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HP Spectre x360 (2020) review: The best 2-in-1 laptop of 2020?

Tim Danton
21 Apr 2020
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,799
inc VAT

An expensive and visually striking convertible that comes complete with all the modcons you could ever want

Pros 
Phenomenal display
Incredibly compact
Plenty of ports for its size
Cons 
Naff speakers
Moderate battery life
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It’s not often that I take a laptop to America as part of the review process, but the Spectre x360 is an exception. Ironically, it’s because the early sample HP sent me was only available in the supplied specification in the US; hang on to it, HP suggested after I pointed this out, and give it a road trip before we send you a UK spec that’s actually available to buy. 

That means I have two HP Spectres sitting in front of me: one with a 4K AMOLED screen and top-end specification (1TB SSD and 16GB of RAM) that you can order today from HP’s UK store for £1,799; and one with a Full HD IPS screen and top-end specification that you can’t. If you want a Full HD screen then you will need to drop down to a 512GB SSD and 8GB of RAM for £1,399. Or move to America.

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HP Spectre x360 (2020) review: Display and battery life

This, then, is your first big decision: to sacrifice the glory of a 4K AMOLED screen for a more humble Full HD IPS offering. Put the two machines side by side and there’s no disputing the extra punch delivered by AMOLED. Colours leap out at you from the screen in a way that IPS technology can’t match. 

Far less obvious, though, is the difference that 4K makes versus Full HD – despite the fact that 4K offers four times as many pixels. If anything, 4K is more of a hassle in everyday life as certain programs don’t comply with Windows 10’s built-in scaling, which results in tiny system text. Fortunately, such apps are now in a shrinking minority.

But the real downside of having so many pixels is on battery life, as reflected in my video-rundown tests. The 4K Spectre lasted for 5hrs 57mins when playing back a full-screen movie at 170cd/m², while the Full HD version kept going for 9hrs 13mins.

Whether you choose the AMOLED Spectre x360 or an IPS offering, you’ll be buying a top-quality display. Both screens put in an excellent performance in our technical tests, with the IPS screen returning an average Delta E of 0.28 and the AMOLED screen scoring 0.62. Anything below one is considered such reliable colour accuracy that your eyes can’t tell the difference. 

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Of the two machines in front of me, the AMOLED screen is brighter and more versatile. I measured it at a peak of 473cd/m² compared to 424cd/m² for the IPS display, but its real advantage is that you can use the Windows Display Settings app to jump between colour settings depending on whether you want punchy cinematic visuals (DCI-P3), print accuracy (Adobe RGB) or output tuned for the web (sRGB). There’s also a Native option, which effectively gives you an in-between setting.

In sRGB mode, the AMOLED Spectre delivered 100% of the sRGB spectrum (and108.4% volume, which means some of the colours it shows sit beyond sRGB so it’s not perfectly tuned) but only 77% of the DCI-P3 gamut. Switch to DCI-P3, and it shows 99.6% of the gamut (but 119.6% volume). Its Adobe RGB setting returned excellent figures of 96.1% coverage and 102.5% volume.

AMOLED also gives effectively perfect contrast, but even the IPS panel scored well here with a 1,644:1 measurement. Where it falls down is coverage of Adobe RGB and DCI-P3, as it only covers around 70% of those gamuts. Nevertheless, unless you need absolute accuracy in those colour spaces, I’d still opt for a Full HD panel’s battery life.

One final caveat: aggravatingly, the IPS screens currently on offer from HP in the UK are actually different from the US model I tested. They not only include a top brightness of 1,000cd/m2 but also HP’s Sure View technology. This means, with a single press of the button, you can stop people from either side of you reading what’s on your screen; all they see is a grey blur. It’s a superb security feature, and my previous tests of such screens suggest you’ll get similar accuracy and coverage scores to the IPS panel that I tested.

READ NEXT: HP Elite Dragonfly review

HP Spectre x360 (2020) review: Design and features

As the x360 in its name gives away, this 13in version of the Spectre is a convertible. This is rapidly becoming the norm for laptops, and two solid-looking hinges enable this machine to smoothly rotate into any of its three modes: clamshell, tent and tablet. HP bundles its rechargeable Tilt Pen with all the UK editions of the Spectre x360 13in, and while there’s nowhere to stow the pen this is still a welcome inclusion.

