The era of ultrabooks and tablets has come. Tablets got their popularity by being “more than a smartphone, less than a netbook” and definitely shut the door behind the decrepit netbook generation. On the other hand, the ultrabook concept hasn’t managed to reshape the entire market so far, as it’s reserved for those with deeper pockets. Since more was invested than has been gained, it’s unsurprising that all manufacturers are pushing the market as much as possible, with a constant stream of new models. The long-awaited HP Spectre has reached our office at last.
The model has been placed in the Envy series, with a display size of 14”, or more precisely, a display of 14” in a 13.3” case. This is HP’s way of emphasising the very thin edges around this model’s display, and with good reason, but more on that later. The first encounter with HP Envy 14 Spectre is really something to be remembered, since this model is unlike anything you might’ve seen before. It’s particular first and foremost by its several large glass surfaces. The display is protected by Gorilla glass on both sides, and even the palm rest has been granted with a glass layer, which gives the entire device a very unique look.
Gorillas and glass
The surface under the glass is black, and the only bit you’ll notice is the HP logo, lit up with white backlight, which gives a very nice impression, especially when looked from the side. The other side, carrying the display, also has a protective glass layer, and when the former is turned off, you’ll hardly be able to distinguish the lid from the display itself. To make things better, HP has used a display with a resolution of 1600x900, stretching almost from edge to edge, which makes this ultrabook’s display section one of the thinnest we’ve seen. There’s no more than 8-9 mm from the edge of the display to the edge of the lid, while the top stretch isn’t wider than 15 mm.
All in all, they’re not lying – this is a 14” display in a 13” case, no doubts about that. The top section contains a webcam, microphone and sensor, the latter used to detect presence in front of the PC and turn keyboard illumination on or off accordingly, which helps save power. Truth be told, we would’ve preferred an ambient light sensor, which would be able to adjust the display brightness to the environment as well, but at the moment, there’s only the IC one, which can be turned off if so desired. The quantities of glass used for protection and design purposes are impressive, but you must bear in mind that maintaining these surfaces is a nightmare, as visible fingerprints will be left upon the slightest touch. This makes even the most freshly cleaned surface “smudgy”. The other issue is the amount of reflection, which can be bothersome if you’re facing away from a light source, although it’s partially compensated for by rather strong backlight. The display itself is of the TN sort, so although it’s very sharp, its viewing angles are not its strong point, with distortion occurring on horizontal and vertical axis alike. Colour shifts are more pronounced vertically, and the fact that the lid has a limited recline won’t help you compensate for this. Regardless of angles, sharp image, high-quality display and edge-to-edge dimensions will all make you more forgiving in terms of overall display quality.
Under the glass
Beneath the glass screen, there’s a high-quality backlit keyboard. In accordance with the trends, it’s a Chiclet-type keyboard with sufficient room between keys. The said backlight is discreet, without the ugly glow to surround the keys, so light only diffuses through the character markings. HP still insists to make cursor keys for Up and Down with half the usual size. Although this makes the visuals better, it definitely makes the practical side worse, especially if you’re using cursor keys often. Function keys have got active shortcuts, without the need for pressing the Fn key, while the usual F1-F12 functions are still there, of course.
The sufficient room between keys makes the keyboard very pleasant to type on in day and night, with the backlight especially important for the latter. However, we’ve been able to notice one peculiarity which might have been a feature of our particular sample, but we can’t say for sure, so it’s best we mention it straight away. Regardless of whether active backlight is on or off, there are a few keys with independent signal lamps. One of them is F5, used to control backlight. It has occurred on several occasions during typing that this key’s backlight intensity varies, which can be irritating and distracting. It simply reduces for a moment and then kicks back in when you’ve pressed any other key, as if having its own sleep profile of sorts. Again, we believe that this anomaly is tied to our particular sample, but still, pay attention to this detail when buying the ultrabook. Expectedly, there’s a clickpad just under the keyboard (as a reminder, a clickpad is a Windows 8 touchpad which clicks across its entire surface and doesn’t have separate buttons), framed by a glass palm rest. The entire palm rest is a bit elevated in regard to the keyboard and has a glass cover, which looks amazing. The clickpad is at the same level, so that the lid lies uniformly across the entire surface when closed, bypassing the keyboard entirely. The power button is located in the upper left corner, while the opposite side contains the backlit Beats Audio logo, hinting at the presence of a volume slider on the side. The potentiometer itself regulates the master volume level, but for some unfortunate reason, it’s been turned upside down – the volume is increased by pulling down and decreased by pushing up. Luckily, this can be reversed in the Beats Audio settings. Although this wheel is a very useful thing, its position and lack of resistance will cause you to accidentally bump the volume up or down quite often, which can be very bothersome.
