27 March 2019

HP Spectre Folio Review: There Are Premium Laptops, And There is This Setting New Benchmarks

If you thought that you had seen the pinnacle of premium laptops running Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system, you would be wrong. Wide off the mark.

Because while the likes of the HP Spectre line-up with the extreme slimness, the Microsoft Surface Laptop dressed in the alcantara and the sheer sophistication of the Dell XPS 13 did everything they could at different points in time in the history of laptops, nothing quite comes close to the HP Spectre Folio. But is this all looks and no substance? You couldn’t be further from the truth. Though all this does come at a cost, because the HP Spectre Folio can be yours for around Rs 1,99,000, which is a lot of money for a convertible laptop. 

In terms of the design, the HP Spectre Folio is nothing like any laptop we have seen thus far. True to its name, this has a folio-esque look when you look at all folded and sitting smugly on your desk. It is wrapped in a rather luxurious layer of a material you wouldn’t necessarily expect on a laptop—pure leather. The way this has been designed, you will interact quite extensively with the leather, since it adorns the space around the keyboard and the touchpad as well. To break the monotony in design, HP has tried a bit of the dual stitch visual element at either end on the middle of the lid, but inexplicably, the stitching ends abruptly. While we would have preferred it go all the way and give a sort of a ‘racing stripes’ element, at the moment, it simply doesn’t help if you have any OCD issues. The stitching itself doesn’t seem very clean, or in a straight line, which is perhaps magnified by the price tag. 

What HP has used is with the Spectre Folio is called Cognac brown leather, and it effectively wraps this incredibly slim laptop. It looks good, no doubt. In fact, it looks fantastic. Everyone who crossed paths with you will ask you what sorcery this is. However, and we may be nit-picking here, this Cognac colour could perhaps have been shelved in favour of a slightly darker brown to go better with the matte black keyboard as well the black bezels around the display. Even a complete contrast with something on the lines of a tan leather finish could have stood out even more. 

For all the beauty that the HP Spectre Folio possesses, and it is a lot of beauty mind you, this is also the scariest laptop I have ever reviewed in what is now almost a decade long journey. There are many reasons to be petrified. First of all, this is just 15.4mm thick, and that in itself demands a bit of care every time you handle the laptop. We are sure the high quality materials and the robustness isn’t in doubt, but human nature would probably dictate a bit more care. Secondly, the mechanism to switch from the laptop to the tablet mode requires some finesse, since you will be placing some amount of pressure on the ultra-thin display panel and the hinge while twisting the keyboard around. It is not to say that the mechanism is at all to be blamed, and perhaps you will get used the slimness after a point. However, till that happens, best to be attentive when opening or closing the Spectre Folio. 

This is definitely not a beauty without substance. Behind the leather wrapped exterior and inside all the slimness chugs away an Intel Core i7-8500Y processor with 16GB RAM and a super-fast 512GB solid state drive (SSD). The entire implementation, also because how this ultra-low power processor has been developed for convertibles, is fan-less. This means no cooling vents spoiling the look and no noise of the fan as you use the Spectre Folio. The underside of the laptop does tend to heat up a tad if you really push it along with multi-tasking, but that is just the leather dissipating the heat as it should. At no point does the keyboard deck become uncomfortably warm, and neither does the performance slow down because of the heating. In terms of the experience, there really is nothing wrong to be pointed out. This is quick, Windows loads in a handful of seconds, apps open fast, app switching is snappy, and the entire experience is of a laptop that is adequately powerful. 

HP has perhaps resisted the Ultra HD urge, and is offering the 13.3-inch display with the Full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080). Good that, because a Full HD touchscreen display will also consume lesser battery than a higher resolution screen, without any perceptible benefits in terms of the user experience, unless you are specifically streaming something on Netflix or Amazon Video. This is slightly reflective, but you’d come to expect that for a screen that has a glass on it. Colours look vibrant enough without any bias or oversaturation. The brightness levels are good, though contrast does suffer a bit if you really push up the brightness to maximum. 

Battery life, HP claims, is up to 18 hours on a single charge. That is derived from the perfect world scenario, which is something we possible won’t get on a daily basis. For our typical daily workflow, the battery lasted around 12 hours regularly, but we had to be really careful with the brightness and closing the unused apps to eke out 14 hours from the Spectre Folio. No more though. 

Having loved HP laptop keyboards for many years now, it was with a bit of trepidation that I took to the keyboard of the HP Spectre Folio. Yes, there are differences, perhaps also dictated by the simple physics. The key travel is lesser than a conventional laptop design, but that is something you’d get used to quickly. It is good to note that HP has kept the basics in place, such as an adequately large key size, good spacing between each key and no unnecessary changes to the layout itself. That said, the touchpad feels a tad too small, and vertical scrolling could be a tad annoying from time to time. 

The audio, as it has been in a lot of premium HP laptops recently, has been tuned by Danish audio company Bang & Olufsen. Not to expect too much from the speakers on the laptop itself, which are restricted by the limited space available to them—but the clarity of dialogues is definitely better. 

There remains no doubt that the HP Spectre Folio is a unique laptop that you can buy, and chances are, this uniqueness won’t be trumped for a while at least. It is not just the looks and the design, but this is ultra-slim laptop is not short on performance either, by any stretch of the imagination. If only we were less scared while using it.