HP Envy Spectre XT review
HP attempted something radical with the original Envy Spectre Ultrabook. Completely enclosed in scratch-resistant glass, it was one of the best looking laptops we've had pass through our labs. For its sequel, HP has been more restrained, using an all-metal design that might not be as eye-catching, but will certainly keep the price at an affordable level.
The curved edges, minimalist appearance and black Chiclet-style keyboard are all reminiscent of previous Envy laptops, but the Spectre XT feels much more like a premium product thanks to its brushed aluminium finish. Weighing 1.4kg and being just 17mm at its thickest point, you should have no trouble travelling with the Envy Spectre XT.
With these tiny dimensions, it's unsurprising that connectivity is somewhat limited. We appreciate the inclusion of full-size HDMI and Ethernet ports, the latter using a flip-down cover to accommodate the cable without compromising chassis size, but we were disappointed to find just two USB ports, and that only one of them supports the faster USB3 standard. There's also a multifunction card reader, a 3.5mm combination audio jack and a Kensington lock mount. Bluetooth, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Intel's Wi-Di technology (which lets you output your laptop’s display to your TV wirelessly) cover all your wireless connections, but we would have liked at least one extra USB port.
Powered by a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U paired with 4GB of RAM and running Windows from a 128GB SSD, the Spectre XT is well equipped for a mid-range Ultrabook. It boots to the desktop in around 17 seconds and the laptop felt very responsive. However, our intense multimedia benchmarks show that it isn't cut out to deal with high performance tasks, as it scored 40 overall, putting it behind other Ultrabooks with the same CPU, but it should still cope with most desktop applications.
It also relies on Intel's integrated HD 4000 graphics, which are only suited to playing HD video and older games. Newer titles such as Dirt Showdown won't play smoothly unless you lower the resolution and graphic details. The Envy Spectre XT scored an average frame rate of just 17.7fps in our Dirt Showdown benchmark, so you’ll need to be conservative with features such as anti-aliasing if you want games to play smoothly.
On a more positive note, the integrated graphics chip uses less power than a dedicated GPU might, helping the Spectre XT achieve an average battery life of just under seven hours. It's not the best battery life we’ve seen from an Ultrabook, but it's a respectable figure that should keep you working for most of the day without having to recharge it.
We had no problems working on the Spectre XT thanks to its incredibly comfortable Chiclet keyboard. With the exception of the function and arrow keys, every key is full size and comfortably spaced, having the perfect amount of resistance and plenty of spring, letting you type at full speed without having to adjust from your old laptop or desktop keyboard. It's also fully backlit, so you can work in low light without straining your eyes to find a particular key.
Although we aren't fans of touchpads with integrated buttons, HP has managed to create one that didn't make us pine for physical buttons. It responded well to multi-touch gestures and didn't fling the cursor across the screen when more than one finger was resting on its surface. There's a handy toggle in the top-left corner that quickly disables the touchpad should you prefer to use a mouse when sat at a desk.
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