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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  • protomech - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    The non-retina MBPs aren't terribly interesting, nor are they terribly competitive.

    Anandtech did review the non-retina MBP 15", and struggled to find anything to write about it.
    "It’s pretty difficult to find things to write about the 2012 MacBook Pro hardware. You can essentially sum it up in one paragraph, or even one sentence if you try hard enough. The 2012 MBP looks exactly like the 2011 MBP, which looked exactly like the 2010 MBP, which looked exactly like the post-April 2009 MBP."
  • stephenv2 - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    I really am going to stop reading any reviews by this author. Just like the case reviews, his personal opinions and biases are so strong and often things I don't agree with, it's impossible to get much useful information out his reviews.
  • Commodus - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    What exactly do you think is an unfair bias here? Gotta elaborate a little more than that.

    Besides, the benchmarks don't lie. It IS slower than most of the pack. It DOES have terrible battery life. Those aspects matter quite a bit. Is he going to pretend those problems don't exist just to humour you?
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    Bias towards or against what? If you don't like my work, that's fine, I can't please everybody, but you have to give me some kind of feedback I can actually use. Otherwise your post serves no purpose other than to publicly decry someone.

    Remember there are actual people producing this work, so when you go off and just post something like this it really serves no purpose other than to offend.
  • seapeople - Thursday, May 30, 2013 - link

    I'm pretty sure he was auto-replying, as in, replying to himself. It makes much more sense that way.
  • SirPerro - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    Why $170/$370 upgrades are "exhorbitant", "staggering" and "offensive" in this review and not even a "miserly decision" in the MBP one, taking into account that the same upgrades in the apple store are exactly $200/$400 for the MBP whose lack of SSD seems to be much more palatable?

    Please be consistent with the reviews. People out there have brains.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    If I were the one handling Apple reviews, I think you'd find I'd gripe about those, too. ;)
  • SirPerro - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    Good to know. I agree with all the adjectives in either case.
  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    I agree with the crazy upgrade prices. I've often ordered stuff without upgrades and just bought the upgraded parts myself cheaper. Which is pretty ridiculous considering now I have two drives and two sets of ram....
  • APPL - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    I own this laptop.

    It is excellent save the usb 3 hd disconnect issues. I use it as a desktop replacement and am about to upgrade the HD to a Crucial M500 960GB in a monthish.

    What is with all the haters?

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