After the glass display and aluminium keyboard frame, it was high time for at least some plastic, and that can be found in the bottom section, which fits with the rest perfectly, even the metal parts. Interestingly enough, removing the bottom lid enables access to the 4-cell battery, which can then be replaced if needed. The battery model in question is a flat one with prismatic cells, which doesn’t lend a lot to battery autonomy, as it’ll turn out.Nearly all connectors are placed on the left of the PC, while the right side only contains the aforementioned Beats Audio volume control, followed by mute and settings buttons. The front contains absolutely nothing, with only the Beats Audio logo visible in the left corner. The cooling system has been created in such a way that all heat is exhausted through an opening stretching across the entire bottom surface, right under the lid. This is good because there’s no side exhaust involved, and the current opening is near-impossible to block, as the discreet bumpers always keep the case some millimetres above the surface. It’s likely the keyboard slits that serve for air intake.
Between plastic and aluminium
NFC in UltrabooksThe case contains the hardware worthy of a serious ultrabook, and to speak the truth, we haven’t expected less of HP. Although there are models with stronger CPUs on the market, out particular Spectre arrived with the mega-popular Core i5 3317U, which can be found in 90% of ultrabooks based on the Ivy Bridge generation. A single 4 GB memory module is present, with room for one more of the kind, maxing out at 8 GB. In accordance with the CPU, Spectre has the HD 4000 integrated graphics, capable of putting out a solid number of frames per second for less demanding titles. Forget about modern titles such as Crysis 2, Metro 2033 and similar, as this ultrabook isn’t meant to run them anyway. What does work perfectly on this PC, however, is various applications and data manipulation. The lightning-fast SSD with a capacity of 128 GB makes short work of system startup and wakeup, as well as all common applications. Coupled with a lot of RAM and a fast CPU, there’s nothing that’ll make Spectre choke. Intel’s Centrino platform ensures wireless connectivity is adequate, supplying not only Wi-Fi n, but also BT 4.0 and NFC. The camera has 2 MP at disposal, which is sufficient for video conferences, but higher-quality optics would’ve been welcome, and there’s quite a bit of noise even in good light conditions, while the framerate remains low even at 640x480. Still, for less demanding applications, it’ll perform decently enough.
This is the first ultrabook that we’ve seen sporting an NFC chip, and we have to admit that we’ve been left somewhat disappointed by its usability. It seems that the only real way to employ NFC is to send a URL from your Android phone to your PC. What needs to be done is download HP’s Touch to Share app from Google Play market and put your phone on or close to the palm rest, so that the data exchange can be done. We hope that HP will be able to do more with the NFC chip than just transfer a simple URL from phone to PC, which can be done in a million other ways anyway.
HP has done its best to underline the Beats Audio certificate this model has. Not only is there a large number of Beats stickers and logos, but also several niceties that actually do impress. For instance, the volume control, although somewhat impractical, can come in very handy if you change your volume level frequently. The mute and settings buttons are also conveniently situated right next to it. While “mute” has an immediate purpose, the Beats Audio button summons the control centre, which provides you with presets and enables you to setup your audio system the way you want in seconds, so that it matches what’s being played. Other than that, the audio output is simply phenomenal. Whatever you’re connecting to the amplifier in IDT’s 92HD91BXX soundcard will be reproduced perfectly. The sound is strong, crisp and clear. Although it only has two small frontal drivers, the audio system in this ultrabook is more than satisfactory even without any extra help. All in all, we’ve been blown away by the Beats Audio implementation in this instance, raising the bar for multimedia experience for several steps compared to anything the competition has to offer.
