In and Around the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart

If nothing else, the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart is a looker. While it's hard not to feel a little bit of fatigue at all the designs essentially aping the MacBook Pro aesthetic, at least HP is doing it right with the Spectre XT TouchSmart. This is a good-looking, well built ultrabook.

The majority of the Spectre XT's shell is comprised of sturdy brushed aluminum, with the HP logo tastefully etched into the lower corner of the lid. The interior surfaces are brushed aluminum as well, excluding the display and bezel, and the bottom of the shell enjoys a soft touch coating that I think is actually a better choice than simply wrapping the whole thing in garden variety brushed aluminum.

On the interior of the notebook, there's a glossy edge-to-edge finish for the touchscreen display. Under the hinge is the first pair of speakers, with the second set hiding on the edges of the underside of the notebook. The keyboard is HP's traditional chiclet style layout and white LED backlit; they've eschewed the 10-key, but I've been told 10-key is going to be coming back in the next product cycle for notebooks in this size class. Typing action is pretty good, but it's about time for HP to retire or revise this design.

Meanwhile, I've become a pretty big believer in glass touchpad surfaces. Toshiba's Kirabook sports one, and the ones HP has been using on their higher end consumer notebooks and in their EliteBooks are frankly stellar. While I still don't care for clickpads, we're at least finally getting to the point where they make sense. Windows 8's edge gestures make a solid case for them, and HP's implementation here is a sound one.

Unfortunately, the Spectre XT TouchSmart comes a bit loaded with bloatware like a relic from a bygone era. Including PowerDVD is pointless on a notebook that has no optical drive, and WildTangent has been infecting HP hardware for too long. The touch experience is fine, but the system as a whole isn't that snappy, and you can feel the difference between a mechanical hard disk with SSD caching and a true SSD storage solution. As is becoming an unpleasant tradition with the ultrabook movement and the need for thinner, lighter form factors, the Spectre XT is not user serviceable; you're stuck with the configuration you buy.

Introducing the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart System Performance
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  • arthur449 - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    You're going to have to qualify your statement about the keyboard, "Typing action is pretty good, but it's about time for HP to retire or revise this design." Apart from the display, the keyboard is one of the most important aspects of a notebook computer. I've recommended HP models to my friends and family members specifically because their use-case required a typing experience that didn't leave them with the urge to (pardon the hyperbole) saw their hands off. Having a consistently competent keyboard is vastly more important, at least in my opinion, than having a newly designed one.
  • mschira - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    2.25kg, low voltage CPU and 2h battery life?
    Are they joking?
    I keep saying, it's not Windows that is the problem it is the hardware makers.
    P.S. mac 15" retina: 2.05 kg, quadcore CPU, GPU, battery life is north of 7h.
    I know much more expensive, but still.
  • tipoo - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    Agreed, it's very much up to the system builders. Granted, IPS displays do suck down more power, but other machines already get better battery life with one. Windows machines are perfectly capable of getting close to or above Macbook battery life, I'm not sure what stops a few of them.
  • protomech - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    It's not really a direct competitor to any apple product.

    It has the processor of a MBA, display resolution/quality between a MBA and rMBP, price of a 13" rMBP (once you add the SSD), slightly thicker/heavier vs a 15" rMBP).

    Unique features are a touchscreen and terrible battery life.
  • mschira - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    but comparing it to MBA will make it fare even worse when talking about battery or weight.
    And when talking about price, too.
  • tipoo - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    Just vaguely curious, if I took out the hard drive in the Spectre XT and put in my Momentus XT 750 hybrid hard drive from my old laptop, would the mSATA cache still work as normal? Would any extra setup be involved?
  • tipoo - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    Ah, crud, even the hard drive is not serviceable?
  • Peskarik - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    "Not user serviceable" - no need to read further
  • 3DoubleD - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    I'm starting to wonder if it is possible for PC manufacturers to build a competent laptop or ultrabook. What is it that holds them back every single time?

    One thing I can think of is that they might not have any guarantee that they would sell very many of that model, so they need to drive their margins up to compensate for lower volume. If that is the case, what if one of the manufacturers (HP, Lenovo, ASUS, ect.) did a kickstarter-like launch. They show us the laptop (theoretical or prototype), maybe get it reviewed a couple times, then we can put our money where our mouths are. If they hit their kickstarter goal, then they can know they will be profitable with that model through economies of scale without aggressively boosting their margins by using crappy parts.
  • tipoo - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    Indeed, it's the volumes and R&D and manufacturing costs. With Apple notebooks, they are guaranteed to sell well, plus they are able to get away with high margins on each. Combine the two and the company is comfortable spending a bit extra on manufacturing quality and optimization. With the likes of HP, they have so many different new models they don't know if each will be a hit, plus PCs above 1000 dollars don't sell in anywhere near mac quantities, so they have to cheap out on manufacturing and optimization to play it safe.

    I wish someone would just take a one time Unibody-like risk, they only had to research that once and were able to get so many years of use out of the design, and it's still arguably the best.

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