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HP Spectre Folio review: The best and only leather-clad 2-in-1 laptop

Roland Moore-Colyer
3 Jul 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,500

HP tries to do something a little different and nearly misses the mark

Pros 
Very good display
Niche, slick design
Excellent battery life
Cons 
Trackpad isn't great
Expensive for the spec
Dodgy spacebar on our model
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When laptops age they tend to get worse; when leather ages it gets better. So for HP to create a leather-clad 2-in1 laptop is an unusual move, to say the least. 

But then HP has previously pushed the design envelope with its Spectre line laptops, which embrace sharp angles and edges over the more rounded aesthetics of its rivals. But cladding an ultraportable in real leather is certainly a step into left-field. 

Whether it’s class or crass will be a matter of choice, but the Spectre Folio certainly pulls attention, be it good or bad. 

HP Spectre Folio review: What you need to know 

This unusual 2-in-1 machine is, at its core, a fairly standard low-powered ultraportable laptop that can pull double duties as an oversized Windows 10 tablet. There’s only a single-spec on offer in the UK, which sports a 13-in display, Intel’s Core i7-8500Y processor, paired with 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage space. 

Essentially, this is a very basic thin-and-light laptop hardware clad in a dark brown bit of dead cow. 

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HP Spectre Folio review: Price and competition 

For £1,499 from HP, the Spectre Folio is far from cheap for the rather low-end specs it offers. Basically, you’re paying for the leather finish and the design, rather than the hardware innards. You do get a stylus included in the package which is something. 

At this price, there’s a myriad of excellent laptops that have better specs. The Razer Blade Stealth 13 comes in at £1,500 but offers a quad-core Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and dedicated graphics in the form of Nvidia’s GeForce MX150. 

Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 also offers a quad-core processor packed into a compact well-made chassis, with a great display, for around £1,200. And it’s a similar story for the Huawei MateBook 14, which for around the £1,300 mark presents an excellent laptop in an affordable package. 

None of those laptops can transform into tablets. But HP’s new Spectre x360 13 2-in-1 is arguably the main rival to the Spectre Folio. For £1,400 it offers an eye-catching design and uses a quad-core Core i7 CPU. At £1,300, the Lenovo Yoga C930 also offers a slick 2-in-1 device that has some solid features like a Dolby Atmos speaker built into its hinge; it does get a little hot though. 

For £1,149, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 offers a Core i5 quad-core CPU and arguably a slicker hybrid take on a 2-in-1, with its rather excellent detachable keyboard cover. Don’t need a lot of power and want a secondary device to sling into a backpack when travelling? Then for £509, the Microsoft Surface Go is a neat hybrid machine

Then again, none of these machines come with a leather finish, so in that regard, the Spectre Folio stands alone. 

HP Spectre Folio review: Design 

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the main design feature of the Spectre Folio is its leather-clad chassis. In chocolate brown - official name Cognac Brown - it does indeed look like a fancy folio one would expect a well-dressed business person to use to carry around their extensive portfolio of investments. 

While I had my reservations about the quality of the leather, it does feel very nice to the touch and has that pleasing whiff of premium leather. Naturally, it won’t appeal to vegans, but those fond of leather accessories might be a little smitten. 

The leather finish does mean the Spectre Folio is larger and a little chunkier than other 13-inch ultraportables. Measuring 320 x 234 x 15.3mm, and weighing 1.5kg, the Spectre Folio isn’t the slimmest or lightest 2-in-1 around, though it's still easy enough to slip into a laptop bag and carry around without noticing the shoulder strain. 

Take the leather out of the equations and the actual chassis of the Spectre Folio is pretty slim, meaning you’ll have to make do with only three USB-C ports - one is USB 3.1 and the other two are Thunderbolt 3 compatible and can be used to charge the device - and a 3.5mm headphone jack. If you want more connectivity, be prepared to carry around a dongle. 

For people who want to work on the go and don’t trust public Wi-Fi then there’s SIM slot for providing a mobile LTE data connection. 

