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HP Spectre x360 (2021) review

One of the best laptops around receives an update

HP Spectre x360 (2021)
Best in Class
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The HP Spectre x360 (2021) presents a brilliant update on an already excellent laptop, bringing the latest Intel hardware to a stunningly designed 2-in-1 device. It can get a bit loud, and it's expensive – but it looks beautiful, and offers brilliant battery life as well.

For

  • Gorgeous design
  • Excellent battery life
  • Great performance for day-to-day work
  • Large, comfortable keyboard

Against

  • Fans can get noisy
  • Pricey
  • Not great as a tablet device

Two-minute review

HP’s flagship, the HP Spectre x360 (2021), is back, and it now comes with Intel’s 11th-generation processors and that much-coveted Intel Evo certification. It’s not only more powerful than ever, but it also now meets specific requirements set by Intel as a laptop devised to offer the next ‘evolutionary’ step in laptop design.

Last year’s model of the HP Spectre x360 was one of the best laptops we’ve come across, marrying style and portability with fantastic performance. So, this follow up has some big shoes to fill. Luckily, with improved internals and this new Intel Evo certification, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) promises to be an incredible successor.

First impressions are impeccable. Like its predecessor, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) is an absolutely gorgeous laptop – premium as well as thin, light and easy to carry around. The fact that HP has packed in some impressively powerful internals means this is also a laptop that performs as good as it looks.

Windows 10 boots quickly, and is fast and responsive, and you can even play a few indie games on it – as long as you don’t mind setting graphics to low.

Most impressively of all, though, is battery life. The HP Spectre x360 (2021) manages almost 13 hours in the intensive PCMark 10 battery life test. In our own experience, we happily made it through a full work day using the laptop. If you were under the impression that Windows 10 laptops wouldn’t be able to compete with MacBooks or Chromebooks for battery life, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) does a very good job of proving you wrong.

Our only complaints are that when used as a tablet-like device (thanks to its 360-degree hinges), the HP Spectre x360 (2021) goes from being a slim and sexy laptop to a rather bulky and unwieldy tablet. The option is nice to have, but if you’re looking for a device to use as a tablet more often than a laptop, we’d recommend a device such as the Surface Pro 7 or iPad, which are thin and light tablets that can be used with keyboards.

Our other issue is that the fans become quite loud when you’re using the laptop – and, on occasion, even when you’re not. A few times we heard the fans kick even when the HP Spectre x360 (2021) was closed. It’s the one area of the design of the HP Spectre x360 (2021) that doesn't feel completely premium.

Aside from those issues, this is a supremely accomplished laptop that’s great for day-to-day use, including work. However, with starting prices of $1,349/£1,199/AU$3,339 (various markets have different starting configurations), it's pricey. If you have the budget for it, though, you won’t be disappointed.

HP Spectre x360 (2021)

(Image credit: Future)
Spec sheet

Here is the HP Spectre x360 (2021) configuration sent to TechRadar for review: 

CPU: 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-1165G7 (quad-core, 8MB Intel Smart Cache, up to 4.7GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe (integrated)
RAM: 16GB LPDDR4 (3200MHz)
Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) touch
Storage: 512GB SSD (PCIe, NVMe, M.2)
Ports: 1x USB-A 3.1, 2x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4, microSD card reader, combi audio jack
Connectivity: Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX 201 (2x2), Bluetooth 5
Camera: HP TrueVision HD 1080p IR Webcam
Weight: 2.8 pounds (1.3kg)
Size: 12.08 x 7.66 x 0.67 inches (30.6 x 19.45 x 1.69cm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

The HP Spectre x360 (2021) is available in a variety of configurations and prices. Prices start at $1,149.99 in the US, for a model with an Intel Core i5 -1135G7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

In the UK, the base model costs £1,199.99 and comes with an Intel Core i5 -1135G7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

Then there’s a version with an Intel Core i7 -1165G7 processor, 16GB of R AM and a 512GB SSD, which is the version on review here. It costs $1,349.99/£1,399.99.

There's also a model with the same CPU and RAM, but with a 1TB SSD and a 4K OLED screen for £1,699.99.

In addition, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) comes with various screen sizes: 13 inches (the version we’re testing), 15 inches, and 13.5 inches (which has a taller 16:10 aspect ratio).

In Australia, you can get the 13-inch model with an Intel Core i7-1165G7, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for AU$3,399. It's also available with the Core i7, 16GB of RAM, a 4K OLED screen and a 2TB SSD for AU$4,599.

