HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) review: A prettier, more powerful convertible than the last

HP's Spectre x360 x15 convertible improves aesthetically and functionally, as well as under the hood, with features that include a privacy-preserving camera as well as an upgraded processor and GPU.

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From a testing standpoint, we’re transitioning from a database full of the older 3DMark 8 scores to the more modern 3DMark 10 benchmark. Both tests focus on the same real-world productivity tasks, even using apps like OpenOffice to drive spreadsheet calculations.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 hp command center Mark Hachman / IDG

Though you can adjust the thermal profiles, we couldn’t discover any meaningful difference in, say, dialing up the performance. 

It’s worth noting that while the included HP Command Center software allows you to run the Spectre x360 in Performance and Comfort modes, our tests showed little difference. As an example, our HandBrake test finished a minute faster under Performance mode—but that worked out to about a 4 percent improvement, with the fans at their full, noisiest speed all the while. Results tested using Cinebench and PCMark 10 were equally inconclusive.

The default is “HP Recommended,” which actively adjusts system performance in response to temperature. This mode appears to be perfectly adequate for everyday use. (A “Quiet” mode appears on the HP Spectre x360 13, but was removed from the 15-inch model because of its inability to turn the fan off completely with a discrete GPU, we’re told.)

PCMark 8 breaks down into three separate tests: Work, which focuses on spreadsheet, text editing, HTML, and VOIP calls; the Home test, which leans a bit more into photo editing and light gaming, and the Creative test, which aligns more with HP’s target audience. The latter emphasizes photo and video editing as well as gaming applications, and stresses the GPU more than the other two tests. We’ve used the PCMark Work and Creative tests, here.  Note that HP’s Spectre x360 Kaby Lake-G experiment from yesteryear outperforms the Spectre x360, as does the MSI GS65, a true gaming notebook that we added for comparison’s sake. 

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 pcmark work Mark Hachman / IDG

Here, the Spectre x360’s performance falls midway down the pack, though you’ll notice no slowdowns in everyday office tasks. 

In both PCMark 8 tests, the HP Spectre x360 15 falls a bit behind its chief rival, the Dell XPS 15, though some of that may be due to the far greater resolution of the Spectre x360’s screen.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 pcmark creative Mark Hachman / IDG

The PCMark Creative test taps the Spectre x360’s GPI a bit more heavily. Again, though, the Dell XPS tops it.

PCMark 10 combines a number of more modern workloads under one umbrella, offering a single score as well as the opportunity to dig down into individual tests in the scoring summary. Our database happens to include several competitors, presenting a fairly comprehensive performance landscape. The Spectre x360 15 dwells in the middle of the pack. 

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 pcmark 10 Mark Hachman / IDG

Note that our limited PCMark database compares to the Dell XPS 13, not the 15-inch model. Still, there’s nothing to frown at, here. The Acer Predator Helios is another gaming PC. 

Maxon’s Cinebench benchmark renders a 3D scene using all available CPU cores and threads. Think of this test as a sprint, or as a deadlift—it’s a quick test of the available power of the CPU. Here, the Spectre x360 does well.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 cinebench retry Mark Hachman / IDG

In the Cinebench rendering tests, the Spectre x360 15’s 6-core processor chews through the benchmark quickly.

HandBrake, by contrast, is more of a marathon. The open-source video conversion tool converts a full-length Hollywood movie into format appropriate for an Android tablet. It’s a good way to understand if the laptop can hold up under load, and whether the cooling solution is up to snuff. It’s still largely CPU driven, though. Note the time: Taking just 33 minutes to transcode a roughly 90-minute movie is excellent, both from a relative performance standpoint as well as a practical use of the Spectre’s computing power.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 Handbrake Mark Hachman / IDG

Under load, the HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) holds its own. This is an excellent HandBrake  result.

For an evaluation of the GPU, we turn to the 3DMark tests. Our tests typically use the Sky Diver DirectX11 test, spanning a range of notebooks. We also directly compared the Dell XPS 15 9570 and HP’s Spectre x360 15 in a more advanced benchmark, Fire Strike, which we normally use with gaming PCs. Here, Dell’s XPS 15 (score: 6,881) is 4 percent better than the tested Spectre x360 (score: 6614).

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 3dmark sky diver Mark Hachman / IDG

There’s a great deal of variance in these 3DMark comparisons, mainly due to the GPU. This result indicates that the Spectre x360 15 (2019) performs close to what you'd expect from a premium content-creation PC, without quite reaching gaming-PC status.

Finally, there’s battery life. We would expect a discrete GPU and 4K screen to crimp battery life somewhat. HP predicted we’d see about 13.5 hours, using local video playback as a test. That’s the way we test, too, though we usually dial up the brightness to what we consider to be usable levels: between 250 and 260 nits of luminosity. Inside, the HP Spectre x360 15 includes an 80 watt-hour battery, at the high end for 15-inch notebooks.

HP Spectre x360 15 2019 battery life Mark Hachman / IDG

Over ten hours of battery life is perfectly acceptable for the HP Spectre x360 15, though it’s still outmatched by Dell’s offering. Dell’s panel is only 1080p, however.

Remember, the Spectre x360 x15 (2018) can be configured with either a 650-nit SureView panel, or, like our review unit, with a 4K panel that puts out about 300 nits, maximum.

Should you buy the HP Spectre x360 15?

If the more powerful Kaby Lake-G version of the 2018 HP Spectre x360 15 convertible earned itself an Editor’s Choice award, then it’s not too much of a stretch to award the 2019 version one, too. The 2019 version outperforms the 2018 version in most of our benchmarks, including graphics, and offers more battery life as well. In terms of the competition, though, you’ll have to decide: Dell’s XPS 15 9570 is undoubtedly a better value, though HP’s Spectre is simply more attractive. That price tag, though....

HP makes its case by including a powerful 6-core processor, 4K screen, and discrete GPU. It’s also worth applauding HP’s continued push to improve, not just iterate, with its angled aesthetic and camera kill switch. HP’s Spectre x360 15 continues to drive hard to build upon an already excellent design, and its continuing commitment to innovation earns it our top award. 

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At a Glance
  • HP's Spectre x360 15 (2019) convertible improves on the 2018 model in both performance and battery life, with a slight redesign and a new privacy-preserving camera.

    Pros

    • Performance improves significantly from prior generation
    • Battery life improves moderately
    • 4K screen
    • Camera kill switch works as advertised

    Cons

    • Elevated price robs some of its value
    • 300-nit maximum brightness is a bit low for a premium product
    • Well over 5 pounds with charger
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