HP Spectre x360 14 review: Luxurious, with long battery life

The latest Intel CPU and Iris Xe graphics make all the difference.

The luxurious HP Spectre x360 14 is back with some new bling—Intel’s Tiger Lake CPU. The results are as impressive as we’d hoped, with some of the fastest multi-core benchmark scores we’ve ever seen.

The features spoil you as much as the speed. With its roomy display, powerful graphics, and exceptional battery life, the Spectre x360 14 will please productivity mavens and content creators alike. Facial and fingerprint recognition, a physical camera shutter, and a Thunderbolt 4 port round out the perks.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.

Specifications

Let’s take a look under the hood of the HP Spectre x360 model (1Q881AV) we reviewed, currently $1,590 on HP.com:

  • CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i7-1165G7
  • Memory: 16GB
  • Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
  • Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
  • Display: 13.5-inch, 1920x1280 IPS touch
  • Webcam: 720p with physical camera shutter
  • Connectivity: Thunderbolt 4, SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps Type-C, SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps Type-A, MicroSD memory card reader
  • Networking: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
  • Biometrics: IR facial recognition, fingerprint reader
  • Battery capacity: 66.5 Watt-hours
  • Dimensions: 11.75 x 8.67 x 0.67 inches
  • Measured weight: 3 pounds (laptop), 0.6 pounds (AC adapter)

Two other Spectre x360 14 SKUs are available on HP.com. A less-expensive $1,300 version with a Core i5-1135G7 processor, 8GB of RAM rather than 16GB, and a smaller 256GB SSD with 16GB of Intel Optane memory. A pricier $1,960 model boasts the same basic specs as our review model save for a much larger 2TB storage drive and the addition of HP’s Sure View privacy display. A fourth Spectre x360 version that’s a Best Buy exclusive comes with a 3000x2000-pixel OLED display and a 1TB SSD with 32GB of Optane memory.

Our midrange model misses out on some niceties, but it doesn’t skimp on RAM or the CPU. Its Core i7-1165G7 processor and 16GB promising to deliver some serious horsepower. The integrated Intel Iris Xe GPU will be a plus for mobile content creators, while the 3:2 ratio of the Spectre x360’s 13.5-inch display (a first for the Spectre series) will make it easier to work with lengthy Word documents or Excel spreadsheets.

Thunderbolt 4 headlines the Spectre’s solid connectivity options,. There’s Wi-Fi 6 support for those with cutting-edge routers. In addition to the fingerprint and facial IR options, there’s even a rechargeable, MPP 2.0-compatible HP Tilt Pen included in the box.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av thunderbolt 4 port.jpg Ben Patterson/IDG

The Spectre x360 14 comes equipped with a Thunderbolt 4 port, conveniantly situated on its right-rear corner.

The Spectre x360 14 comes with HP’s Command Center suite, which lets you manage how the laptop juggles its resources. First and foremost is Smart Sense: When your laptop’s on battery power, it optimizes performance based on your open applications. You can switch to more traditional “Balanced,” “Cool,” “Quiet,” and “Power Saver” modes, while a “Performance” mode lets you pull out the stops.

The Command Center also has a Network Booster that shoulders quality-of-service duties for bandwidth-intensive apps, while a Focus Mode helps you hone in on the task at hand by dimming non-active windows. Rounding out the Command Center’s features is an Adaptive Color mode that adjusts the display’s color temperature based on the ambient light. Display Control can tune the screen for color accuracy. Finally, a nifty “in-bag detection” feature optimizes the Spectre’s power consumption and keeps it cool while it’s sitting in a bag or a backpack.

The Spectre x360 14 bears Intel’s Evo brand, meaning it's designed to certain specifications: 11th-gen Core i5 or Core i7 processors, a 12- to 15-inch display with a minimum full-HD resolution, a chassis no thicker than 15mm, and Intel’s Dynamic Tuning technology, which helps to optimize battery life by intelligently balancing CPU and GPU workloads.

Design

HP’s Spectre x360 laptops have long been sleek, gorgeous creatures, and this new Spectre x360 14 is no different. The Spectre’s CNC-machined, gem-cut edges and gold, logo-stamped hinges are as arresting as ever. The laptop has a solid, premium feel.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av rear view.jpg Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Spectre x360 14’s signature gem-cut design gives it a stylish, elegant look.

Of course, “solid” is a nice way of saying that the Spectre x360 14 feels a tad heavy. Having been spoiled by a series of lighter-weight systems over the past several weeks, I could feel the difference. On the plus side, the Spectre’s heft includes a generous 65 Watt-hour battery, and—as we’ll see a little later—that pays big dividends off AC.

