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HP Spectre 13 review: smart, attractive Ultrabook laptop is portable and easy to use


Someone at HP has obviously had on their thinking cap on. The company recently released its HP Envy 17 laptop with a built-in Leap Motion sensor that allows you to control the laptop with hand gestures. The HP Spectre 13 boasts a less exotic – but probably more useful – innovation in the form of a Very Big Trackpad™. See also: What's the best laptop you can buy in 2014?

That's not HP's actual name for it, but given the US company's Love of Capitals and trademark signs it might as well be. We realise a larger trackpad might not sound terribly exciting, but small details can often make a big difference, and the HP Spectre 13 turns out to be one of the most attractive Ultrabooks we've seen recently.

In most respects, the HP Spectre 13 looks very similar to its numerous predecessors in the Spectre range, based on the Apple MacBook Air design, with a slimline aluminium chassis that is both sturdy and elegant. It's eminently portable too, with a weight of just 1.52 kg, and a smoothly tapered profile that measures just 15 mm thick.

Its 13.3-inch display is excellent, with a bright, colourful image that is so crisp and sharp that we initially assumed it must have a pixel-packed Retina display similar that of Apple's MacBook Pro.

In fact, it turns out to be a 1920 x 1080 resolution – which makes more sense given the Spectre's £999 price tag – but it's certainly one of the best displays we've seen on a laptop costing less than £1000. HP only refers to it as a ‘Radiance' display, but the brightness and all-round viewing angles are what we'd expect from an IPS panel.

And, just to show off that excellent display, HP even bundles a copy of Adobe Lightroom so that you can admire your holiday snaps in all their glory.

The screen is touch-sensitive, but that seems almost irrelevant once you get used to that extra large trackpad. Measuring a full 140 x 67 mm, it's the largest trackpad we've ever seen on a laptop. The surface of the trackpad has a very smooth finish that feels pleasantly tactile, and it responds very smoothly to the various multiple-finger gestures that are available.


There's a special control panel for the trackpad that allows you to divide it into three sections, with narrow ‘control zones' on the far right and left edges that can be used to mimic touch-screen controls such as a left-flick to activate the Windows 8 ‘charms'. This reviewer generally prefers the trackpad on my MacBook Air to that of most Windows laptops, but HP's twist on the trackpad theme could teach even Apple a few tricks.

The Spectre 13 is currently only available in a single configuration, priced at £999 with a dual-core Intel Core i5 running at 1.6 GHz, 8 GB of memory and 256 GB solid-state drive. The Spectre 13 outgunned the similarly-priced MacBook Air when it came to PCMark 7 performance.

That combination achieved a respectable mid-range score of 5006 points when running PCMark 7, compared to around 4200 points for the recently updated 13-inch MacBook Air.

The Home and Work suites on PCMark 8 didn't fare quite so well, though, with scores of 2260 and 2651 points.

Gaming performance is poorer too, as the integrated HD Graphics 4400 couldn't sustain decent framerates until we dropped resolution right down to 1280 x 720 pixels, where it then averaged a more a playable 31 fps in our Stalker: Call of Pripyat casual gaming test.

But, to be fair, there's always a trade-off between performance and portability with Windows Ultrabooks such as this, and the Spectre 13 was still adequate for routine tasks such as web browsing and running Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, the other trade-off is reduced connectivity, with one pair of USB 3.0 ports and lack of ethernet.

However, the Spectre 13 compensated with usable battery life, giving us 7.5 hours (450 minutes) of streaming video via the BBC iPlayer, even if the 13-inch MacBook Air can manage over 12 hours here.


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