IT SEEMS LIKE only yesterday - well, March - that we were first getting acquainted with the HP Spectre x360, a slim and light convertible of the now ubiquitous 360-degree hinge breed.
Regardless, the recent launches of Windows 10 and Intel's 6th-generation Core processors - nicknamed Skylake - have prompted a refresh of HP's portable PCs. We went hands-on at a preview event in London to see what, besides an updated CPU, the latest Spectre x360 has to offer.
Besides a new darker colour scheme, the new Spectre x360 is aesthetically indistinguishable from the old model. It's still got that brushed aluminium unibody, huge trackpad, backlit keyboard, rounded rear edges and, most impressively, an attractively thin form factor.
Such skinniness hasn't limited its connectivity options. In addition to a mini DisplayPort, SD card reader and a full-size HDMI port, there are no fewer than three USB 3.0 ports on the Spectre x360, plenty for accessories and external storage.
However, it is slightly heavier than it looks, and we weren't too keen on holding it in a flattened tablet configuration. Using it as a laptop is comfier, but the keyboard is disappointing as well, with flimsy-feeling keys that lack the satisfying, clicky feedback of other convertibles we've used.
Build quality is better elsewhere. As we found when we tested the previous Spectre x360, HP's triple spiral gear mechanism makes for a very strong hinge, which nonetheless doesn't demand an unreasonable amount of force to rotate. Crucially, it holds firm and steady when in a tent or stand configuration.
The Spectre x360's 13.3in QHD touchscreen is gorgeous - in the right light. This is one very reflective display, with the show floor's various lamps casting a blinding light onto the hapless convertible. We dread to think what it's like in the sun.
On the bright (urgh) side, the 2560x1440 resolution ensures beautiful sharpness even on the large-ish screen, with a relatively high pixel density of 221ppi. Colour balance is great, too, and we couldn't spot any colours, whites or blacks that looked unusually dim or flat.
Viewing angles are extremely wide as well; there's little discernible distortion even when viewing from ridiculous acute directions.
HP has wisely chosen Windows 10 Home as the Spectre x360's operating system. This is a big improvement over Windows 8, which is still being pre-installed on the older model, as Windows 10 includes the brilliant Continuum UI-switching feature which can - automatically, if the user deems fit - swap between a Windows 7-style desktop/Start menu UI and a Metro tile-based 'tablet mode'. This is perfect for convertibles which can themselves switch between laptop and tablet configurations on the fly.
The Spectre x360 doesn't take full advantage of Windows 10 Home's features - there's no RealSense camera, for instance, which means no face recognition authentication from Windows Hello - but generally, the hardware and the OS are a fine fit.
There's a small amount of added proprietary and third-party bloatware, but it can be safely ignored or uninstalled unless you're eager to get back into Candy Crush Saga. In fact, we're a bit sad that HP hasn't included some of its excellent security- and privacy-focused tools, like the drive-encrypting, file-scrubbing HP Client Security programme. Presumably, HP is keeping this limited to its enterprise devices.
Now for the reason we're all here: the Spectre x360's brand new Intel Core i7-6500U dual-core processor from the Skylake family. Clocked at 2.5GHz, it's 100MHz faster than the Broadwell Core i7-5500U it replaces and, with a fairly hefty 8GB, we expected this setup to produce some strong benchmark scores.
We weren't disappointed. The new Spectre x360 scored 115.3ms in Sunspider and 1,129.7ms in Kraken, putting it well into the highest end of the Windows laptop and convertible market. This was further reflected in its overall handling of everyday tasks, like web browsing and word processing, in which it stayed wonderfully nimble even when multitasking. In Kolor Eyes, a 360-degree video app, we found the Spectre x360 panned around the scene a bit smoother than the similarly Skylake-powered Lenovo Yoga 900.
The Spectre x360 ships with a 512GB SSD in the UK. That sounds very tempting: the capacity of a decent hard drive with the speed of a solid-state.
In reality, we found that just 427GB could be used for general storage, as the OS, firm. A second, for backup purposes, takes up the rest.
That's far short of the advertised maximum, but we have to admit it's a perfectly adequate amount of space for most users. Exceptions might include serious gamers or designers although, since the Spectre x360 lacks dedicated graphics, we doubt either would seriously consider it as a main machine anyway.
Refreshing a product mere months after it releases is odd but, with a muscular Skylake CPU and Windows 10 straight out of the box, all signs point to this being a worthy update to the Spectre x360.
Of course, anything less would be disastrous for HP. Big players like Lenovo and Dell are also revamping their product lines with Intel's 6th-generation chips, setting up a potentially vicious pre-Christmas hardware brawl. Fortunately for this particular convertible, it's got the specs and the performance to hold its own. µ