Other than its shortened height, the glass-topped touchpad is excellent, and once I adjusted my typing style a fraction I also enjoyed using the quiet but solid-feeling keyboard. This is again shorter than you might expect, but the keys are still large and easy to hit. I didn’t even mind the single-height Enter key.

A fingerprint reader sits underneath the cursor keys, but I suspect most people will defer to the excellent infrared camera that can be set to automatically log you in via Windows Hello. Flip up the screen and it recognises you almost immediately, making this laptop almost instant-on.

What’s most impressive is that HP has squeezed in the camera – which, unfortunately, doubles up as the usual drab 720p webcam – despite the narrowness of the bezels. This is another huge leap over the 2019 edition and it all helps to make this laptop incredibly compact. If keeping size down is important to you, you’ll love that the Spectre x360 measures 306mm wide, 195mm deep and 16.9mm thick.

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The inevitable compromise of such compactness is ports. However, HP cleverly makes space out of nowhere by chiselling away at the corners, with a “V” effectively cut into either side of the laptop’s rear. One of the two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports sits on the right-hand corner, while the power button is its mirror image on the left.

HP also finds room for an old-style USB port on the left, alongside a 3.5mm combo mic/headphone jack. Head back over to the right-hand side and you’ll find a microSD card slot keeping that second USB-C port company. All models feature a webcam and microphone physical “kill switch”, but don’t get excited by HP preloading ExpressVPN; this is only a 30-day free trial.

There are currently no 4G/LTE wireless versions of the Spectre x360 on sale in the UK (our American cousins have the advantage here), but you will at least benefit from Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.

You can buy the Spectre x360 in either silver or metallic brown. While the silver edition is more modest, I prefer the brown version with its bronze edges. The silver design could date back to 2010, while the bronze’n’brown combo should still look good in 2030. Of course, these things boil down to personal taste, and you may find the decision is taken for you. If you want the 4K AMOLED screen, for instance, it’s currently only available in silver.

This is the specification of Spectre x360 that HP sent me, and with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD you can expect its results to be a few percentage points higher than models shipping with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB or 512GB SSD. Note that, while the bottom of the chassis is removable using Torx T5 screwdrivers, you won’t be able to upgrade the RAM (but authorised HP engineers can replace the battery and SSD).

READ NEXT: HP Spectre x360 (2019) review

HP Spectre x360 (2020) review: Performance

So how fast is it? Considering the size of this laptop, and the inevitable effect this has on cooling, it’s very fast indeed. A score of 90 in our 4K media benchmarks suggest it will be a speedy performer for years to come, and it will remain silent most of the time too: only strenuous tasks push the fan into action. The bottom can get hot, but no more so than other ultraportable laptops.

The reason it’s so fast is largely Intel’s 10th Gen Core i7 processor. While the quad-core i7-1065G7 has a nominal base frequency of 1.3GHz, all four cores can happily run at 3GHz under load and, if it’s only needed for short tasks, it can jump to 3.8GHz.

The new Intel processor also brings faster 3D acceleration thanks to Intel’s Iris Plus graphics, which pushed the x360 to a 61.3fps in the GFXBench Car Chase onscreen benchmark (roughly double its predecessor). And it averaged 41.2fps at 720p in Metro: Last Light at High settings. You’ll still need to drop down quality settings to play at 1080p in many games, but Iris Plus brings much more after-hours entertainment within reach.

Don’t get carried away by the Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers; these are best at low volume and gentle music rather than anything with a beat. Still, thanks in large part to the glossy screen, I enjoyed watching films on the Spectre.

As ever with HP’s Spectre range, you pay a premium for all this luxury, but there’s no disputing the quality of the design or the components. For example, our review sample included a fast 1TB SSD with 32GB Optane memory, which returned excellent sequential transfer rates of 2,562MB/sec read and 1,170MB/sec write (above).

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HP Spectre x360 (2020) review: Verdict

If it’s value you seek, consider the excellent HP Envy 13. But if money is less of an object, and you like the angular cut of the Spectre’s jib, this is a laptop you’ll enjoy for many years to come. Compact, lightweight and easy on the eye, this year's Spectre x360 is as stylish as you could hope for from a laptop; and with enough power under the hood to ace our tests, it's much more than just a pretty face, too.