HP Spectre x360 15 (Kaby Lake-R) review: A solid 4K 2-in-1 overshadowed by its beefier sibling

This is nice, but the Kaby Lake-G version is better.

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Performance

While this 8th-generation Kaby Lake-R version of the HP Spectre x360 15 unsurprisingly outdoes the performance of its predecessor, its benchmark results look a tad lackluster compared to its 8th-gen competitors, and (for the most part) it’s trounced by the Kaby Lake-G version. That said, the Kaby Lake-R Spectre x360 15 does have its moments, particularly when it comes to battery life.

PCMark 8 Work Conventional

The PCMark 8 benchmark tests how a laptop handles day-to-day computing chores, everything from web browsing and online shopping to video conferencing and tinkering with spreadsheets. In our experience, the latest crop of quad-core Kaby Lake-R laptops have breezed through PCMark 8 without breaking a sweat.

hp spectre x360 15 kbr pcmark 8 work conventional Gordon Ung

The HP Spectre x360 15’s PCMark 8 score is pretty good, but we were hoping for better.

As expected, the quad-core HP Spectre x360 15 easily surpassed our low-water mark of 2,000, but we were a bit disappointed that it couldn’t crack a PCMark 8 score of 3,000 or better, particularly given the Spectre’s Core i7-8550U CPU.

To be fair, you don’t need a blazingly fast processor to run Office smoothly; indeed, even dual-core laptops can snag high PCMark 8 scores. It’s also important to take benchmark scores in context, as we’ll see in a moment with the Spectre’s not-so-shabby single-thread Cinebench result. Still, it appears the Kaby Lake-R flavor of the Spectre 15 prefers to stroll rather than sprint when it’s not doing anything too intense.

HandBrake

Speaking of intense, let’s move on to our HandBrake benchmark, which measures a laptop’s performance as it encodes a large video file. Because this test can take up to 90 minutes or more, Handbrake gives us a good idea how a laptop handles the pressure—and the heat—of a crushing CPU load over a relatively long period of time.

hp spectre x360 15 kbr handbrake Gordon Ung

The HP Spectre x360 15’s HandBrake score trails those of its 8th-generation competitors.

The HP Spectre x360 15’s result, while decent, brings up the rear in a pack of fellow quad-core 8th-generation systems, and falls well behind the speedier Kaby Lake-G model of the Spectre x360 15. That said, this year’s quad-core Spectre x360 15 certainly blows away the HandBrake score of its dual-core predecessor.

It’s worth noting that while other competing laptops immediately gun their engines and spin up their cooling fans at the start of the HandBrake test, the Spectre x360 15 keeps its cool, with its clock speed hovering at a relatively mellow 2.25GHz and its fans quiet until about five minutes into the test.

Cinebench

Next up is a another CPU-intensive test, this time involving rendering a 3D image within the span of about five minutes or so. While HandBrake tells us how a laptop deals with lengthy CPU loads, Cinebench is more about short bursts of stress.

hp spectre x360 15 kbr cinebench r15 nt Gordon Ung

The Kaby Lake-R-powered HP Spectre x360 15 could use a little more multithreaded Cinebench juice.

Once again, the Kaby Lake Refresh version of the HP Spectre x360 15 comes in a little shy of expectations, notching a multi-thread score of 534 when we’d prefer to see something more in the 600 range. While this new quad-core Spectre x360 15 easily outpaces its dual-core 7th-generation predecessor, it struggles to keep up with its 8th-gen competition, while its Kaby Lake-G sibling (again) beats it handily.

On a somewhat brighter note, the Spectre x360 15’s single-thread Cinebench score of 167 is pretty solid, less than 10 points shy of its Kaby Lake-G brethren and somewhat higher than other recent 8th-generation laptops we’ve tested. That bodes well for the Spectre’s performance when using everyday single-threaded applications, and it stands somewhat in contrast to the Spectre’s so-so PCMark 8 score.

3DMark 8 Sky Diver

The HP Spectre x360 15 and its discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics core finally gets to shine in our 3DMark Sky Diver benchmark, sailing past competing laptops that depend solely on integrated graphics. Unsurprisingly, the Kaby Lake-G version of the Spectre 15 sprinted past the Kaby Lake-R model thanks to its more powerful Radeon RX M graphics core.

hp spectre x360 15 kbr 3dmark skydiver overall Gordon Ung

The Kaby Lake-R version of the HP Spectre x360 15 snags a solid Sky Diver score thanks to its discrete GeForce MX150 graphics core.

While the Kaby Lake-R Spectre x360 15’s Sky Diver score looks impressive compared to those of many of its 8th-generation counterparts (like the otherwise peppy Lenovo Yoga 920), keep in mind that you’re not going to wring stellar gaming performance out of the laptop’s GeForce MX150 graphics core. When I played the graphically modest Fortnite at medium settings, for example, frame rates regularly sank below 60 frames per second.

Then again, no one’s claiming that the Kaby Lake-R-powered Spectre x360 15 is a gaming machine. Its users are more likely to fire up Adobe Photoshop and Premiere rather than Battlefield 1 or Grand Theft Auto V.

Battery life

The one area in which the Kaby Lake-R HP Spectre x360 15 manages to edge out its beefier Kaby Lake-G sibling is battery life. In our battery drain test (in which we loop a 4K video, with screen brightness set to about 250 nits and the volume dialed halfway up), the KBL-R Spectre 15 managed nearly 11 hours of battery life, versus a little more than 9.5 hours of battery for the KBL-G version.

hp spectre x360 15 kbr 4k video battery life Gordon Ung

The Kaby Lake-R model of the HP Spectre x360 15 beats its souped-up Kaby Lake-G sibling in terms of battery life.

Indeed, the HP Spectre x360 15’s battery life bests all the systems in our comparison—perhaps not too surprising, given the Spectre’s roomy (and heavy) 82-watt-hour battery.

Conclusion

Laptop shoppers eyeing the 8th-generation HP Spectre x360 15 must face a tough choice: a Kaby Lake-R 4K convertible laptop with pretty good performance and excellent battery life, or a slightly heavier and pricier Kaby Lake-G version with blistering performance and marginally worse battery life. If you’re on a tight budget and you don’t need bone-rattling speed, the Kaby Lake-R Spectre 15 makes for a solid 4K convertible. But if you’ve got an extra $120 to burn and you don’t mind making modest sacrifices in weight and battery life, the beefier Kaby Lake-G model looks like the better value.

 
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At a Glance
  • The 2-in-1 HP Spectre x360 15 gets a welcome 8th-generation performance bump, a 4K display, a roomy keyboard and impressive battery life, all in a sturdy if somewhat hefty and pricey package. That said, we can't help but cast an envious eye toward the Kaby Lake-G version of the Spectre, which beats this Kaby Lake-R model in just about every department, all for just $120 more.

    Pros

    • Solid, sturdy construction
    • Roomy keyboard with dedicated numeric keypad
    • Great battery life
    • Discrete GeForce MX150 graphics

    Cons

    • Relatively thick and heavy
    • Middling 8th-generation performance
    • Thoroughly outperformed by its Kaby Lake-G sibling
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