Powermark instead of Battery Eater Pro
We at InsideHW have been using Battery Eater Pro 2.70 for battery autonomy testing since years ago. The problem with this aging piece of software is that its two tests (Classic for normal use and Reader’s test for minimum load) haven’t been yielding realistic results lately, but remained the most reliable solution nevertheless. While the Classic test could only have been called out as unrealistic for not really utilising graphics (except for a simple OpenGL test), the Reader’s test was more problematic. The latter entails scrolling a copy of Hamlet in a single document from time to time, and that’s it. Since this test was conceived a number of years ago, few notebooks were able to withstand it for more than two hours, the time it takes for the text to end, after which the test simply stopped. The text is still being displayed afterwards, and the scrolling function remains active, but there’s simply no text remaining to be scrolled. This builds into a discrepancy over time and yields unrealistic results for batteries with a lifetime of over six hours. The standard test puts the system in High Performance mode, but Reader’s test puts everything to the minimum: working mode, brightness, wireless connections etc. Powermark is a new addition to our fold, and we particularly appreciate the fact that it includes more usage scenarios: Balanced, Productivity and Entertainment, which correspond to Balanced, Power Saver and High Performance, respectively. The idea is to provide multiple ways to show how your notebook will handle different real-world situations. For instance, the entertainment test randomly spins a piece of one 3DMark06 GPU test, video processing and similar demanding actions. Productivity utilises web browsing and regular Office applications to simulate a workstation environment, while Balanced is a middle ground combining both tests. Powermark therefore yields much more reliable and constant results, which is great for the user, but bad for advertising. For comparison’s sake, have a look at the results yielded by both programs. Balanced: Wi-Fi & BT on, brightness 50%, profile Balanced, switchable graphics Auto, keyboard backlight Auto; Productivity: Wi-Fi & BT off, brightness 10%, profile Power Saver, switchable graphics iGPU, keyboard backlight off; Entertainment: Wi-Fi & BT on, brightness 100%, profile High Performance, switchable graphic Discreet, keyboard backlight on.
Noise, heating, performance
Heating can be a problem with this model, as is the case for most ultrabooks, due to the large number of powerful components crammed into a ridiculously narrow space. HP has partially addressed this issue by implementing an aggressive fan profile. However, what you lose in heat will quickly be made up for in sound, so bear in mind that Spectre can turn into a pretty noisy ultrabook pretty quickly, which isn’t something you’d expect from this price range.
The powerful hardware inside will make sure that all tasks are executed with ease, which encompasses everything except high-profile gaming. The battery performed expectedly for an ultrabook model, which is better than expected from a 4-cell battery. You can read more about the new battery test in a separate section of the article.
|HP Envy Spectre 14-3100EN|
|CPU||Intel Core i5 3317U 1,7 GHz (2,6 GHz Turbo mode) 2C/4T, 17W|
|Chipset||Intel Ivy Bridge|
|Memory||4 GB DDR3 1600 MHz (single slot)|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD4000|
|Screen||14'', 1600x900 pix, Radiance LED, Gorilla glass, Glare|
|Ports||1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, HDMI, mini Display Port, LAN (RJ-45), SD/MMC Card Reader, 3.5mm audio/mic|
|Audio||Beats: IDT 92HD91BXX HD audio|
|Additional Features||HP True Vision 2.0 MP webcam, Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 + Bluetooth 4.0 (2x2 Wi-Fi), backlit keyboard with proximity sensor, NFC, USB on power adapter|
|Dimensions[cm]/Weight[kg]||32.7 x 22.1 x 2 / 1.8|
|OS||Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit|
|Battery||4-cell (58 WHr)|
It’s not that easy to reach a final verdict on Spectre. It’s definitely a unique notebook, with glass surfaces instantly attracting or repulsing potential buyers. Of course, the list of features doesn’t end there – the large display with a minimal frame is another strong selling point of this model. It’s simply heart-warming to see a high resolution over a solid display from one edge to another. Lest you forget, Gorilla glass is a magnet for fingerprints, so it’s inevitable for your Spectre to look “smudged” most of the time. Although Gorilla is scratch-resistant, it doesn’t cope that well with falls and pressure, so if someone accidentally sits on your precious Spectre, get ready to buy a new display altogether. If you think we’re overstating this issue, try pressing the display on one end with your finger and see how much it deforms on the other. Furthermore, the use of glass has conditioned a significant weight of 1.8 kg, which doesn’t really fit the ultrabook bill.
|PCMark 7 Score||4563|
|7-Zip 9.20 x64 compression/decompression [KB/s]||6406 / 76294|
|AIDA64 2.5 EE memory read/write/copy [MB/s]||11822 / 12411 / 11519|
|AIDA64 2.5 EE memory latency [ns]||54.1|
|Cinebench R11.5 x64 OpenGL [fps]/CPU/CPU (Single Core) [pts]||12.77 / 1.73 / 0.91|
|HD Tune Pro 5.0 average read [MB/s]||374.5|
|Powermark Balanced / Productivity / Entertainment||3h 52' / 7h 47' / 2h 08'|
|1600x900 0xAA 0xAF|
|Resident Evil 5 DX10 med [fps]||23.2|
|Street Fighter IV low [fps]||30.7|
HP’s Spectre simply has to be considered as a whole, with all its virtues and flaws. Its high price is usual for an ultrabook with such specs and that’s nothing confusing, but what’s really going to be the make-or-break factor is this model’s appearance. If you’re enthralled with it in the first few seconds, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever regret buying it, despite some shortcomings, as it’s precisely this model’s peculiarities that’ll make it a joy to work with on a daily basis.