HP Spectre Folio review: This lightweight leather laptop is different in a very good way

I can't take my hands off of it. It feels that good.

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HP Spectre Folio Performance

Let’s be clear: The Spectre Folio offers competent mainstream performance, but it’s not a workhorse laptop, let alone a gaming laptop. A fanless design in such a thin package demands that the Folio sacrifice speed to control heat, and this shows in certain tests.

We compared the Folio to similar convertible-slash-2-in-1 laptops, where the display rotates (such as with Samsung’s Notebook 9 Pen), or where it detaches (such as with Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6). We also tried to restrict our comparisons to a certain class of CPU. We haven’t tested anything else with the Spectre Folio’s dual-core Core i7-8500Y chip, so we include an HP Spectre x2 with an earlier dual-core Core i5-7Y54 processor, and a bevy of models with the widely used Core i5-8250U or Core i7-8550U.

While the latter two have the inherent advantage of being quad-core, the Core i7-8500Y’s high 4.2GHz maximum turbo frequency helps a lot. The Core i5-8250U has a 3.4GHz max, and the the Core i7-8550U tops out at 4GHz (while the Core i5-7Y54 lags at 3.2GHz).

PCMark Work 8 Conventional tests performance in mainstream computing. A score of 2,000 or higher on this test is all you need, and the Spectre Folio clears that handily. 

hp spectre folio pcmark work 8 Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The HP Spectre Folio posted a very solid score of 3,302 in PCMark Work 8 Conventional, meaning it will handle mainstream applications just fine. 

Maxon’s Cinebench R15 is a free CPU benchmark, which we run in both single- and multi-threaded loads. The vast majority of software and games rely on just one or two threads, so the Spectre Folio’s solid performance here is what matters. The Spectre Folio’s multi-threaded result is limited by its dual-core architecture. 

hp spectre folio cinebench Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The HP Spectre Folio will ably run typical single-threaded applications. The result for multi-threaded tasks confirms what we already know: It’s not a high-performance machine.

A typical laptop struggling to dissipate heat will throttle CPU speed to compensate. We often see that during the prolonged run of our HandBrake test. We set the utility to transcode a 30GB 1080p MKV file using the built-in Android Tablet preset. Given the HP Spectre Folio’s design tradeoffs, its lackluster score is no surprise.  

hp spectre folio video handbrake Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The HP Spectre Folio’s HandBrake score is in line with what we’d expect from a dual-core processor in a very thin laptop.  

Battery life

Where the Spectre Folio shines is in battery life. We charge the battery to full, set the display to 250 nits’ brightness and the volume to midrange (with earbuds connected). With the laptop in airplane mode and off AC, we loop a video until the machine dies. 

hp spectre folio video rundown battery life Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The HP Spectre Folio lasted nearly 13 hours in our video rundown test, meaning you can abandon your AC adapter for the day with confidence. 

The Spectre Folio lasted nearly 13 hours in our test. This is on the low end of what HP promises, but it’s still plenty. I left the AC adapter at home, and gloated about it to my coworkers. 

Should you buy the HP Spectre Folio?

While I love the HP Spectre Folio’s leather casing, that’s just part of why this laptop rates highly. Without the leather, it would still be remarkably lightweight, cool, and long-lasting on battery. With the leather, HP’s added feelings to the laptop—feelings of comfort, luxury, naturalness. Those are good feelings to have, and they just might sell you on the Spectre Folio.

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At a Glance
  • Lightweight and leather-wrapped, the HP Spectre Folio actually feels comfortable, in a way that a metal- or plastic-clad laptop never could. Thanks to its energy-sipping Intel Core Y processor, it performs capably while generating very little heat, and its battery lasts a very long time.

    Pros

    • Leather-wrapped chassis is lightweight, comfortable and durable
    • Innovative display design makes it easy to convert from clamshell to tent to tablet modes
    • Rarely gets too hot to keep on your lap
    • Very long battery life (nearly 13 hours in our tests)

    Cons

    • Leather edges get in the way of side ports
    • CPU performance suffers in the quest for cooler temperatures
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