Display

The HP Spectre x360 14 is the first of its family to come with a 3:2 aspect ratio on its display. Yes, you’ll see chunkier letterboxing while you’re watching full-screen movies, but you’ll be scrolling less while working in lengthy documents or spreadsheets. That’s a fair trade-off for mobile professionals.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av tented.jpg Ben Patterson/IDG

With its 2-in-1 design, the HP Spectre x360 14’s display can be swiveled all the way around for tablet use, or you can tent it (as seen here) on a flat surface.

The Spectre x360 14’s display is a pleasure to behold. It offers razor-slim bezels and a 90.33-percent screen-to-body ratio, for maximum viewing space. The display supports 100 percent of the DCI-P2 color gamut, which, on top of the aforementioned Adaptive Color and color-accuracy modes, should  keep creative types happy. The IPS display boasts wide viewing angles, but if it’s privacy you’re after, you could always opt for the Spectre SKU with HP’s Sure View privacy screen.

Keyboard, trackpad, speakers, webcam

The HP Spectre x360 14’s keyboard has a snappy, premium feel. Avid typists (I’m one of them) will get a kick out of the clicky keys. A laptop this size must skip the numeric keypad, but you do get a right-side column for the Delete, Home, Page Up/Down, and End keys.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av keyboard.jpg Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Spectre x360 14’s keyboard has a snappy, premium feel.

The hotkey selection includes ones for the HP Command Center, keyboard backlighting (two steps are available), and mic mute. Yet another hotkey engages the webcam’s physical camera shutter. Speaking of the camera shutter, the Spectre x360 14 actually gives you visual feedback when the shutter is closed, something we wish more laptop vendors would implement.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av camera shutter.jpg Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Spectre x360 14’s physical camera shutter gives you visual feedback when the shutter is closed.

The Spectre x360 14’s touchpad is about 13 percent larger than in previous Spectre models, and it allows for smooth, precise cursor control. Of course, a bigger trackpad can attract false inputs, but even when I deliberately mashed my palms on the bottom corners of the touchpad, the cursor barely budged.

You get two methods of biometric authentication with the HP Spectre x360 14, and both worked well. Sitting in the keyboard next to the right Alt key is a fingerprint reader, which reliably read my swipes. An IR camera for facial recognition is in the top display bezel. It did such a good job of unlocking Windows practically the moment I looked at the screen, I used it almost exclusively during my testing.

The Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers on the Spectre x360 14 are powered by an array of four up-firing drivers. While the audio is fine for Zoom calls and OK for music, don’t get your hopes up. Listening to “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” Bruce Springsteen’s spare vocals sounded relatively detailed, but the bass response was muted, even after fiddling with equalizer settings in the Bang & Olufsen audio app. 

I was more impressed by the Spectre x360 14’s 720p webcam. Videos still look characteristically grainy and blotchy, but the camera captures vivid color along with deep contrast, and the cam appears to be working overtime to tease out as much detail as possible. It will serve you well during Skype and Zoom calls.

Ports

The HP Spectre x360 14 comes with just a handful of ports, but they’re the right ones. As with previous Spectre laptops, there’s an angled Thunderbolt port on the rear right corner, only this time we’re talking Thunderbolt 4, which guarantees support for two 4K monitors or a single 8K display at 60Hz, docks with up to four Thunderbolt 4 ports, and the ability to handle longer cable runs, including 50-meter optical cables.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av left side.jpg Ben Patterson/IDG

The left side of the HP Spectre x360 14 has but a single USB SuperSpeed 5Gbps Type-A port, handy for connecting mice and printers with legacy USB-A connectors.

You also get SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps Type-C and Type-A ports for legacy devices, a microSD card reader, and a combo audio jack. Strangely, there’s no laptop security slot, so think twice before leaving this laptop unattended at Starbucks (remember going to Starbucks?).

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av right side.jpg Ben Patterson/IDG

On the right, you get a microSD memory card reader, a USB SuperSpeed 5Gbps Type-C port, a combo audio jack, and Thunderbolt 4 on the rear corner.

Click here to read about the HP Spectre x360 14’s performance

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General performance

We ran our performance benchmarks twice for the HP Spectre x360 14: once using its default Smart Sense power mode, and a second time in Performance mode. Overall, we managed to wring impressive—and in some cases, stellar—results from the Spectre in Performance mode, particularly when it came to lengthy processor-intensive tasks. The laptop’s Smart Sense mode is no slouch either, managing to scare up some solid scores while keeping the CPU’s temperature down, quieting the cooling fans and extending battery life.