Like models in the UK and US, there are numerous configurations available, including models with 14-inch and 15-inch screen sizes.

So, as you can see, there's plenty of choice available for those in the market for a new HP Spectre x360 – but we'd hesitate to say there's a model for every budget. Even the cost of the base models exceed those of many other laptops. This is a seriously premium laptop – which means it needs to work hard to justify its high price.

HP Spectre x360 (2021)

(Image credit: Future)

Design

With a premium price you expect a premium design, and HP certainly delivers with the HP Spectre x360 (2021). To be honest, we never had any doubt that it would; the previous model was one of the nicest-looking laptops we've had the pleasure of reviewing.

So, it comes as little surprise that the new model is yet another gorgeous laptop from HP. Design-wise, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) is basically identical to the previous model  – which is no bad thing, considering how impressed we were with its looks.

The HP Spectre x360 (2021) arrives with a brushed-metal design that's available in several color combinations. The 360-degree hinge, which allows the screen to flip back completely, turning the HP Spectre x360 (2021) into a tablet-like device, feels solid and reliable. The right-hand side is engraved with the word ‘Spectre’ – a nice touch that further cements the HP Spectre x360 (2021)’s overall premium feel.

In terms of connections, you get an audio-in jack and full-size USB port on the right (the inclusion of a full-size USB port is a nice touch for such a thin and light laptop), plus two USB-C ports, a microSD port and a physical webcam kill switch on the left.

The latter allows you to turn off the webcam when it isn't in use; it's a great feature for people concerned about their privacy. It’s definitely a big selling point, and that – along with the full-size USB port and microSD slot – show that it is possible for a thin and light laptop to incorporate multiple connections without compromising design. It certainly puts the two USB-C ports of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) and MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) to shame.

HP Spectre x360 (2021)

(Image credit: Future)

Open up the HP Spectre x360 (2021) and you’re presented with a bright and vibrant screen, surrounded by extremely thin bezels. This gives the device a modern look, while keeping the overall size of the laptop down. It’s another case of a Windows 10 laptop looking more stylish than an Apple MacBook – something both HP and Intel will be pleased to learn, and is yet another reason for Apple to consider updating its MacBook designs.

The keyboard is large and enjoyable to use, with the keys offering decent travel. They’re also backlit, so you can comfortably use them in the dark.

The touchpad is nice and responsive. It's wider than you’d expect on a 13-inch laptop, providing a bit more room to move your fingers. There’s also a fingerprint scanner to the right of the touchpad for logging into Windows 10.

Similar to HP's provision of ports, the company has found a way of cramming a large keyboard and trackpad into a small body. It’s a seriously impressive design feat, and means the HP Spectre x360 (2021) doesn’t only look good, it feels good to use as well.

Flipping the screen entirely back, using the HP Spectre x360 (2021) as a tablet-like device, the large touchscreen works well. However, while this is a thin and light laptop, compared to tablets such as the iPad, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) actually feels heavy and bulky. Having the option to use the laptop in this way is certainly welcome, but it isn't an ideal replacement for a standard tablet. The HP Spectre x360 (2021) is far more successful as a laptop.

HP Spectre x360 (2021)

(Image credit: Future)
Benchmarks

Here’s how the HP Spectre x360 (2021) performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Cinebench R20: 1,430 points
GeekBench 5: 1,317 (single-core); 4,541 (multi-core)
PCMark 10 (Home Test): 4,721 points 
PCMark 10 Battery Life: 12 hours 52 minutes 
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 11 hours 22 minutes

Performance

The biggest upgrade on the HP Spectre x360 (2021) over the previous model are its components and performance, with the laptop being a showcase for Intel’s latest mobile processors.

The review unit we were sent in for review features an Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor. This is a quad-core unit that can achieve boost speeds of up to 4.70GHz, which marks a decent leap over the Intel Core i7-1065G7 (the previous generation CPU) included in last year’s model.

As you can see in our Cinebench and Geekbench results, the new HP Spectre x360 (2021) delivers a lift in performance compared to last year’s model, with a single-core score of 1,317 compared to the previous model’s 1,259. It isn't a huge leap, but it’s an increase nonetheless. The Intel Core i7-1065G7 was a pretty great mobile processor anyway, so it’s good that Intel has built on its solid foundation.

