A handful of daft flaws and silly pricing mean that what could have been the ultimate laptop is no more than an expensive curiosity
- Laptop, desktop and tablet in one
- Decent battery life
- Colour-accurate OLED screen
- Slow performance
- Webcam only usable in laptop mode
- Highly reflective finish on display
The HP Spectre Fold 17 is an amazing device. It takes the folding phone concept and applies it, with some degree of success, to the portable computer, delivering a usable laptop and desktop replacement machine in one highly compact package. It’s a well-made thing and quite delightful in its realisation.
However, this is a laptop – if one can bestow such a label on an exotic device such as this – that is infected with a number of niggly ailments, which I’ll get into in the main body of this review.
Its main problem, however, is a frankly ludicrous price. HP has it on its website at £5,000; a price that might be justifiable if it was perfect or was able to make the tea and do all your work for you. Alas, as you’ll see, impressive though it is, the HP Spectre Fold 17 is not something I can practically recommend.
HP Spectre Fold 17 review: What you need to know
It’s a shame because, in many ways, the HP Spectre Fold 17 is my dream laptop. It’s the laptop I would love to take away on every work trip, every holiday, every weekend away.
Why? Because it is the most multi-talented laptop I’ve ever reviewed: a laptop I can use on my lap comfortably, or on a seat-back aeroplane table without having to contort my neck to see the screen; a laptop that, when I get to where I’m going, I can unfurl and use like a mini all-in-one desktop PC; I can even use it as a personal cinema, a sketchpad or notepad along with the bundled stylus.
Frankly, this is a laptop that has it all from a design standpoint. It’s the ultimate “many-in-one”; HP calls it a 3-in-1 but I think that’s doing it a disservice. It’s a game changer, or would be if it weren’t so darned expensive.
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HP Spectre Fold 17 review: Price and competition
Unlike most modern laptops, there is only one configuration of the HP Spectre Fold 17 available and it’s as disappointing as the high price. Powering affairs is a 12th Gen Intel Core i7 U-series CPU – a CPU launched originally in February 2022, and it’s paired with ageing and rather weak Iris Xe integrated graphics.
That’s forgivable in a machine that must have been in the engineer’s workshop for a fair amount longer than your average clamshell, but surely HP could have seen its way to bestowing it with a little more than 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage. For five grand, I would expect the maximum amount of RAM the CPU can support (64GB) and at the very least 2TB of storage.
That price – and the almost unique format of the HP Spectre Fold 17 – means direct rivals are pretty thin on the ground. Asus produced a similar folding laptop in 2022 – the Asus Zenbook Fold 17 OLED – but it didn’t have the greatest build quality, was bulky and didn’t feel as fully formed as the Spectre Fold. Despite its age, though, it uses the same CPU, RAM and SSD config as the HP and is a lot cheaper (£3,300).
There are some other options, if you’re willing to go the dual-screen route, instead of the single, monolithic folding OLED panel. Our favourite at the time of writing is the Lenovo Yoga Book 9i, which comes with twin 13.3in OLED screens joined at one long edge with a 360-degree hinge. It is, again, far cheaper than the HP at a starting price of £2,000 and comes with more modern 13th Gen Intel internals.
Or you might want to wait for the Asus Zenbook Duo, which was shown off at CES 2024. It looks like the best dual-screen laptop yet and is set to cost from £1,700.
HP Spectre Fold 17 review: How it works in laptop mode
The genius of the HP Spectre Fold 17 is in how small it is when everything is folded and stowed away. It resembles nothing more than a slightly chunky ultraportable laptop. Indeed, lever open the screen, and it’s possible to use it as exactly that, with a 12.3in screen in the top half of the clamshell and a full-sized keyboard – complete with touchpad – attached to the bottom half.
In this configuration, it works rather well. It doesn’t feel unbalanced, so you can perch it on your lap and work without worrying about it toppling to the floor. The keyboard is spacious and comfortable, the touchpad works reliably and, when it gets hot, it doesn’t warm your thighs because the CPU is located in the “lid” part of the laptop.
It doesn’t weigh much either, all things considered – just 1.62kg with the keyboard attached – and it’s reasonably compact, its most notable dimension being its 21.4mm thickness when folded.
There are always compromises with multi-functional gear like this, but in laptop mode, these are thankfully fairly minimal. The first you will encounter is the stiffness of the hinge, which means you need to get both hands on it to get it open.
The other annoyance is that the keyboard needs to be charged via USB when it runs out – it doesn’t charge wirelessly when attached to the screen. The good news is you won’t have to do this all that often, partly because there’s no backlight (you can add that one to the list of negatives). The bad is that the connection at the keyboard end is proprietary and you just know you’re going to lose the supplied cable at some point.
My final gripe is that the 1,920 x 1,255 resolution screen is pretty small at 12.3in and can feel cramped to work on. You can, however, mitigate this somewhat by pulling the keyboard towards you, exposing a little more of the screen hiding under the keyboard. HP calls this “1.5 mode” and it causes the wrist rest to fold down off the bottom edge of the base and onto your lap, or the desk, depending on where you’re using it.
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HP Spectre Fold 17 review: How it works as a desktop
In my time with the Spectre Fold, the mode I used most was desktop mode. If you think about it as a mini desktop first and a laptop second, it makes much more sense than the other way around; I would wager most laptops used for work are used on the desktop for at least 95% of their lifespans and, for this use case, the HP Spectre Fold is perfect.
