD video playback, 150 nits brightness, system audio level at 50%)

Charger

65W – 5V-9V/3A, 10-12V/5A, 19/4.33A, 20V/3.25A

Webcam

Front: IR for Windows Hello and 5MP camera and dual array mics
Rear: 13MP autofocus

OS

Windows 10 Home

HP Apps

HP Audio Switch; HP Documentation; HP ePrint; HP JumpStart; HP Orbit; HP Pen Control; HP Recovery Manager; HP Support Assistant; HP Sure Connect

Price

$2199 at JB Hi-Fi

Drawing

HP has put a lot of work into the Active (battery operated) stylus and it works flawlessly with Windows Ink that was substantially updated in the Windows 10 Creators release. You can write, annotate, draw, sketch, use it with Windows Maps and in the Windows Edge Browser as well. In short, it works flawlessly with any Microsoft app.

Unfortunately, I cannot locate any tech information on this “Active Pen” e.g. levels of pressure, tilt etc. It is not any of the models that looked suspiciously like the Pro Pen on the previous x2.

All I can say is that palm recognition/rejection works very well, it is an active stylus (Bluetooth connect and hoverable), minimal lag, good accuracy and seems to have overcome the “broken line” effect of may previous pens.

Keyboard, trackpad and kickstand

HP has almost fixed a minor irritant that every Pro keyboard has ever had – key bounce caused by a thin keyboard. Mind you that latest Pro Alcantara keyboard has reduced this to acceptable limits – but the HP gets very close to meeting the standards set by the Microsoft Surface Book – a good rock, solid, chiclet, metal faced, leather backed, keyboard with a 1.5mm throw and 60g accentuation.

In a touch typing test I could achieve about 90% of my usual speed as measured on a Logitech G610 Orion Blue mechanical keyboard. If mechanical keyboards do not mean a lot, read the iTWire article here.

The keys are backlit – on or off. It clips magnetically to the pogo pins on the bottom of the tablet and can be reversed to fold back to the tablet back with the keys facing inwards and disabled.

The oversized glass trackpad is responsive and allows a single swipe to move the cursor from top right to bottom left.

The stainless steel, copper plated, kickstand is a U-shaped hinge copied from a German furniture maker. I think HP got it right in so far as the Pro uses a flap/panel – the former gives HP a little more space in the chassis. It will fold down to 150°. I found it stable and easy to use.

HP x2 hinge

Screen

It is a 12.3”, 3K/2K, 3000 x 2000, 10-point touch, IPS screen using a WLED (White LED) backlighting.

It has 6 million pixels in comparison to the Pro at 2736 x 1824 (4,990,464 pixel), but the Spectre is silent on colour gamut support.

HP Spectre x2 header

Given the Spectre use Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 (same as Pro i-7) it should match colours although the Spectre limits shared graphics memory to 4MB versus the Pro at 8MB.

Side by side they are on par but the extra pixels in the Spectre reduce the font size a little. The HP screen is whiter but the Pro text is blacker. The Spectre is cooler and the Pro is warmer.

In the shootout, I will set them up to precisely the same settings to make the final comparison.

Audio/webcam/Windows Hello and microphones

The two front-firing, B&O tuned speakers are placed Pro style at the top left/right of the tablet. HP says its rich authentic sound. This comes more from the B&O Audio app overlaid on a Realtek audio diver where you can access pre-sets for Movies, Music or Voice or play with an EQ.

Sound quality was good and clear – relatively balanced as it should be to allow you to make a difference with the pre-sets. Sound volume was good but still not room filling sound.

The dual array mics have optional noise cancellation and be tuned to your voice or to multiple voices. They do an excellent job of picking up your voice even when walking around the room up to three metres away.

The front camera and IR Windows Hello login is flawless. The 5MP camera is a delight to use with Skype having a wider angle than most to allow you to sit further away or have three or four people in a huddle group. It has reasonable quality under office lighting (500 lux).

The Windows camera app is comprehensive allowing for aspect ratio change from 16:9 to 4:3 (narrows angle), video resolution (FHD/HD/VGA @30fps) and digital video stabilisation (EIS), HDR and customisable shutter and other settings.

The rear 13MP camera uses the same app and will record FHD/HD/VGA @60fps.

But I found it generally produced “adequate” pictures - colours were a little off, fine detail was missing and while HDR helped it did not make the significant difference I expected. Still for what it is, a fixed focus, 13MP lens its fine. HDR produces approx. 1MB image, 4096 x 2034 – without HRD it is 500-600KB. Digital zoom induces too much noise so use it sparingly.

It uses Microsoft Photos as the default viewer/editor and offers the choice of auto-save to OneDrive Cloud or the device.

Summary: Excellent front camera fit for purpose. Adequate rear camera if you don’t entrust life’s precious moments to it.

Performance

The i5-7260U is a relatively new 2-core/4 thread, with Intel Iris Plus 640 Graphics, PassMark gives it 5773 which is better than the i5-7200U at 4695, i5-7300U at 5116 and even the 5244 of the i7-7500U found in many ultralight notebooks. It is a good choice.

The i7-7560U version rates 6102 – not that much higher than the i5.

Video performance compared to the HD Graphics 620 is better, soother and ups the 4K external resolution to 4096 x 2340 @ 30fps for HDMI 1.2 and 60fps for DisplayPort. It will support three displays – two external and one internal panel.

While these are both energy supping they produce heat which is actively “fanned” away by two miniscule fans and vented from the top of the tablet. Under full load the vent temperature can be up to 40° - most of the time it is just above the ambient temperature.

SSD performance was good getting 500MB/s or more for read/write to the drive and 300MB/s to an external Samsung T3 SSD.

Wi-Fi was amazing courtesy of new firmware achieving 526-700Mbps from the Intel AC 8265 chipset.

Battery

I ran a video loop test and as defined by HP and achieved just short of eight hours.

In general office use it got between five and six hours with Wi-Fi and the screen at 75%.

Recharge using the fast charge connector was 50% in 30 minutes and 100% in 90 minutes.

I was curious to see if it worked with a standard 5V/3A USB-C charger and it does – this makes it possible to travel with either charger. The catch 22 was a eight hour plus charge time – still for overnight charging that is fine.

Pros

  • Great looks – Dark Ash with copper kickstand and highlights, metal facing keyboard, and black textured faux leather exterior.
  • Keyboard is better than the Pro as it almost eliminates neighbouring key bounce.
  • Pen is easy to use.
  • Screen produces good, accurate colours.
  • Good front and adequate rear camera for a tablet.
  • Fast charge is terrific and its USB-C rechargeable!

Cons

  • Battery life is good, but not great – countered by Fast Charge

Summary

As previously mentioned I have this and the Pro to review and will do a shootout to compare them.

But my initial impressions are that this is every bit as good as a Pro, it looks better, has a slightly better keyboard, slightly higher screen resolution, 2 x USB-C, and HP is offering a 1-year on-site fix or swap exchange warranty – that is excellent.

My take – it could rise above the Surface!

You will find a shootout between the new HP x2 Spectre and the Surface Pro (2017) here.

HP x2 whole

 

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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