HP Spectre x360 (2021)

(Image credit: Future)

Overall, as a result of the new CPU, along with a hefty 16GB of RAM, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) is a great little performer, with Windows 10 feeling fast and responsive. Multi-tasking, with numerous apps open at once, alongside plenty of Edge tabs too, didn’t really serve to slow down the HP Spectre x360 (2021)’s performance, either.

For day-to-day use, then, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) delivers the sort of performance you'd expect of a premium laptop at this price point. You certainly won’t be disappointed.

However, one of the biggest upgrades to come alongside the new Tiger Lake CPUs such as the Intel Core i7-1165G7 is the inclusion of Intel Iris Xe graphics. This is an integrated GPU that promises to offer vastly improved performance compared to previous integrated graphics, and could even rival some discrete GPUs.

While the HP Spectre x360 (2021) certainly isn't a gaming laptop, it could feasibly run some PC games that other thin and light laptops would struggle to run. While Cyberpunk 2077 at full graphical settings isn't on that list, Intel has claimed it could play GTA 5 at over 60fps, while esports games such as Rocket League, League of Legends and CS:GO – which are less graphically demanding, but require fast performance – could be playable.

HP Spectre x360 (2021)

(Image credit: Future)

So, of course, we attempted to play a few games on the HP Spectre x360 (2021). As we've mentioned, this definitely isn't a gaming laptop, but we wanted to see if it would be possible to play games at the end of the day, when you want to unwind after a hard day at work.

The answer is: sort of. Total War: Three Kingdoms managed only 30fps on low settings. Anything more demanding was unplayable. We also fired up Ori and the Will of the Wisps – a visually stunning 2D platform game, which despite looking great, is less taxing than a lot of other modern games. Unfortunately, we had to drop graphical settings to low, and scale down the resolution, to achieve smooth gameplay. As such, while it was possible to play modern games such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, it was only with big sacrifices to graphical fidelity. So, don’t give up the day job, HP Spectre x360 (2021).

One thing to note, is that even while performing relatively low-powered tasks, such as downloading an app, the fans of the HP Spectre x360 (2021) will kick in. In a way, it’s understandable, since this is a super-thin laptop that needs to keep its components cool. However, it proved annoying, and was in sharp contrast to the silent operation of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), which has a fanless design.

HP Spectre x360 (2021)

(Image credit: Future)

Battery life

One of the biggest quality of life improvements Intel is pushing with its Intel Evo platform is long battery life, and the HP Spectre x360 (2021) doesn’t disappoint here. It lasted an excellent 11 hours and 22 minutes in our own battery life test, which loops a 1080p video file at 50% brightness until the battery dies.

The previous HP Spectre x360 also performed well in this test, scoring 10 hours and 55 minutes. Nevertheless, the extra half an hour is welcome, and it means the more powerful components haven’t come at the cost of battery life.

We also ran the intensive PCMark 10 battery life test on the laptop, which replicates day-to-day use such as web browsing and video calling. Here, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) managed almost 13 hours – again, a very impressive achievement and a big leap over the previous model’s four-hour result (on PCMark 8).

As such, the HP Spectre x360 (2021)'s battery is nice and balanced; it's able to last equally well in both light- and medium-use cases. You’ll easily get through a full work day on this laptop, which makes it an excellent tool for business users who are looking for a device that offers superb performance, fantastic looks, and won’t need to be plugged in until they return home.

HP Spectre x360 (2021)

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

You want a stylish laptop
The HP Spectre x360 (2021) really does look and feel premium, sporting one of the best designs we’ve seen in a laptop.

You want a powerful laptop for day-to-day use
The new 11th-generation mobile CPU from Intel means Windows 10 runs extremely well, and the laptop is even capable of a bit of light gaming.

You’re after all-day battery life
The battery life of the HP Spectre x360 (2021) is excellent; it will easily last you a full work or school day. Even on long transatlantic flights (remember those?), this laptop should last the journey.

Don't buy it if...

You just want a tablet
The HP Spectre x360 (2021) can double as a tablet-like device, but it’s bigger, bulkier and more expensive. If you just want a tablet, there are better options out there.

You want a silent laptop
The fans of the HP Spectre x360 (2021) kick in a little bit too readily, which means this is a laptop that can get noisy in use. The new MacBook Air, with its fanless design, shows how it’s done.

You’re on a budget
This laptop with a premium design and premium features also comes with a premium price tag.

This review was originally published on February 1, 2021.