HP has come up with a cracker of an ultrabook with its touchscreen-equipped Spectre 13 Pro, although you must spend up big to get all the goodies.
The ultrabook story was cooked up several years ago by Intel and the Windows notebook vendors to try to stem the flood of people swapping their notebooks for either a tablet or the thin and pretty Macbook Air.
The idea was to rev up interest in light, thin and sexy Windows notebooks, but there was vendor confusion for a while as the ultrabook tag ended up on everything from budget fodder to top-end gear.
Meanwhile, the advent of Windows 8 confused matters further as it became apparent that you really needed a touchscreen to make driving Win 8’s interface a pleasure rather than a frustrating chore.
The past 12 months have seen some very good Windows ultrabooks that combine sleek design with decent touchscreens, although they tend to inhabit the high end of the market.
The HP Spectre Pro sits at the expensive end of the ultrabook line and it does deliver. The Spectre Pro range-topping review unit has just about everything I could want in a Windows notebook, bar the $2499 price tag. Lesser models start at $1599.
It has plenty of grunt courtesy of a 1.8Ghz-3.0 Ghz Intel Core i7 4500u processor coupled to 8GB of system memory. A quick 256GB SSD drive (128GB on lesser models) provides the storage.
The meaty processor and memory make the Spectre quick, responsive and good for power-sapping tasks like video editing. It will play games OK as well, although the Intel HD 4400 graphics dictate keeping the screen-quality settings moderate.
When pushed, the Spectre’s fan is a little noisy and there’s a slight hot spot around the middle of the base.
The chassis is brushed aluminium and the build quality is excellent. Around the edges are two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot and HDMI out.
HP calls the colour of the back plate truffle brown, although under light it had a purplish hue, to my eye.
The review unit came with the optional 2560 x 1440 pixel Quad-HD touchscreen as opposed to the 1920 x 1080 pixel standard touchscreen. It’s a pretty display with punch colour and detail you would expect from all those pixels, although I suspect that by the end of the year true 4K screens will be the expected resolution on $2000-plus notebooks.
HP has kept the Spectre quite light at 1.5kg.
While the touchpad looks strangely wide, it incorporates a neat feature that HP dubs the 'Control Zone'. The left and right edges of the touchpad have a slightly different finish to the rest of the pad and they act like the edges of a Windows touch screen.
Swipe in from the left edge and the Windows Charms bar appears. Swiping up and down moves through the Charms choices and pressing down selects it. Swipe from the right and it switches between open applications.
The Chiclet style keyboard is backlit and pleasing to type on, although I found the blue key labels hard to make out under some lighting conditions.
Battery life was OK but I suspect the model with the more modest Core i5 processor would do better. With all the radios switched on, performance mode selected and the screen brightness on full, I got more than five hours of operation running a looping video.
Sound is by BeatsAudio, which you'd expect to be good, but I found the speakers on the Spectre were just average.
Overall, the Spectre 13 Pro is a great high-end ultrabook. I would probably save myself a grand and go for the lower specification model, although it would be hard to give up the 2560 x 1440 screen.