Wednesday

HP Envy Spectre XT review

HP's Envy 14 Spectre hit almost all the right notes when we reviewed it back in March, thanks to its high-res display, sleek metal-and-glass design and brisk performance, but a stiff trackpad and the steep $1,400 price were clear downsides. The new Envy Spectre XT, a 13.3-inch Ivy Bridge-powered Ultrabook, has a thinner, lighter profile than its big brother, and a lower $1,000 price tag to match. That's still not chump change, though, so does the XT deserve a spot in the top tier of Intel-approved ultraportables? Join us past the break for the full breakdown.




Design 


The Envy Spectre XT has a metal casing with a tapered design so it's thinner at the front. The bottom cover is clad in a silver soft touch finish that feels really nice and doesn't get as blazingly hot. The machine's bottom typically reached 94F and the center of the keyboard was a relatively cool 84F. Fan noise is moderate, and the machine is often nearly silent but the fan will kick on for 30 seconds a few times per hour even when the CPU and case temps are fairly cool (chalk that up to HP CoolSense technology).

The Spectre XT has exceptionally loud audio for a 13" Ultrabook, thanks in part to the four speakers. Two fire from a grille just below the display and another two fire from the bottom near each side. Audio is reasonably full, but not as full as the bigger HP Envy 15 or the Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 with JBL speakers. That said, the Beats equipped XT sounds very good for a small machine. Unlike the big Envy models, there's no Beats rotary control wheel, so you'll use on-screen controls or the keyboard keys to set volume.

Display


The Spectre XT's 1,366 x 768 display isn't exceptionally crisp and clear, but colors appear plenty vibrant. As to be expected with a glossy, non-IPS screen, viewing angles are limited. Images begin to wash out when you move even a smidgen to the left or right of center, and tipping the lid a bit forward renders content on the display unviewable. That's not to say this is the most glare-ridden panel we've contended with, but it makes us appreciate the Envy 14 Spectre's screen all the more. In a perfect world, HP would carry over that pixel count without raising the price, but that's not going to happen any time soon.

Keyboard and trackpad


The Envy Spectre XT's black, island-style keyboard offers decently sized keys that respond to input with a satisfying clack. You'll enjoy much more travel on this layout than on many other Ultrabooks, which seem to be plagued with shallow keyboards. In everyday use, we made very few spelling mistakes, and didn't notice much, if any, flex. Like the Envy 14 Spectre and HP Folio 13, the XT sports a backlit keyboard, with a separate LED under each key. The layout is pretty much identical to what you'll find on the original Spectre, with shrunken arrow keys standing out as the only undersized elements.
While keyboard quality remains consistent between the XT and its older brother, the trackpad on this thinner system is a welcome improvement. The Synaptics clickpad did right by us, allowing for smooth two-finger scrolling without resistance or any noticeable lag. Pinching to zoom is also easy to execute, and the pad wasn't overly sensitive in performing this gesture, a problem we found on the original Spectre. The built-in buttons, too, are accurate and responsive. Overall, the touchpad feels much more fine-tuned than what we've seen on previous HP systems, and that's definitely something to write home about. One carryover from the company's previous laptops is the trackpad-disabling feature, which lets you disable the clicker by double-tapping an icon on the pad's upper-left corner. You'll see a glowing orange LED when the pad is turned off
Audio
Beats Audio is a given on most HP machines and that usually means a better listening experience than what you'll get on your average laptop. That said, we aren't blown away with the sound quality on the Spectre XT. Though the machine offers ample volume, songs come through tinny and canned. We can't knock HP too hard for this: beefier machines such as the Envy 15 have room for a subwoofer, and that's just not a possibility on this Ultrabook. Two of the XT's speakers are placed on the underside of the machine, which might explain the muffled audio. (There are also speakers on the front grille.) With headphones plugged in, you'll get the Beats benefit; music sounds richer, and there's a satisfying amount of bass.