There’s a 1080p webcam sitting in the traditional centre of the top bezel spot; it’s serviceable but it won’t beat the front-facing camera of any decent smartphone. It does support Windows 10 Hello thanks to the use of an IR scanner, which provides a way to unlock the machine by essentially staring at it intently for a second or two. 

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Like other members of the Spectre family, the Spectre Folio has a Bang & Olufsen branded speaker bar that sits above the keyboard and runs the length of the laptop, serving as ventilation as well as an audio output. 

While they look good, they didn't exactly blow me away in terms of audio quality, sounding more like generic laptop stereo speakers rather than those worthy of the B&O branding; then again I wasn't expecting that much from the slim chassis. Those speakers can also get muffled when the Spectre Folio is flipped into its tablet mode, which covers the keyboard deck and the speaker bar.

Speaking of which, thanks to the way the display sits on a dual-hinge design it can be lifted and laid on top of the keyboard deck rather than flipped around like the 2-in-1 designs of the Spectre x360 machines. This means your hands end up holding the Spectre Folio’s leathery backside rather than gripping the keyboard deck, which makes for a much better hybrid device experience. 

The display can also be propped up so that it sits in an easel-like fashion - not dissimilar to a Surface Pro tablet - above the keyboard but just behind the trackpad, meaning you can sit watching a movie on your commute yet still use a cursor to either easily rewind or fast-forward without trying to do it with a less precise tap on the touchscreen. It’s a clever bit of design and surprisingly elegant to use. 

All in all, from an aesthetic perspective, the Spectre Folio is a rather good-looking and uniquely designed 2-in-1 machine. 

HP Spectre Folio review:  Keyboard and touchpad

Where the Spectre Folio starts to lose points is with the keyboard and trackpad. Starting with the latter, it feels imprecise and fiddly, often too fast or slow to respond. And while the trackpad feels nice to the touch, it doesn't always register taps when you want it to. 

These niggles could be attributed to HP deciding not to use Windows Precision drivers for its trackpad, and going for Synaptics drivers instead, which simply can’t compete with the accuracy and fluidity of Microsoft's drivers. 

There’s a fair bit of flex in the Specter Folio’s keyboard deck, but typing on it is fine despite rather shallow travel of the keys when compared to other members of the Spectre family. 

While there isn’t a full-sized keyboard on offer HP does manage to fit in a row of page up/down, end, and home keys on the far right of the keyboard. Those keys normally consigned to the number pad area of a full-sized keyboard, and I found I kept hitting the page down rather than enter key, which got a bit frustrating and required me to adjust my touch typing. 

The keys are neatly spaced and there’s enough tactile feedback for accurate touch typing. It’s by no means Surface Laptop 2 levels of good but it’s decent… with one major caveat. 

Whether it's a common problem or an issue with my review unit, I found the space bar would often not recognise my taps unless I really spanked it - for the record, I’m not particularly light with my typing. This became very frustrating very quickly to the extent that it has given me serious reservations about the Spectre Folio and its long-term build quality. HP told me this isn’t a common complaint but I have to advise you to take that into consideration and try before you buy. 

HP Spectre Folio review: Display 

The Spectre Folio makes use of a 13.3-inch IPS display with a 1920 x 1080 resolution, which results in a pixel density of 166ppi. While some ultraportable laptops beat the Spectre Folio in terms of pure sharpness, with 4K displays and better pixel density, everything from text and icons to photos and video is sharp and clear on the Spectre Folio. 

The colours and contrast the Spectre Folio’s panel produces are pretty solid as well, with plenty of vibrancy. Testing yielded a contrast ratio of 1789:1, which is exceptional and adds depth to dark scenes in movies and videos. 

Max brightness is decent as well at 341.09cd/m2; that’s not exactly class-leading, but it means you can use the Spectre Folio in brightly lit environments without struggling to see what’s on the screen. The panel’s coating, which uses Gorilla Glass, is rather reflective, so if you have a bright light source behind you expect to see that and other reflections on the screen. 

