Why are we taking a second look at the 15.6-inch HP Spectre x360 convertible we reviewed in April 2019? Because you’ll want to take a second look—and a third, fourth, and fifth—at this version’s screen, which replaces the conventional LCD with the active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) technology seen on the brightest smartphones. I wrote that the April Spectre’s display was slightly dim and disappointing; this one is anything but. On the minus side, the $1,999 AMOLED model tested here isn’t as powerful as the earlier edition, and like all big-screen 2-in-1s, it’s bulky and heavy in tablet mode. The lighter, 13.9-inch Lenovo Yoga C930 remains our Editors’ Choice, but if you want a jumbo 15.6-inch convertible and you’ve got the budget, this is the one to get on sheer screen wow factor alone.
Sleek, Yes…Stylish, Yes…Small, No
While its touch screen was ordinary save for its 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) native resolution, the $2,049 Spectre x360 15 I tested a couple of months ago flaunted a six-core Intel Core i7-8750H processor and Nvidia’s 4GB GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics. Its AMOLED sibling seen here also offers a 4K pixel count, but steps down to a more modest quad-core, 1.8GHz (4.6GHz turbo) Core i7-8565U chip and 2GB GeForce MX150 graphics. Standard memory is 16GB; storage is provided by a 1TB NVMe solid-state drive bolstered by 32GB of Intel Optane H10 cache.
The convertible is a handsome, tapered slab, available in Poseidon Blue with Pale Brass accents or my test unit’s Dark Ash Silver with Copper Luxe accents. (The accents comprise the hinges, the trim around the edges, and HP’s stylized logo.) The bezels on either side of the screen are fashionably slim; those above and below are thicker.
The HP is carved from machined aluminum, with almost no flex when you grasp its screen corners or pound the keyboard. (As with almost all hybrids you can open with one hand, though, the screen wobbles when tapped.) At 4.8 pounds, it’s definitely on the heavy side—folded into tablet mode, it’s much happier resting in your lap than held in your hands. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 is a tad lighter at 4.5 pounds, though almost identical in size (0.76 by 14.2 by 9.8 inches for the Spectre, 0.74 by 14.2 by 9.5 inches for the Inspiron). By contrast, the Yoga C930 is just 3.1 pounds.
Diagonally cut left and right rear corners hold the power button and a Thunderbolt 3 port respectively. The left edge also has an audio jack, an HDMI port, and the connector for the AC adapter. On the right are a microSD card slot, USB 3.1 Type-A and USB 3.1 Type-C ports, and a tiny sliding switch that disables the webcam if you’re worried about online snoops. It may not have the secure satisfaction of a physical slider over the lens proper, but it does the job.
A Solid Feature Set
The face-recognition webcam and fingerprint reader give you two ways to use Windows Hello to bypass sign-in passwords. The former captures somewhat noisy, soft-focus images, albeit at 1080p instead of the more common 720p resolution.
Four Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers pump out enough sound to fill a midsized room, without a ton of bass but without getting tinny or distorted at top volume. Audio quality is pretty good; I had no trouble distinguishing overlaying tracks. The software preload includes Windows 10 Home and a slew of HP-brand utilities, one of which offers music, movie, and voice audio presets and an equalizer.
The backlit keyboard includes a numeric keypad and small but dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys. The Escape and Delete keys are small too, as are the up and down cursor arrows (squeezed between the left and right arrows in HP’s forever-awkward alternative to most laptop makers’ inverted-T arrangement). The typing feel is somewhat shallow but snappy, with decent feedback.
The elongated, buttonless touchpad glides and taps smoothly. Fold the display back into tablet mode, and you can sketch and scribble with the included, AAAA-battery-powered pen, which offers 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The pen kept up with my fastest swipes and swoops with good palm rejection, though I found myself having to press a little harder than I’m accustomed to from other systems and styli. There’s no niche or garage to store the pen inside the laptop, so its shirt-pocket clip is all that stands between you and losing it.
An Unfiltered View
Most laptop LCDs illuminate their pixels via an always-on white backlight beneath a color filter. AMOLED technology relies on a self-emitting organic layer—when current is applied, the red, green, and blue subpixels become their own source of light. This results in sky-high contrast, with blacks that are perfectly black instead of dark gray—black pixels are literally turned off, with no backlight peeking through. The technology also improves battery life when you are displaying scenes onscreen that are mostly dark, though it doesn’t do you any good for white-background web or word processing pages.
Color gamut is increased as well: HP says the AMOLED Spectre x360 15 covers 100 percent of the DCI-P3 color space (which contains one-third more colors than sRGB) compared to 82 percent for the LCD model. Users who work before bedtime may notice less harmful blue light.
In everyday use, the AMOLED Spectre is simply a joy to look at. All 4K screens make fine details sharp, but the HP’s makes them stand out and come alive. Even objects in shadowed areas show clearly. Viewing angles are ultrawide, and brightness is more than ample. Colors are rich, deep, and saturated.
I tacked on an extra day to my review process just to admire 4K images and HDR videos on the AMOLED screen, and I made an expensive upward revision in my future HDTV buying plans.
For our performance tests, I didn’t match the AMOLED Spectre against the LCD model, because the latter’s six-core CPU and stronger GPU would make it an unfair comparison. Instead, I stuck with quad-core systems, including three big-screen convertibles—the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1, the Dell Inspiron 17 7000 2-in-1, and the HP Envy x360 15—and one conventional clamshell, the Asus ZenBook 15. You can see their similar specifications in the table below.
Frankly, I didn’t miss the LCD Spectre’s six-core horsepower, though I might have for workstation-style 3D rendering; the AMOLED convertible proved more than capable for daily productivity and creativity apps. Anyone fantasizing about seeing games on that gorgeous screen, however, will be disappointed—its low-end GPU is only up for casual and browser-based games instead of the latest titles.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the laptop’s boot drive. The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The HP won the PCMark 10 office decathlon, though four of the five systems hit or virtually hit the 4,000-point level we consider excellent. Their solid-state drives helped all five ace PCMark 8’s storage measurement—the Spectre shone at loading and reloading individual apps, but I didn’t feel its Optane cache made a colossal difference.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
With the same processor in every portable, I expected similar scores. The ZenBook set itself apart from the group by a modest margin.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The HP finished in the middle of the pack here, but it trailed by less than a second per operation or effect. Considering its vivid display, image collectors will have no complaints.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
The GeForce GTX 1050 in the Asus is the only GPU here that can even begin to do justice to games, and that only at 1080p or lower resolutions with reduced detail settings. The GeForce MX150 machines are faster than the Envy x360 and its Intel integrated graphics, but that’s like saying a turtle is faster than a worm.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets.
Again, while dedicated graphics are better than integrated graphics, the MX150 is at the very bottom of the class. Your after-hours entertainment on the HP will be Netflix or Plants vs. Zombies, not Tom Clancy’s The Division 2.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
Fourteen hours is superb endurance for a laptop with a 4K screen. (The only system here to do better, the Asus, had a 1080p panel in our test model.) Getting almost a double workday from such a dazzling display is icing on the AMOLED cake.
The Wonderful World of Color
Ultimately, my only complaint about the HP Spectre x360 15 AMOLED is that it’s a 15.6-inch convertible, a category I’ve dissed a dozen times in these digital pages as too big and heavy for practicality. But if you’re looking for a thoroughly competent desktop replacement that can fold into an easel or a kiosk for a presentation, or a tablet for occasional pen input, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. You have to see the screen with your own eyes.