Introducing the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart

As we saw last week with Mythlogic's Callisto 1512, ultrabooks in the 15.6" form factor are strange beasts. It's pretty clear the industry as a whole is moving towards thinner, lighter notebooks at every traditional size; Intel's ULV processors aren't as fast as the standard voltage parts, but they're close enough that it can be difficult to justify the added bulk of a thicker machine. Couple this industry transition to slightly slower but much more power frugal parts with the increased emphasis on touch interfaces that Windows 8 brought and you end up with the most upheaval in notebook design we've seen in a long time.

With that upheaval we also get unique designs like the one we have on hand today, the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart. Spectre is essentially HP's premiere notebook brand until you get into their enterprise-class hardware, and so the Spectre XT TouchSmart is destined to be the absolute cream of the crop. The aluminum finish, glass touchpad, and 1080p IPS display are evidence enough of that. Yet while HP may have buffed the value proposition in a lot of places, the Spectre XT TouchSmart is unfortunately not without potentially severe compromises.

HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-3517U
(2x1.9GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3GHz, 22nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 2x4GB DDR3-1600
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(16 EUs, up to 1150MHz)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1920x1080 IPS Touch
Hard Drive(s) Seagate Momentus Thin 500GB 5400-RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD

Samsung PM830 32GB mSATA 6Gbps SSD (used as cache)
Optical Drive -
Networking Realtek RTL8168 Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino 6235 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio IDT 92HD99BXX HD Audio
Quadrophonic speakers
Combo mic/headphone jack
Battery 4-Cell, 48Wh
Front Side -
Right Side SD card reader
Combo mic/headphone jack
USB 2.0
AC adapter
Kensington lock
Left Side Ethernet
2x USB 3.0
Back Side Vent
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 14.87" x 10.01" x 0.87"
378mm x 254mm x 23mm
Weight 4.96 lbs
Extras 1080p IPS touch display
HD Webcam
SSD cache
BeatsAudio quadrophonic speakers
Backlit keyboard
Warranty 1-year limited parts and labor
Pricing $1,299

Chances are if you've been paying attention, two things popped out at you from the spec sheet: the Thunderbolt port, and the SSD caching. One of these additions is a fantastic value add; the other almost seems like a sad joke. Understanding that there are a lot of premium features on the Spectre XT TouchSmart, and that Thunderbolt isn't inexpensive to add, being stuck with an SSD cache backing up a dismally slow 5,400-RPM mechanical hard drive in a $1,299 notebook is inexcusable.

It's frustrating because the rest of the design is firing on all cylinders. The Intel Core i7 CPU is more than fast enough for the majority of tasks, HP includes the requisite 8GB of DDR3-1600 to guarantee a comfortable Windows experience, and 5GHz wireless networking is accounted for. Connectivity is healthy with USB 3.0 support alongside Thunderbolt, there are four speakers with BeatsAudio branding, and the display is even a quality 1080p IPS panel. So why hamstring the build with Intel Smart Response Technology instead of just installing a 128GB SSD minimum? Was the cost savings really worth it?

In and Around the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart
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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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