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
LGD039A
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
HDMI
Thunderbolt
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
2.25kg
Extras 1080p IPS touch display
HD Webcam
SSD cache
Bluetooth
BeatsAudio quadrophonic speakers
Thunderbolt
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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  • tipoo - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    Ah, so you can upgrade the hard drive? That would fix one of the gripes at least. If I got it I would swap in my Momentus XT 750 hybrid from my last laptop anyways, not keep the 5400 standard hdd. Reply
  • barbarbar - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    I own this laptop in a European version. It has the i5, instead of i7. I disagree with this review on a couple of points:
    - The unit is very servicable. The underside can be taken off with regular philipshead screws. This gives access to the full system. The harddrive is easily replaced with an ssd, and the caching ssd is a regular mSata ssd. I have replaced both in 5 minutes, one samsung 840 pro 256 and one crucial m4 256. Both were recognized without problems and work great.
    - The memory can also be upgraded by the user very easily, see previous point. The european version came with 4gb, I added 8gb without problems.
    - HP has made it very easy to do a clean install of Windows. If you make a backup tot a usb stick, with the provided HP software, you can then do a clean install. The HP installer will give you the option for a clean Windows install when booting form this usb stick.
    - The glass touchpad functions very well, although you will need to dive into the settings of the touchpad to get it this way.

    What I do agree with this review:
    - The processor speed it throttled for low noise. Mine will even go as far as to get stuck on a low processor speed when the turbo mode is used fo an extended period, this seems to be a bug. Only a restart will fis this.
    - The machine is very quiet, although there are some problems with defective fans. Mine had to go back for a fan replacement, and several forums list users also having this problem.
    - The price is a little hard to justify for the stock version. Compared to other laptop with a 15" full-hd ips touch screen, 3 usb ports and 2.2kg, it is very hard to find a competitor.
    - The built quality is decent. The aluminum looks good, but the softer plastic on the bottom scratches easily. My usb ports have little pieces chipped, as this is one piece of plastic. The bezel around the screen could use some improvement.

    Overall I think your review is a little too harsh if you keep the main competitors in mind. In a perfect world, I would rank this laptop as an 8 (B). Compared to what is actually available on the market, I think it deserves a 8.5 (B+).
    Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    My Dell Studio 15 also does that thing where it gets stuck on low multiplier after a while. I used throttlestop to prevent it, but it is annoying. Reply
  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    thanks for posting. an honest response from somebody who actually owns it means a lot. Reply
  • cknobman - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    Well designed high quality chassis and hardware coupled with:

    1. Slow HDD and small SSD cache
    2. Abysmal battery life - its a shame you can call something and "Ultrabook" that barely gets 2 hours of battery life. I get more than this from a 4 year old first gen core laptop with its original battery.
    3. Bloatware city

    HP you just cant help but f'up good things. Cant see who would want this thing.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    Indeed, my 3.5 year old Core 2 Duo laptop on its original 6 cell battery still gets 2.5 hours of moderate use with the screen at half, what the heck HP. Reply
  • Trinitron - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    1080p? Not interested. I'm not buying anything less than 1920x1200. I don't see why 1080 is still being pushed. It's not 2008 anymore.

    1080p needs to die and soon. My Asus Transformer Infinity is 1920x1200 and it's almost a year old now. Why would i buy anything brand new in 2013 which was less?
    Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    16:9 vs 16:10. They aren't directly comparable. And 1920 resolution is still really good for a 15 inch. Reply
  • NCM - Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - link

    tipoo claims "16:9 vs 16:10. They aren't directly comparable."

    No, pomegranates and shoes aren't directly comparable. Or fish and bicycles. Displays of 16:9 and 16:10 are certainly comparable, and the 16:9's shorter screen always comes out on the losing end of the comparison.
    Reply
  • Belard - Friday, May 31, 2013 - link

    I agree with you and Trinitron... I'll be keeping my 1920x1200 res monitor as long as I can. I hate that the notebooks (even ThinkPads) went to 1920x1080. at 15" display at 1080 is as TALL as a 14" 1200 display.

    I do understand WHY they do this. Its cheaper to make and its a standard for HDTV and computers. It *IS* super handy to plug your 1080 notebook to a HDTV and not have the notebook flip through video modes and what-not. That is a big plus.

    So... I hope to get a 27" 2500x1440 display in 2 years that costs under $400.
    Reply

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