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HP Spectre x360 14 2-in-1 Review: Amazing OLED, Pretty Good Pen

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

It’s not every day we get a laptop as unique as the HP Spectre x360 14″, and if you’re a creative professional, then there are quite a few things that you might like with this laptop.

Personally, we still prefer using desktops over laptops. We like our beefy CPUs, GPUs and we really like to tinker with a computer’s cooling system and more. However, if we’re talking about laptops, we still very much appreciate a really well-designed laptop; you would too, especially if you’re going to use it as your daily driver.

Just like the previous generation, the Spectre is unique-looking with its two-tone look and tapered edges, which creates a hexagonal frame when you look at it from various angles. This design makes the laptop stand out ever so slightly, giving it a bit of character while still retaining a professional look. On top of that, HP actually made use of the laptop’s unique frame – one of the USB-C Thunderbolt connectors is actually located right on the laptop’s edge, putting the connector at a 45-degree angle. Although the connector’s placement doesn’t make much of a difference compared to having it on the side, it does kind of help with cable management.

Additionally, a USB-C hub is included with the laptop, which adds two more USB ports, HDMI 2.0 and a charging pass-through port. This is a nice touch considering that the laptop only has two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 3.5mm combo jack, a MicroSD card reader and one USB 3.1 Gen 2 port.

Now, let’s talk about how it feels like to use the Spectre as a daily driver, to which we say: it’s pretty darn good.

The Spectre’s display is definitely the star of the show. It’s 13.5-inches and has OLED, 3000 x 2000 resolution in a 3:2 aspect ratio, 100% DCI-P3 coverage, brightness of up to 400 nits as well as touch support. These specifications are actually quite comparable to other laptops in this segment, but the main difference is definitely the panel. If you haven’t tried OLED on a laptop yet, then you’ll be glad to know that it’s just simply great, no two ways about it. The colours are extremely vibrant, and the Spectre’s dynamic range is really good, thanks to those deep blacks. Any kind of content on it just looks great, be it YouTube videos, creative work or even just plain web browsing.

The Spectre’s speakers are also quite good, and it’s definitely not what we expected. The laptop’s speakers are the result of the collaborative efforts between Bang and Olufsen and HP. The laptop has a pair of stereo speakers that are located on its underside. They sound great no matter which mode you use the laptop in, and they do get pretty loud despite the form factor.

The laptop’s keyboard is great and is a joy to type on with, and it has good tactile feedback and bright white backlighting. The keyboard also features an offset power button similar to the Windows Surface Pro laptop – something we really appreciate. The keyboard also comes with a fingerprint reader, which is located beside the arrow keys. The trackpad, meanwhile, is large and comfortable to use; no qualms about it.

As usual with most other laptops, the Spectre also comes with an HD webcam. So if you need a webcam and microphone, the Spectre has it. It’s there, and it’s in the right place. One neat trick that the Spectre has is a dedicated button for the webcam which controls the privacy shutter. Once activated, the shutter, which is actually underneath the glass panel, will cover the webcam.

It’s nothing fancy per se, but it’s just nice to see something so simple get refined.

However, the best way (arguably) to use the Spectre is to flip the display a full 360-degrees and use the pen that comes with the laptop (and with two extra tips, no less!). Although the pen isn’t quite good enough to replace an Apple pencil, it isn’t that far behind in comparison in terms of performance. Pen pressure is decent and tracking is pretty much on point. We were able to draw parallel lines while using the pen without much difficulty, and the pen is very usable if you’re looking to just take down notes or do simple art. Once you’re done, you can magnetically attach the pen to the side of the laptop, so you don’t have to worry about misplacing it.

With that said, the pen’s performance is of little significance if the laptop itself doesn’t perform. The unit we reviewed is equipped with an Intel core i7-1165G7, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of PCIe SSD storage. We ran the laptop on Performance mode via the HP Command Centre and Smart Sense mode.

In Cinebench R20, both Performance and Smart Sense mode achieved the same single-core score while the Performance mode registered an 1840 multi-core score. That’s 30 per cent higher than Smart Sense’s 1361 points on multi-core mode. In DaVinci Resolve, the performance difference between Smart Sense mode and Performance mode is also quite vast. A 10-minute 1080p project took about 30 minutes to render in Smart Sense mode, while the same project only took 23 minutes on Performance mode, similar to Cinebench’s 30 per cent performance difference.

The reason why Performance mode is better than Smart Sense mode is quite simple: the latter limits the chip to 15W of power and only maintains a conservative clock speed, while the former can clock the chip up to 20W or more with higher clock speeds.

As for gaming, we’ve only tested the laptop’s capability of handling video games using Performance mode. With that mentioned, you can expect 92 fps for CSGO and just about 40 to 50 fps for Genshin Impact. However, gaming with the Spectre isn’t that great because although the average framerate was rather okay, there were sudden frame drops happening from time to time. That really sucks, although it isn’t surprising given that Genshin Impact is GPU intensive and we really only have integrated graphics here.

But let’s be real. Gaming isn’t the reason why you’re going to use this laptop. Most of the time, you’ll be using the laptop casually, or with the display flipped over and used to take notes or even draw. For these scenarios, the laptop’s specification is more than enough. Even with a heavy Photoshop file, the laptop still delivers great performance and it can keep up with the speed of the pen.

Also, if you’re off the grid, Smart Sense mode is the way to go even though Performance mode does grant you better performance. Smart Sense mode gives you a nice balance between performance, thermals and battery life. We estimate that you’d probably get around nine hours of usage out of the laptop’s 66WHr battery – that’s more than enough for a day without the power brick.

We don’t have anything bad to say about the Spectre so far per se, but we do have a few words of advice.

The laptop definitely has a premium price tag: S$2899 or US$1800 – not exactly expensive, but not exactly affordable either. Of course, you can get a cheaper price if you opt for the Core i5 and a full HD IPS instead. However, we daresay that the OLED is very much worth the upgrade. Part of the laptop’s price is because it is a 2-in-1 laptop. So if you don’t really need the 2-in-1 function or the Spectre’s pen, you can look at other options, even within HP, like the Envy series. You will be getting much more bang for your buck elsewhere.

But if that’s not the case and you know what you’re looking for, like an OLED display, 2-in-1 function, pretty decent performance and good battery life, the HP Spectre X360 14 might just be the laptop for you.


Content by Soon Kai Hong

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