PCMark 8 Professional

Our first benchmark simulates such day-to-day desktop duties as web browsing, word processing, spreadsheet tinkering, online shipping, and web chat. Because none of these single-core activities is particularly taxing, CPUs with four or more cores won’t necessarily have an advantage over dual-core processors. A PCMark score over 2,000 means you can expect smooth Microsoft Office performance.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av pcmark 8 Ben Patterson/IDG

Unsurprisingly, the HP Spectre x360 14 cruised through our PCMark 8 test without any trouble, essentially tying with the similarly spec’d Acer Swift 5 and Dell XPS 13 at the top of the chart. Given that all of the laptops in our comparison cleared the 3,000 mark, their relative rankings are moot--each of these systems should be able to run Office without breaking a sweat. We’re also not surprised to see the neck-and-neck results from the Spectre’s Smart Sense and Performance modes, although that will change once we move on to our next benchmark.

HandBrake

Nothing puts a strain on a CPU quite like video encoding does, which is why we use the free HandBrake utility to transcode a 30GB MKV file to a format suitable for Android tablets. Even with the fastest processors, the task can take an hour or more to complete, with CPU fans spinning furiously to compensate for soaring chip temperatures.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av handbrake Ben Patterson/IDG

In Performance mode, the HP Spectre x360 14 takes the cake in our HandBrake benchmark.

Well, here we go. In Performance mode, the HP Spectre x360 14 shreds most of the competition, including the Porsche Design Acer Book PS, another crazy-fast Tiger Lake-powered system. Dialing down to Smart Sense power mode, the Spectre still turns in a solid HandBrake performance, sitting comfortably in the middle of our chart. Lagging behind the rest is the dual-core Lenovo Yoga C640, which demonstrates the difference a quad-core or better CPU can make when it comes to video processing and other processor-intensive tasks.

Cinebench

If HandBrake is a marathon, Cinebench is a sprint, tasking the CPU with rendering a 3D image in real time. Because it’s over so quickly, CPUs with the fastest boost clocks tend to have the advantage.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av cinebench Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Spectre x360 14’s Cinebench result isn’t bad, but we’ve seen better.

he HP Spectre x360T 14’s 700 score in Performance mode is solid, but the other Tiger Lake-powered laptops in our chart all score north of 900. The Spectre x360 14 won’t peel rubber like, say, the Acer Swift 5 does. Then again, it scored a decisive win over the Swift 5 in our HandBrake test, meaning the HP is the faster laptop over the long haul.

3DMark Sky Diver

Like the other Tiger Lake-powered laptops in our roundup, the HP Spectre x360 14 comes with an integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics core. It won’t yield silky-smooth gaming graphics (you’ll have to tinker to wring anything higher than 30 fps even for older games, such as Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor), but it should pack enough horsepower to please content creators working with Adobe Premiere or Illustrator.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av sky diver Ben Patterson/IDG

Thanks to Intel’s Iris Xe GPU, integrated graphics aren’t a joke anymore.

Looking at our chart, the HP Spectre x360 14’s result (with Performance mode enabled) lands pretty much where we expected it would, neck-and -neck with the Porsche Design Acer Book RS and a little behind the Acer Swift 5 and the Dell XPS 13. Notably, the Iris Xe-powered Spectre outdistanced the HP Envy 17, which boasts a discrete GeForce MX330 graphics card. That just goes to show how far integrated graphics technology has come in just a few short years, especially compared to Intel’s lowly UHD integrated graphics core.

Battery life

We test battery life on laptops by looping a 4K video using the stock Windows Movies & TV app, with screen brightness set to about 250 nits and volume dialed to 50 percent, with headphones plugged in.

hp spectre x360 14 1q881av video rundown Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Spectre x360 14 might be a bit heavy, but check out that battery life.

With its hefty 65-Watt-hour battery, we’re not surprised at the strong showing from the HP Spectre x360 14--more than 14 hours, beating every system in our chart save for the dual-core, power-optimized Lenovo Yoga C640 and its 60-Watt-hour battery. (The nearly identical results on both Smart Sense and Performance settings also aren’t surprising, given that video playback is a single-core task.

Our chart also illustrates the trade-off between battery life and weight. The sub-two-pound Dynabook Portege X30-L and its diminutive 41.5-Watt-hour battery trails far behind the heavier Spectre x360 14. While the Dell XPS 13 and its 49.5-watt-hour battery comes awfully close to the Spectre’s battery life score, both tip the scales at close to three pounds each.

Bottom line

Yes it’s a little heavy, but the HP Spectre x360 14 delivers the goods when its comes to sheer performance and battery life, handling crushing CPU loads with ease while serving up all-day battery life. The Spectre’s 3:2 display will also make your life easier while you’re toiling in Office, and its biometric options and physical camera shutter help seal the deal.