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Calibrated for sRBG, the Spectre Folio’s display does a good job of covering that colour gamut, with testing showing 95.3% coverage and 99.3% sRGB gamut volume. An average Delta E of 1.67 is more than fine for most day-to-day laptop things, like web browsing and watching YouTube, but photo editors might want to look elsewhere.

My only major niggle with the display is the bezels surrounding the panel are pretty chunky and go against the trend of slim bezels in ultraportables. 

I’d understand the logic of big bezels to provide somewhere to grip when using the Spectre Folio as a tablet, but it already has the leather edges for that, so the bezels seem to take up screen real-estate for no good reason. This has the effect of making the screen seem smaller than it is, compared the Dell XPS 13’s InfinityEdge 13.3-inch display that comes across as larger thanks to its minimal bezels. 

But all-in-all, the Spectre Folio’s display is very good, and it’s also nice and responsive to touch and stylus inputs. For working on the go or simply sitting back and bingeing Netflix, the Spectre Folio’s screen puts on an impressive display.  

HP Spectre Folio review: Performance and battery life 

Under the metal and leather of the Spectre Folio sits an Intel Core i7-8500U. This is the chip maker’s latest eighth-generation Whiskey Lake dual-core chip, designed more for energy efficiency than compute power, with it consuming a mere 5W at peak power draw. But it still has some oomph, with a base clock running from 1.5GHz up to 4.2GHz at full Turbo Boost power.

The processor is matched with 8GB of dual-channel LPDDR3 RAM, the minimum amount we’d recommend to keep Windows 10 running smoothly. 

In our in-house 4K multitasking benchmarks, the Spectre Folio achieved an overall score of 34. That score is beaten by all the aforementioned machines, other than the Surface Go, which is unsurprising given all the other laptops and 2-in-1s have more powerful processors.

 

But that’s not the whole story. In the Geekbench 4 test, the Spectre Folio pulls in a weak multi-core score of 8,533; there are smartphones with better performance. However, in the single-core test, it rakes in 4,614, which is a pretty decent score, beating the Surface Pro 6 and sitting just below the 2019 Dell XPS 13. That just shows what can be done with a chip that has a single core that can crank up to high clock speeds.

And in everyday tasks, everything runs smoothly on the Spectre Folio. Sure, you’re not going to be doing any video rendering or complex photo editing on it, but then that's not really Spectre Folio’s raison d'etre. 

Give the Spectre Folio makes use of integrated graphics in the form of Intel’s UHD 615, pixel pushing performance isn’t exactly great. In the GFXBench Car Chase test, the on-screen result saw an average of 26.7fps. That means you’re not going to be doing anything more than the lightest of gaming on the Spectre Folio; again, it’s not really designed for graphical performance. 

Where the Spectre Folio does shine is in its storage specs. Its 256GB comes in the form of speedy NVMe M.2. That delivers sequential file read speeds of 1620.93MB/s and a write speed of 817.89MB/s, meaning you won’t be left waiting around for file to load up; handy if you’re working on things while on the go. 

Battery life is also impressive, with the Spectre Folio managing 10 hours and 38 minutes of continuous video playback. That’s stellar battery life for an ultraportable and showcases how a low-powered processor can be put to good use. In real-world use with the screen brightness ramped up, the Spectre Folio will still make it through a working day’s worth of use before it starts asking for electrical juice. 

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HP Spectre Folio review: Verdict

Taken at face value the Spectre Folio is an odd device. For its price, it doesn't offer much in the way of performance when compared to rival 2-in-1 and ultraportable laptops. 

But devices like the Surface Pro 6 and Razer Blade Stealth 13 are designed to be your everyday machine as well as a laptop to take on the road. Given the power-sipping processor, its design and mobile connectivity, the Spectre Folio feels more like a premium secondary machine to go alongside a more powerful laptop or desktop. 

As such, it's more for people who want a 2-in-1 that can handle day-to-day tasks, works nicely as a tablet for showing off documents in meetings to doodling on when the moment takes you, and, most importantly, stands out from the crowd. 

That’s quite a niche proposition for most, especially when HP wants nearly £1,500 for the privilege. But for people who really like leather, this could be the laptop-come-tablet for them.