Review HP Specter X360 (2020), one of the first Intel Project Athena laptops

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In a time of global health emergency, notebooks continue to be an essential tool for people. The producers have not stopped and are starting to bring to the market the products that we have seen recently presented during fairs and various events. Among these, we find HP which, just last January, at the CES in Las Vegas, showed for the first time the new Specter X360, updated with Intel’s 10th generation platform and with some aesthetic features such as thinner bezels to surround the display…

Specter X360 2020
Specter X360 2020

The 2019 version of this notebook was already considered an excellent product, a reference within the 2in1 category. Still, HP went further, working in close collaboration with Intel, to ensure that the 2020 model responded to the fees necessary to be able to bear the “Designed for mobile performance” badge.

This is the identifier used by Intel to report what we could define as an evolution of Ultrabooks designed to redefine the canons of premium solutions. Notebooks optimized in close collaboration between the Santa Clara company, PC manufacturers, and various components to meet quality standards that can guarantee an optimal user experience on the move. An innovation program, also known with the code name  Project Athena, launched last year and of which this Specter is only one of the first specimens on the market in Italian stores. By the end of the year, approximately 50 other products falling into the same category are expected to be launched. But how does this HP Specter X360 falls into the group, and above all how does it behave? I’ll tell you right away.

The products that aim to be included in the above selection must follow some guidelines that substantially concern all aspects of the notebook, starting from the design and ergonomics. HP Specter X360 is a 2in1, offers great flexibility in all situations and is built with a care that I could define as manic. The shell is made entirely of metal – a magnesium alloy and aluminium – and the various components are correctly assembled. There are no crunches or sagging, and immediately you have the feeling of having a notebook in your hands that is absolutely portable but also very, very solid.

I liked several aspects of this Specter X360. First of all, the design, which has now become iconic and undoubtedly full of character. The lines are angular, almost aggressive, without however flowing into the tacky. It remains a sober solution with some new engineering solutions. I speak for example of the USB Type C and the power button positioned on the rear corners of the body, just not wanting to waste even a millimetre of the space available.

Thanks to this philosophy, despite the reduced thickness, this Specter X360 offers two USB C with Thunderbolt support, audio jack, micro SD card reader and a USB Type-A equipped with a spring flap that when closed on itself makes way to maintain the linearity of the design, when we say the attention to detail.

On the bottom, two long rubber strips run horizontally on the body and offer excellent grip even on smooth surfaces. These make the solution stable even when used on the table of a moving vehicle, be it an aeroplane or a train. Situations in which use is also facilitated by the small footprint given by the 13.3-inch display with frames optimized on three sides and weighing only 1.3 kg. Features thanks to which even the impact in the bag or backpack is at the minimum terms.

We said, therefore, the construction is solid and so is the keyboard surface, which does not flex and which houses standard size keycaps, well-spaced from each other and backlit on three levels of intensity. It is a keyboard with which you get familiar quickly, and it takes just a few hours of use to get used to its ergonomics and start typing speedily and making few mistakes. What did I like most? The click, clear, precise, reaches the end of the stroke and makes itself heard without being too loud.

The touchpad is also excellent, of the right size considering those of the notebook in general. It has a slightly elongated shape, the fingers slide well, and the answer is precise even when we use more than one to activate the gestures. If we want to look for the hair in the egg, I would have perhaps tried to separate better the two left and right buttons, even if, at least personally, I use them very little.

Next to the touchpad, on the right, we find the reader for the recognition of fingerprints, always very precise. The latter together with infrared sensors for facial recognition enables quick access to the system via Windows Hello, and it only takes a few moments to be operational, another function required to boast the badge I mentioned before. Still, in security and privacy, there is a switch on the right side of the notebook that allows you to darken the webcam when not in use.

The display of this HP Specter X360 measures 13.3 inches diagonal is of the IPS type and offers a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels with a density that therefore stands at 165 PPI, not impressive but still sufficient to obtain clear images in all situations. It is then a touchscreen panel that can be used with your fingers but also with the HP Tilt Pen that we find included in the package.