Performance 
The HP Envy Spectre XT is a fast performing Ultrabook that does very well on synthetic benchmarks and in real world performance. Thanks to the SSD, Windows starts in seconds and applications launch instantly. The XT does better than average among Ultrabooks with the usual Intel integrated graphics, scoring 3316 on the PCMark Vantage graphics benchmark. Encouraged by that, we tested a few challenging games including Batman Arkham City (watch our video review to see it in action). At low settings and native resolution, our 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U base model managed frame rates in the low thirties.
For those who want a little more gusto, HP offers options for the 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U (add $125 to the base price) and the 2.0GHz Core i7-3667U with vPro for $250 additional to the base price. HP currently offers the laptop with 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and there's no option to order it with more. The base $999 model comes with a 128 gig SSD and you can order it with a 256 gig SSD.

Ports



The Envy Spectre XT comes with all the ports most users need. On the right side, you'll find the power jack, a powered USB 2.0 port, 4-in-1 card reader and a dual microphone/ headphone jack. The left side features a USB 3.0 port, HDMI, Ethernet, and a Kensington lock slot. The only real omision is VGA, which some presenters require.

Webcam
The HP Spectre XT's HP TrueVision HD webcam offered dull, grainy video at its default 640 x 480 resolution. Pump up the resolution to 1280 x 720, though, and the image clears up significantly. The included CyberLink YouCam software provides users with a host of different webcam functions including animated photo frames, avatars and accessories.

Software and warranty
HP continues its tradition of generous (and actually useful!) software pre-loads with the Envy Spectre XT. The company includes full versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, plus a complimentary two-year subscription to Norton Internet Security 2012. Lest you think HP is a complete angel, though, you'll still find a healthy serving of bloatware. Pre-installed programs include CyberLink YouCam, a suite of card and casino-style games. There's also HP's selection of utilities, including Support Assistant and Recovery Manager, which make themselves a little too known through pop-ups. (One word: disable.)
Like other Envy laptops, the XT comes with a two-year limited hardware warranty. Support includes 24 / 7 phone support and parts and labor coverage. Nothing shocking here, but HP does compare favorably to other PC vendors in this department. Dell and Toshiba, for instance, offer only one year of coverage, and extending warranties can cost up to nearly $199.
System configurations
HP Envy Spectre XT 13-2050nr
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD
Samsung Series 9 NP900X3C (13-inch, 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB SanDisk SSD
Dell Inspiron 13z - 5323
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Adata XM11 SSD
Sony Vaio T13112FXS
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm
Lenovo IdeaPad U310
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Samsung 5,400rpm
Battery Life
The Spectre XT has a 4 cell, 45Wh cell Lithium Ion battery that's sealed inside (if you remove all the bottom screws and take off the bottom cover you can access it). The laptop ships with a compact 65W charger. Battery life for 13.3" Ultrabooks averages 6 hours and the slimmest Envy manages just shy of that when using the balanced power management setting, brightness set to 60% and WiFi on in a mix of productivity tasks with 40 minutes of video streaming. Our Core i5 model averaged 5:40 minutes in these tests that included Outlook running in the background, IE with 5 tabs open, MS Word 2010 (used to write this review) and 40 minutes total YouTube streaming.

Conclusion
Though we gave the HP Envy Spectre XT a bit of a hard time for not bringing anything new to the table, it's still a very strong Ultrabook that's good looking and well made. The metal casing gives it a premium look and the internals don't skimp: fast SSD drives, dual band Intel wireless with WiDi and Bluetooth 4.0 are top notch. The display is better than average for clarity and viewing angles, though the resolution is commonplace. The Spectre XT is a fast, light, stable machine that we wouldn't mind taking on the road.
Price: starting at $999 for the Core i5 with a 128 gig SSD drive
Website: www.hp.com

Specifications
CPU 
1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
Operating SystemMS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
RAM 
4GB
RAM Upgradable to 
4GB
Hard Drive Size 
128GB
Hard Drive Speed 
Hard Drive Type 
SSD Drive
Display Size 
13.3
Native Resolution 
1366x768
Optical Drive 
Optical Drive Speed 
Graphics Card 
Intel HD Graphics 4000
Video Memory 
Shared
Wi-Fi 
802.11a/b/g/n
Wi-Fi Model
Bluetooth 
Bluetooth 4.0
Mobile Broadband 
Touchpad Size3.7 x 2.3 inches
Ports (excluding USB) 
Ethernet; HDMI; Headphone/Mic; security lock slot; USB 3.0
USB Ports 
2
Warranty/Support2-year limited hardware warranty support
Size12.44 x 8.8 x 0.69 in
Weight3.0 pounds