Powered-up bling for the user who wants it allAt $2400 this is an expensive notebook PC, at least by today’s standards. But how quickly we forget those branded “laptop” displays in boutique stores back in, say, 2002 where gloriously plastic and chunky machines boasted of their 256MB RAM as halogen spotlights gleamed o† their $5500 price tags. Yes, the world has moved on, and today $2400 gets you a hell of a lot of computer.
Apparently HP designed the Spectre x360 in close consultation with Microsoft, despite the existence of the Surface and the, uh, Xbox 360. The result, as everyone who I showed it to noted, is a notably clean Windows install. Very little bloatware, just a smattering of pointless HP user assistance rubbish and an inevitable trial installation of McAfee to mess up your initial attempts at getting on a network.The major selling point of this machine, with regards to form-factor, is the way the display folds right back, putting the Spectre into tablet mode. This disables the keyboard and also explains why the power button is on the side, along with a small Windows button too.This top end version rocks a 2.4GHz i7 CPU and 8GB of RAM, which it uses to drive a 2560×1440 display with 10-point touch. That might not be full-on Apple Retina levels of resolution, but it’s close. The necessarily glass panel feels expensive, but attracts plenty of greasy fingerprints. Otherwise, colour, brightness and viewing angle from the IPS display are all excellent.The 1.59cm-thick chassis itself is machined from a single block of aluminium, which is pretty much de rigueur nowadays. The keyboard feels good to work at, but there’s a quirk: in a brightly lit room, if you switch on the keyboard backlight, the white-on-silver keys are slightly hard to read. But if you switch the backlight off, the F5 key (which is also the backlight toggle) lights up, which can be distracting. As much as they’d spoil the bling, I tend to think black keys with white letters might have been a better choice… though the resemblance to a MacBook Pro might then have been too hard to ignore.Performance, given this is an i7, is suitably impressive. Indeed, it’s the performance that brings to mind those $5500 laptops of yore, which were always inferior to the equivalent desktop. And yes, for $2400 you can build a more powerful ATX PC, but gap continues to close, and in terms of day-to-day use – even very serious use – this thing screams.Actually, it screams literally, with audible fan noise from a generous exhaust port on the left-hand edge.Staying power is another selling point, with HP claiming over 12 hours between charges of the 56.5 Watt-hour battery. That seems possible for folks tapping out a bestseller or idly flipping through presentation slides, but once you start using the Spectre as intended – an all-in-one entertainment device – you’ll more likely see 9-10 hours from a charge. Still very good.It would be interesting to do some follow-up research and see how many owners of this thing actually end up making use of the “four modes” HP excitedly shows o† in the adverts. The difference between “tent mode” (standing on two ends, display-out with hinge at the top) and “stand mode” (display out, keyboard down on table) seems, uh, subtle. And if I’d personally spent $2400 on this I’m not sure how willing I’d be to have the keyboard just dragging around on hard surfaces all the time with damage potential high.Of course, at over 13-inches on the diagonal and 1.48kg in hand, the Spectre x360 makes for a rather unwieldy tablet. But then, it has that in common with almost all Windows-based convertibles.A collection of proper ports, including three USB and full-sized display port and HDMI, is welcome, but like so many slim notebooks you’ll need to bust out a USB-to-Ethernet dongle to get online at work. Still, most people will use the 802.11ac Wi-Fi of course.While the convertible capabilities of the Spectre are welcome enough, really it’s this machine’s ability to be a solid workhorse that gives it most of its marks. It’s fast, well-built, has an excellent display and very good battery life. Maybe a black one would have been nice, but you can’t have it all, right? Anthony Fordham
2.4Ghz i7-5500U • 8GB RAM • 512GB SSD • 13.3” 2560×1440 10-point touchscreen • reversing-hinge for tablet mode • Windows 8.1 w/ tablet mode, 1.48kg