Bill Bennett


HP Spectre x2: like Surface Pro, expensive

Microsoft gave the mobile PC tree a good shake when it introduced the Surface. Its touch-screen PC-cum-tablet design is a fresh take on mobile computing. If imitation is flattery the HP Spectre x2 is a love letter to Microsoft.

The Spectre x2 has its own style and finish but the nods to Surface are constant and unmistakable. It even has a Surface-like kick-stand.

Surface is a technical and commercial hit. So it is no surprise that a leading PC maker is cooking with the same successful recipe.

Another music in a different kitchen

The similarities are too strong to ignore. Yet the differences between the Spectre x2 and Surface models are important. Top of the list; HP packs a more sturdy keyboard than Microsoft. More to the point, the Spectre x2 keyboard comes in the box.

How long Microsoft can get away with charging an extra NZ$200 for a keyboard is anyone’s guess. Buyers look at the headline price. They don’t realise that’s only a down payment on getting what they see in the marketing. After all, it’s not as if many Surface buyers choose not to take the official Microsoft keyboard.

Overseas HP has positioned the Spectre x2 as the value alternative to Microsoft’s range. It’s not the cheap alternative.

In New Zealand there’s less price difference between the two ranges. This undermines the point of the Spectre x2 which has a lower specification than the Surface.

Elegant HP Spectre x2

There’s nothing cheap about the Spectre x2 in either sense of the word. At first glance it looks like a Surface. That has a lot to do with the kick-stand. On closer inspection it has its own distinct style. It’s a clear improvement on some of HP’s recent designs.

Competition from Apple and Microsoft has forced computer makers to lift their design game. HP has even paid attention to the packaging. The Spectre x2 gives buyers a good impression from the moment they take the lid off the box.

Hands on

Spectre x2’s more robust keyboard means better, more productive typing. There was no worrying keyboard flexing. I had no problems typing at speed, I’m a touch typist and fussy in this department.

The touchpad is wider than normal. That’s not a problem. In practice it works well. HP’s extra keyboard sturdiness adds a few grams to the weight but I never found this a concern.

There’s a lot of visible branding for the built-in Bang & Olufsen speakers. In practice the sound is OK, not outstanding.There are two USB-C ports and a Micro-SD slot.

HP claims ten-hour battery life. That’s a fair estimate if you’re just writing or reading. Hop online for extended browsing or watch video and that plummets closer to six hours.

Priced on a par with Surface

My review model has the Intel Core m7 processor running at 1.2 GHz. There is 8GB of Ram and a 256GB SSD hard drive. There’s a 12-inch touchscreen that displays 1920 by 1280 pixels. The official NZ list price for this configuration is NZ$3200. At the time of writing I can’t find anyone offering this for a lower price.

That’s NZ$50 less than a Surface Pro 4 with a Core i7 processor, 16GB Ram and a 256GB SSD hard drive. The Surface Pro trumps the Spectre x2 display with its 2736 by 1824 pixels.

The comparison is theoretical because the Core i7 Surface isn’t in stock here at the time of writing.

Remember you have to find an extra NZ$200 for the Surface keyboard. The NZ$50 or thereabouts price difference applies across the range.

Performance: Close to Surface where it matters

Both the HP Spectre x2 and the Surface Pro 4 run every important business application at a cracking pace. You don’t notice any sluggishness with Office and similar software.

If anything the Spectre x2 turns in a better performance than the Surface. Yet there’s not much in it for any of the software I use. Gamers, power spreadsheet users and graphic designers might notice otherwise. My assumption is the Surface has a better graphics subsystem.

What matters is the bang for buck. You get about the same performance but poorer graphics when comparing the HP Spectre x2 to a Surface Pro. After adding a Surface keyboard there’s a NZ$250 price difference. This means low-end Spectres work out about 10 percent cheaper than Surface Pros. The discount is less as you move up the range.

Worth buying?

New Zealand’s price gap between Spectre x2s and Surfaces tips the scale Microsoft’s way.

You’ve got to like and trust HP a lot or have a grudge against Microsoft to favour the Spectre x2. Anyone willing to pay over NZ$2200 won’t find Microsoft’s NZ$250 price premium a barrier.

After accounting for GST HP is asking New Zealand Spectre x2 customers to pay 60 percent more than the US price. The review model sells for NZ$3200 here and US$1150 in the United States.

The US dollar is trading at NZ$1.50. That would make the NZ Spectre x2 price around $1750. Add GST and the price would be a fraction under NZ$2000.

In contrast New Zealand Surface prices are in line with US prices.

HP Spectre x2 – price out of alignment

It might make sense for HP to have large mark-ups on unique products entering New Zealand. The Spectre x2 is a low-cost Surface clone; taking “low-cost” out of the equation is crazy.

Would I buy a Spectre x2 over a Surface Pro? Not at the New Zealand price. I might choose it if both sold here at US prices.