HP Spectre x360 13t Review: A thin-and-light that hasn't taken away all the good stuff

You want a full-travel keyboard? An upgradable SSD? A USB-A port? Long battery life? You got 'em.

Credit: Gordon Mah Ung

Spectre x360 13t CPU Performance

We’ll kick off our performance evaluation with Maxon’s Cinebench R15 benchmark. This test uses an older 3D rendering engine from Maxon’s commercial Cinema4D application to gauge CPU performance while rendering 3D content. Intel has lately argued that Cinebench isn't an appropriate benchmark for thin-and-light laptops, given that very few users would do that kind of work on such a system. At the same time, the performance of tiny laptops has increased so much in the last two years that Cinebench-style work probably isn't beyond the pale. 

We ran the Spectre x360 13t on its default settings, and then we re-ran the test with the laptop cranked up to its “performance” setting in the HP utility.

The clear winner is Dell’s clamshell XPS 13 7390, with its 6-core Core i7-10710U CPU. Even though it’s built on an older 14nm process, 6 cores will generally beat 4 cores. More in line with the Spectre x360 13t is the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which has the same Ice Lake Core i7-1065G7 CPU inside. Dell has long swung for the fences in performance, and we see that in both the default settings and the XPS 13 2-in-1’s performance setting, leaving the HP trailing a bit.

hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen cinebench nt IDG

Cinebench R15 is good as a general gauge of multi-threaded performance even if it’s not what most people do on small laptops.

One thing we'll give Intel is that the vast majority of applications people use are single-threaded, and thus can use only one CPU core at a time. That’s why we also run Cinebench R15 using a single thread. In fact, it may be the more important score for most people, who lagrely stick to mainstream productivity tasks.

The result tells us that for a typical person, the performance difference between most laptops probably isn’t noticeable. Perhaps the low-power Acer Swift 7 and its 7th-gen Core i7-7Y75 might be noticeable, but likely tolerable.

hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen cinebench 1t IDG

Single-threaded performance between most of the laptops here would likely not be noticeable.

You can see this fairly even CPU performance in PCMark 8 as well. The benchmark uses custom-built applications to simulate mundane tasks such as typing, video conferencing, and browsing. All the laptops shown here exceed the 2,000-point threshold for solid performance on this test. Still, if we're going to pick a winner, both the Dell 2-in-1 and HP 2-in-1 10th-gen CPUs top the list. The 6-core Core i7 Dell XPS 13 ranks far lower, but that’s due to its 4K-resolution screen and how PCMark 8 reacts to the high-dpi panels with integrated graphics.

hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen pcmark IDG

PCMark 8 pretty much confirms what we also see in single-threaded tests: Most mundane single-threaded tasks don’t move much based on the CPU.

While the last two tests tell us that that most laptops are fine, our CPU stress test requires laptops to bring their A-game. Using the free HandBrake encoder, we convert a 30-minute 1080p video using the Android Tablet Preset. The encoder is multi-threaded, so the more CPU cores you have, the better the performance. The test also takes more than an hour to complete on most ultra-portable laptops, heavily stressing their cooling capabilities.

For the HP, we first ran the test with the laptop set to its default. The result looks dismal, as the Spectre x360 13t's 10th-gen CPU performed more in line with the first 8th-gen Kaby Lake-R CPUs. But that's intentional: The Spectre x360 13t prioritizes acoustics and skin temperature in default settings, as HP believes most consumers would rather take a speed hit than listen to the whine of the fans. Unless you actually do long video encodes, you won't feel the loss.

However, we did re-run the test with the Spectre x360 13t set to Performance Mode to see what we were missing. On default, it’ll basically run the chip at 18 watts, but it notches up to 28 watts for Performance Mode. We saw a significant boost in results: The Spectre x360 13t easily outran the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and lost only to the clamshell XPS 13 7390, with its six-core Core i7-10710U chip.

hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen handbrake IDG

Set to Performance in HP’s Command Center, the new 5th-gen Spectre x360 13t outperforms its nemesis: the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.

Graphics performance

To look at the graphics performance of the Spectre x360 13t, we tap 3DMark’s Sky Diver test. Although the Dell outpaces it a step, the HP's graphics performance is actually fairly decent for this size of laptop, thanks to the improved Iris Plus graphics inside the Core i7-1065G7.

hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen sky diver overall IDG

The Iris Plus graphics in the Spectre x360 13t give a major boost over plain UHD laptops.

HP Spectre x360 13t battery life

This last test is perhaps the most important one in a laptop: battery life. HP doesn’t mess around here, packing in a fairly large 61-watt-hour battery. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, by comparison, has a 50-watt-hour battery. HP also takes advantage of Intel’s low power display technology which can reduce the power consumption of the laptop screen to 1 watt under many scenarios.

For our battery rundown test, we loop a 4K-resolution video with the laptop in airplane mode, with earbuds connected and the screen set to an relatively bright 250 to 260 nits. The Spectre x360 13t turned in nearly 16 hours of runtime. The only laptop to surpass it is the previous 4th-gen Spectre x360 13t, which also features a 1-watt display.

Remember: your mileage in battery life varies depending on the use. As video performance is so heavily optimized these days, it’s one of the easier chores. You can probably expect to chop a third off the battery life if you’re going to browse all day, but all-day runtime shouldn’t be an issue.

hp spectre x360 13t 5th gen video run down IDG

Battery life on default mode is exceptional, thanks to the slightly larger battery and 1-watt panel.

Conclusion

For years, consumers have watched as PC makers have taken away feature after feature in the interest of shrinking laptops. We hope that line stops here, because HP just proved that you can make a tiny, powerful, long-lasting and feature-packed laptop without yanking every single thing people love. Losing any of those features isn't always a deal-breaker, but if we have a choice between that and the HP Spectre x360 13t, a laptop with good keyboard travel, an IR camera, larger battery, USB Type-A, and upgradable SSD, we’ll reach for the latter 9 out of 10 times.

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Gordon Mah Ung

PC World (US online)
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