The HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Ultrabook 15 Reviewed [Video]

I tend to roam around a fair bit for both work and “conference geek” related activities and have been relying on an older model Dell Latitude for my mobile compute. It’s collected quite a few stickers from various vendors and solution providers and has been to a handful of different countries. My big gripe with it was something common to the PC laptop industry – a very poor screen resolution (1366 x 768) and physical bulkiness.

It’s also rather ugly (aside from the stickers).

So, after looking around in the market for a non-Apple product, I found that the HP SpectreXT line was most coupled with my laptop requirements. The 15-4010nr model specifically had the two major perks: a full HD (1920 x 1080) screen and a lightweight Ultrabook frame.

I’ve captured a fair bit of my impressions in a video done below for your viewing pleasure.

This is my first time trying to record video of something not on my screen. I did several takes to try to clean up the video and make it easier to watch, but found that Camtasia just isn’t cut out for this sort of work.

spongebob-touchIs A Touch Screen Laptop Viable?

As I first powered on the laptop, I was met with that typical welcome journey to Windows 8 in which I’m asked to enter my Microsoft account ID, answer some questions on colors and names, connect to the wireless, and so on. I found myself using the touch screen almost intuitively and breezed right through the setup. For grins, I used the built in camera to take my picture for the account profile and used touch gestures to correctly adjust and crop the photo.

I find myself using a combination of the touch screen and mouse depending on the tasks. For anything related to content consumption the touch works great – it’s enjoyable to just swipe through a news or blog article and navigate through a set of videos on YouTube. I am still getting used to Windows 8, and so far find the live tiles to be very “meh” in usefulness. I haven’t really absorbed the Microsoft ecosystem (I don’t have an Xbox or use the SkyDrive) so much of that seems like it’s waiting for me to configure it.

Even when I don’t want to use the touch screen, the finger pad also fully supports swiping from the left to change applications or from the right to open up the charms menu. So you get a common feel to the environment regardless of the haptic interaction.

I didn’t purchase this laptop for the touch, but do find it to be quite handy as a “bonus” to the laptop. I would imagine that having a touch screen will also be table stakes in future laptop builds, so I’m ahead of the curve.

Resolution Is King

The screen resolution and quality of the colors is quite amazing to behold. I’ve seen Retina Macs from co-workers and taken away the feedback that the 2000+ range of resolution may be just too much for many applications. However, 1920 x 1080 with vibrant colors and pixel depth is perfect for this form factor. It’s the little things that really make this more productive – such as opening the vSphere client and not having to hide the tasks or spend time dragging around window sizes to make things appear.

This sort of resolution should be creeping its way into the standard build for a PC laptop, as the old days of 1280 and 1024 resolutions really should go crawl into a dark corner and fade away for the good of many people’s sanity. Yes, I understand a percentage of users will want those “big icons” and such that come with those resolutions, but they should have the option to lower the value – rather than it being the upper limit.

mobile-labMobile Workstation and vSphere Lab

With the goal being to find hardware that can offer true mobile workstation replacement while on the road, I must say that the comfort level of using this laptop is quite beyond my expectations. The wide, well spaced keyboard, along with a large set of palm space on the laptop face make for a very comfortable typing experience. The up / down keys being squished into the space of one key does sort of suck as I keep pressing the shift key (for up) or the aluminum face (for down) on accident, but I would imagine my hands will figure it out after a few days. I tend to use those keys a lot when going through lists of files or spreadsheets.

While the 500 GB SATA + 32 GB “flash cache” hybrid drive concept should have plenty of horsepower and capacity for running VMs on the go, the 8 GB of stock RAM will require an upgrade. You can find a 16 GB kit from Crucial here (thanks to Robert Novak for the link). Along with quad i7 cores, this laptop will have no problem chewing up a small Auto Lab or providing some guest VMs for testing / demos on the road.


There isn’t really much out there in the PC world with a high quality screen. I spent many months pouring over reviews, doing hands on demos, and even playing with a Spectre laptop while in Germany to try and find what I’d want for the next several years. I think HP has done a great job at incorporating everything you need, plus a number of things you’d want, into a slim Ultrabook. At $1400 with no customization it is a tad pricey, but compared to the Apple counterparts and no need to purchase a bunch of proprietary cables and adapters it comes in cheap.

Let me know if you have any questions that I can try to answer here (or on the YouTube video).