We are talking about an active nib that takes advantage of Microsoft protocols and which is based on Elan technology. It is not as precise and responsive as the most recent that I have tried with Microsoft’s Wacom or ex-N-trig technology, but let’s say it does its job without problems and is always a useful tool for taking notes or underlining documents. I much appreciated the construction and lightness, in addition to the presence of an available Type C for charging. A few seconds attached to the PC are enough to have several hours of autonomy.

But let’s go back to our display, produced by AU Optronics and characterized by excellent general quality. The maximum brightness reaches 300 cd / m2, and the contrast is sufficient to be able to use the notebook in very brightly lit environments quickly thanks to an excellent anti-reflection finish. We carried out the usual measurement using the Calman colourimeter and software, the results of which are in the graphs below.

It is probably not a display that is factory calibrated, but the results are not bad. We have coverage of the sRGB standard very close to 100% and delta E of 4.8 for grayscale and 3.6 for colours. Considering that 3 is the value beyond which it is possible to perceive the difference concerning the reference tonality, it is, however, an acceptable error in both cases. We have certainly seen more accurate displays but enjoying multimedia content on this panel is still a rewarding experience.

And here we are talking about the platform on which this notebook is based. Inside the Specter X360 (2020) we find a tenth generation Intel Core i5 processor, to be precise a 1035G4, equipped with a 4-core and 8-thread CPU with a maximum operating frequency of 3.7 GHz. An Intel Iris Plus Graphics card flanks the latter, 8 GB of LPDDR4 RAM and a 256 GB Samsung PCIe SSD that offers read and write speeds of 3500 and 1550 MB / s. By opening the body, it is possible to notice that the latter is also the only updatable element.

With this hardware, therefore, Specter X360 meets the minimum requirements necessary to be able to boast the “Designed for mobile performance” badge which, as the slogan says, aim to identify solutions that can guarantee reactivity and fluidity in all processes and every situation.

There are two characteristics that I particularly appreciated for this platform. The first is scalability, the second and the integration of artificial intelligence and graphic acceleration that allows you to improve significantly PerformancePerformance with software optimized to take advantage of these specifications.

But let’s go in order. I talked about scalability because among the technologies introduced by Intel with the tenth generation chipsets we find Dynamic Tuning. What is it about? By analyzing the data from various sensors, the system can determine how much power the CPU needs and to dynamically vary the TDP to provide it with the right amount of energy in any situation. Inside the HP Command Center, it is also possible to manually act on these settings by choosing one of the existing presets and, if necessary, force the adoption of the profile that at that moment seems more useful to us. You can then switch from Comfort mode, where PL1 and PL2 (Power Limit) are set to 8.5W, to that Performance, with which you go up to a PL2 value of 51W.

All this is supported by an excellent cooling system that guarantees effective dissipation and adequate frequency management that minimizes the risk of episodes of lag or crash if incidents of thermal throttling should occur. However, I would like to point out that fans can be a bit noisy in some contexts. The tests we carried out with this platform show reassuring PerformancePerformance, which will allow most users to see their needs always met. By loading the CPU and GPU to the maximum, an average frequency is recorded on all cores close to 1.5 GHz for the CPU and 1.0 GHz for the GPU.

In situations where the intervention of the graphics component is not required, then, there is an increase in the frequency of the CPU which allows you to maintain 2.5 GHz on all cores for a very long period. The temperatures then stabilize around 95 degrees, testifying to a comprehensive and well-optimized setting. Do not be frightened; however, on the outside, the body never goes above 40-42 degrees at the bottom and does not exceed 37 in the warmest area of ​​the keyboard.

