SUPER THIN, NO COMPROMISES: HP SPECTRE 13.3 LAPTOP REVIEW

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You might think its impossible to build a laptop thinner than the 2016 MacBook 12. You would be wrong. You might also think its impossible to build such a laptop without compromises. You would also be wrong.

Ever since HP released the Spectre x360, the company has been clearly putting a greater emphasis on design and top-of-the-line materials.

Right from its super-svelte body to its ingenious Hyperbaric chamber cooling system, the Spectre 13.3 lays claim to being the thinnest laptop in the world; measuring a thickness of 10.4mm.

HP Spectre 13.3

Considering the fact that most laptops are wedged, determining its thickness can be a bit tricky, as compared to uniformly block laptops. Take for instance the 2016 MacBook 12. Its rear end measures 13mm, while the front lip measures 4mm. At what point does one measure the relative thickness — or thinness, in this case — of a laptop? The most efficient means, therefore, is visual comparison. So here’s an image of the Spectre 13.3 and the MacBook 12 next to each other.

Spectre 13.3 (right) versus 2016 MacBook 12 (left)

Leaves little room for debate, doesn’t it?

The Spectre 13.3 features an Intel Core i7 or Core i5 processor, depending on which version you purchase. Also as compared to the MacBook 12’s low travel keyboard, which was to save space, HP has managed to get a full 1.3mm of travel into the Spectre’s keyboard, while keeping its body thickness down to 10.4mm.

Granted, the Spectre’s thinness negates the integration of USB Type A ports, but HP makes up for it. The Spectre has a single USB-C (5Gbps) and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. All three support charging as well, but only with HP chargers.

So you get a full-travel keyboard and Core i5 or Core i7 power. There must be some compromise, right? Well, yeah. The screen.

The display is a 13.3-inch IPS panel with 1920×1080 resolution. It has a Gorilla Glass 4 layer that’s directly bonded to the panel, which both protects and minimizes thickness. So far, no complaints.

Also, in a darkened room with the backlighting at max, there is no noticeable excessive backlight bleeding. It could be a little brighter (it’s rated at 300 nits), but it’s not dim. Overall, it’s quite nice. The problem is that people want higher-resolution screens or touch, and neither is an option on the Spectre 13.3.

One other limitation is in the screen’s tilt, which stops at about 120 degrees. For comparison, the 2016 Dell XPS 13 tilts back to 140 degrees, while the 2016 MacBook 12 goes to just over 130 degrees. The 120 degree tilt should work just fine for the most part, but people who like their laptops to really recline would be left a tad unsatisfied.

Spectre 13.3’s furniture-style hinge.

The reason for the shorter tilt angle is HP’s unique hinge-and-piston system. The company says it used furniture-style hinges with tiny pistons to help keep the body thin yet still provide sufficient resistance when being opened or closed.

HP is particularly proud of the Spectre 13.3’s keyboard, which as stated earlier, boasts a full 1.3mm of travel. It’s backlit as well. In use, it’s far and away more satisfying than the MacBook 12’s keyboard, and good overall — even if the keys feel a bit looser than those on HP’s Spectre x360.

Spectre 13.3 backlit keyboard and glass-coated trackpad

The trackpad is a tad small at 3.7 x 2.2 inches — quite a bit smaller than the trackpads on both the XPS 13 (4.2 x 2.4 inches) and MacBook 12 (4.5 x 2.75 inches) — but it still feels nice to use and features a smooth glass coating that your finger just glides over.

The audio department is a little underwhelming. HP partnered with Bang & Olufsen for the Spectre 13.3’s speakers, but there’s really only so much one can do in a thin body. While the audio isn’t atrocious, it’s not great either. It’s barely loud enough and lacks the presence that the much thicker Dell XPS 13 delivers. B&O does give you a utility to tweak the audio, but it can’t magically make small speakers sound larger.

Bang & Olufsen speakers on the Spectre 13.3

One feature HP brass likes to tout is how the Spectre’s “hyperbaric chamber” cooling makes the laptop thinner. Most laptops use a traditional heat pipe design: a copper plate with a wick material that helps move the heat to a larger piece of copper, which is then cooled directly by a fan. Instead, in the Spectre 13.3, a sealed chamber is created using insulation. Cool outside air is sucked in through vents directly under the fans, which is then blown over the CPU and exhausted out the rear vents.

In the end, the Spectre 13.3 is an impressive laptop. It gives you robust performance for its thinness, it gives you a keyboard you can actually work with, and its looks set it apart from all its predecessors, sporting the new HP logo.

HP’s new logo

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