Its 4:3 aspect ratio screen is great for working on two documents side by side and the resolution is just right for the size. You can’t adjust the angle but I didn’t find this to be a big problem. Nor was I bothered in the slightest by the dreaded crease; as long as you don’t have bright lights shining directly on the screen (the glossy coating isn’t particularly anti-reflective), you’ll barely notice it.
There aren’t many ports – just two USB-C sockets – but both are 40GB/sec Thunderbolt 4 ports supporting both charging and DisplayPort output, and HP also includes a small USB hub with a pair of USB-A ports and an HDMI output. Even the positioning of the stylus – which docks magnetically on the right edge – has been sensibly thought through, leaving it always at hand.
Again, there are some shortcomings. The first involves the keyboard, which works perfectly when attached to the screen in laptop mode but tends to skate around smooth surfaces disconcertingly when removed and used separately. You might want to carry around a thin rubber mat or something similar to stop it from shifting about.
I also found that resting my wrists on the bottom edge of the keyboard would end up tenting the keyboard slightly at the fold. It would then move slightly up and down as I typed. By far the oddest shortcoming in desktop mode, however, is the way the webcam doesn’t adapt, recording vertical video that crops out half of your face unless you sit slightly to the left of it. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be using it this way on a video call, so you’ll have to fold it back into laptop mode, which is far from ideal.
That’s a shame because the 5MP webcam delivers crisp, well-exposed 1080p video and supports Windows Hello face login. Fortunately, you don’t have to switch modes for the latter to work in both desktop and laptop modes.
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HP Spectre Fold 16 review: How it works in tablet mode
Oddly, it’s the tablet mode that’s least successful and that’s mainly because of the size and weight of the thing. Simply put, hefting this onto your lap and then having to support it in one hand while you scroll through pages is awkward to do. It’s the tablet world’s broadsheet to the rest of the industry’s tabloids but that doesn’t make it any less cumbersome.
And although it is great for watching video content, there is another caveat in that the aspect ratio means most videos will have huge black bars displayed at the top and bottom of the screen. And while you might think it would work well as a note taker – the stylus feels nice to hold and snaps satisfyingly in place to the edge of the machine – gripping the tablet in one hand takes some strength and it doesn’t lie perfectly flat on a surface either. Oh, and I wasn’t hugely impressed with the responsiveness of the stylus, either.
HP Spectre Fold 17 review: Display and speakers
The screen is what dominates the HP Spectre Fold’s entire aspect so it’s fitting that it’s the device’s strongest suit. It measures 17in from corner to corner, has a crisp resolution of 2,560 x 1,920 and uses OLED technology to deliver stunning performance.
If you venture into the Windows display settings, you’ll see there are plenty of colour profiles to choose from, meaning the display has already been precalibrated for you. For professional creative workflows, there are sRGB, P3-D65 and Adobe RGB profiles to choose from, but there are also several more general-purpose profiles, including “Entertainment”, “Work”, “Low blue light”, “Low light” and “Native”.
I tested the sRGB, Adobe RGB and P3 modes and in every one, the panel performed admirably, delivering accurate colours across the board. Peak brightness isn’t the highest at 401cd/m2 but this is bright enough for most indoor environments and HDR video looks simply stunning on it thanks to the OLED panel’s perfect black level response.
Moving away from the visuals to the audio, the speakers deliver a similarly impressive performance. There isn’t much bass, or warmth for that matter, but the quad-speaker array delivers loud, detailed and clean audio with a remarkably broad soundstage.
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HP Spectre Fold 17 review: Performance
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the HP Spectre Fold is the age and sluggishness of its internals. Not only is the Core Intel i7-1250U CPU at the heart of this machine now two generations old, but it’s also not particularly quick.
In the benchmark charts below, I’ve pitched it up against its key rivals in the folding/dual-screen laptop space, some machines bearing the same CPU and some newer regular laptops with more modern internals. The HP Spectre Fold is outperformed by all of them, apart from the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.
It’s also worth noting at this juncture that, in desktop mode, HP limits the performance profiles available to “Balanced” at best; the “Performance’ mode is only available in desktop mode when half the screen is showing. And, since graphics are powered by Intel’s weak Iris Xe integrated GPU, you’ll not be using this to play any demanding games natively, either.
As compensation for the generally weedy CPU performance, the Spectre Fold 17’s SSD is pretty quick and its battery life is excellent. In laptop mode, with only half that OLED screen showing, the HP Spectre Fold 17 lasted 11hrs 55mins. Understandably, it dipped to 9hrs 53mins in desktop mode but that’s not too much of a bother as you’re usually going to be near a power socket when using the Fold this way.
HP Spectre Fold 17 review: Verdict
As I said at the top of this review, the HP Spectre Fold 17 is an impressive machine. It’s portable and well-built enough to be used as your carry-around laptop, it can turn into a mini desktop for longer work sessions and you can also use it as a gigantic tablet for media consumption. It has a wonderful display, decent speakers, surprisingly good battery life and even comes with a stylus for sketching and jotting.
I would be more than happy to use it as my main work device, especially on trips abroad, where luggage space is tight. I would even consider paying a premium for it over a regular laptop of similar specification, just for that extra screen space.
At £5,000, though, you’re not just paying a premium, you’re paying a fortune and, for this sort of money, I would expect something flawless. And wonderful though it is, the HP Spectre Fold 17 is a long way from being that.