As I said above, the introduction of the new Iris Plus GPUs has made it possible to significantly improve the graphics performance, which is now very close to those of the NVIDIA solutions of the MX line. We are not yet at the level of discrete GPUs, but we say that we can still take away some small satisfaction in the gaming field. The most recent triple-A remain a utopia, but we are certainly not faced with a product designed for this. Cheaper titles such as classic graphic adventures and more straightforward third-person shooters are still playable with an acceptable framerate lowering detail and resolution.

Photoshop CC 2020
Contextual Image Fill 14100x4425px @ 300ppi (178 MB)
Gigapixel
Upscaling 4x Photo 3000×2000 pixels @ 300ppi (2.5 MB)
HP Specter X360
(Core i5 1035G4 / Iris Plus G4 / 8GB RAM)
9.3 sec1 min and 55 sec
ASUS Zenbook S13 UX392FN
(Core i7 85665U / MX150 / 16GB RAM)
13.4 sec4 min and 36 sec

 

However, there are other situations where the presence of the new GPUs is felt. I speak of some optimized programs that support graphic acceleration and artificial intelligence. With this software, we have essential improvements in terms of PerformancePerformance, and operations such as enlarging images or contextual filling with Photoshop are completed in significantly less time than the previous generation platforms, which cannot enjoy this optimization. In the table above, you see a concrete example in comparison with a notebook with an eighth-generation Core i7.

All charming, exciting performances, but autonomy? One of the promises of the so-called Modern Devices is to be able to take away the thought of the discharged battery and to guarantee at least one day of real use. Objective achieved, at least for this Specter X360 with which I managed to exceed 10 hours of use in Balanced mode and with a display at about 50% of luminosity, however more than enough for indoor use. A use made mostly of navigation, word processing and some videos on YouTube.

Autonomy HP Specter X360 2020

Hourly consumptionAutonomy
Internet Work in Wi-Fi-9.2%10.8 hours
Netflix HD Windows Store App-9.7%10.3 hours
Rendering / Games (Iris Plus G4)-47%2.1 hours
Draining in standby (Connected Standby Off)-0.1%41 days

50% screen brightness (approx. 120 nits), 50% audio. 

This is an exciting result because it improves by two hours what was the autonomy of the previous model, an evident sign that these optimizations work and that the new 10 nanometers SoCs do their job. We are still far from the 20 hours that we will be able to reach with the next evolutionary steps, but if we look at the progress made over the past few years, the hope of getting closer to the finish is not entirely in vain. We will see how the situation will evolve with new low-consumption displays and with the further optimization of the production processes.

For now, the 10 hours guaranteed by the 61Wh battery inside the chassis of this Specter are still sufficient for many users. The battery that recharges completely in about an hour thanks to the 65W charger in the package. A very compact power supply and equipped with a table covered with a rope that is very nice to look at but also very resistant.

Summing up, we are therefore certainly talking about an excellent product, perfect for working on the move, light, compact and complete without giving up a solid construction and excellent PerformancePerformance. It is a 2 in 1 that guarantees excellent flexibility in terms of adaptation to use away from the desk, with the pen that is a plus not to be underestimated. The Performance also convinced me and above all, the ability of the system to adapt to the needs of the user in different working situations. In short, when you have to stretch your muscles, this Specter X360 has the credentials to do it in complete safety. Still, if this is not necessary, there is no waste of unnecessary energy, all to the advantage of autonomy. The parameters provided by Intel’s Project Athena program are all well respected, such as the battery life in the real use of more than 9 hours and the wake-up time of less than a second.

But how much is it?  The price list speaks of 1299.99 euros, on Amazon, it is about 50 euros more. There are not a few in the absolute sense, but frankly, seen and considered everything we have just said, it is not a figure that I think exaggerated. There are some similar solutions between the competitors’ proposals, and the prices are aligned, in some cases, even slightly higher. Right now, I would certainly recommend it to those who have no budget problems and need an agile but reliable machine, without forgetting the street price and its evolution. Breakthrough the 1000 euro wall, and we will get there, this is a unique product for everyone.

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