HP Spectre x360 13 (2021)

The HP Spectre x360 14 we tested at the very start of 2021 impressed us so much we began our review by saying, “HP still sells the Spectre x360 13, but you can forget about it.” At the risk of eating our words, the latest Spectre x360 13 (starts at $962.49; $1,262.49 as tested) isn’t totally forgettable if you’re looking for a small and light convertible laptop. Sure, it lacks the taller 3:2 screen aspect ratio that helped its sibling snag an Editors’ Choice award among premium 2-in-1s. But it offers a nice choice of touch displays with a 16:9 aspect ratio, plus the latest Intel Evo and “Tiger Lake” silicon, and some really elegant engineering. It’s an attractive system, though we’d rather spend a bit more and carry three extra ounces with the larger model.


Three Hues to Choose

The 13.3-inch-screened Spectre measures 0.67 by 12.1 by 7.7 inches and weighs 2.8 pounds, making it a close match for the 0.54 by 12 by 8.3 inches and 2.65 pounds of the Asus ZenBook Flip S. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 has a 13.4-inch screen with slightly higher 16:10 aspect ratio; it’s 0.56 by 11.7 by 8.2 inches and 2.9 pounds.

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) left angle

The HP’s aluminum chassis, with stylish beveled edges, is available in Natural Silver, Nightfall Black (an extra $10), or Poseidon Blue (an extra $20). You’ll find an audio jack and a USB 3.1 Type-A port on the left side, and a microSD card slot, a webcam kill switch, and a Thunderbolt 4/USB-C port on the right. The diagonal-cut left and right rear corners hold the power button and a second Thunderbolt 4 port, suitable for the AC adapter, respectively. As with the Dell, users who want to connect an external monitor will need a USB-C dongle in the absence of an HDMI port.

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) left portsHP Spectre x360 13 (2021) right ports

HP’s stylized four-slash logo decorates the lid. The screen bezels are ultra-slim. The system feels sturdy, with almost no flex if you grasp the screen corners or press the keyboard deck. Two hinges lets you flip and fold the display from laptop to tent, easel, or tablet modes; they keep the screen from wobbling when tapped in laptop mode. A face recognition webcam and a fingerprint reader on the palm rest give you two ways to skip passwords with Windows Hello. 

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) rear view

The $962.49 base model of the Spectre x360 13 features an Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel IPS touch screen. For $1,262.49, our test unit steps up to a quad-core, 2.8GHz (4.7GHz turbo) Core i7-1165G7, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD bolstered by 32GB of Intel Optane buffer. Windows 10 Home and Wi-Fi 6 are standard. Two other 1080p displays—one with HP’s Sure View privacy filter and one with ultra-high-contrast OLED technology—and a 4K OLED screen are available, as is a 2TB SSD. HP.com’s build-to-order page lists LTE mobile broadband as an option, but it wasn’t clickable on several configurations I tried.


Arrows Through the Heart 

I’ll go to my grave chastening HP for its laptop keyboards that arrange the cursor arrow keys in an awkward row instead of the proper inverted T, with hard-to-hit, half-size up and down arrows squeezed between full-size left and right. Looking on the brighter side, the Spectre’s backlit keyboard has real Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys instead of making you team the Fn and arrow keys, and a pleasantly snappy typing feel. The buttonless touchpad glides and taps smoothly and clicks with a light pressure.

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) keyboardHP Spectre x360 13 (2021) touchpad

The screen is bright and crisp, with vivid colors and nicely white backgrounds. Contrast is good, and viewing angles are wide; details are as clear as 1080p resolution can make them. The 720p webcam above the display captures slightly soft-focus but relatively well-lit and colorful images with a bit of digital noise or static. 

Sound from the bottom-mounted speakers isn’t very loud, but it’s acceptable for videos and music—a little flat and lacking in bass, but not fuzzy or tinny even at max volume. Highs are clean, and you can make out overlapping tracks. Bang & Olufsen software lets you play with music, movie, and voice presets and adjust bass and treble; its equalizer seems to muffle audio.

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) tent mode

Other extras include a carrying sleeve in the box. (Systems from HP.com come with a stylus pen as well, though our test machine didn’t.) HP Support Assistant centralizes support resources, diagnostics, and driver updates, while HP Command Center lets you switch among balanced, performance, and quiet cooling profiles and optimize network traffic for your favorite apps. 


Testing the ‘Tiger Lake’ Spectre: It’s a Five-Hybrid Face-Off 

Among the convertibles chosen for our benchmark comparisons, the Asus ZenBook Flip S and the business-oriented Lenovo ThinkPad X13 Yoga have the same 13.3-inch screen size as the Spectre x360 13. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, as mentioned, has a 13.4-inch display, and the squarer 3:2-aspect-ratio screen of the HP Spectre x360 14 actually measures 13.5 inches on the diagonal. You can see their basic specs in the table below. The Lenovo’s 10th Generation (“Ice Lake”) Core i5 processor sets it apart from the others, which all share the same 11th Generation Tiger Lake Core i7, the Core i7-1165G7. 

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) comparison chart

Productivity and Media Tests 

PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. (See more about how we test laptops.

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) PCMark

All save the ThinkPad hurdled the 4,000-point mark that shows superb productivity for Microsoft Office or Google Docs, with the two Spectres leading the way. Today’s swift SSDs breeze through PCMark 8’s storage measurement. 

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. 

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) Cinebench

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing benchmark, in which we put a stopwatch on systems as they transcode a brief movie from 4K resolution down to 1080p. It, too, is a tough test for multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs; lower times are better. 

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) Handbrake

The Asus was considerably slower than the other three Core i7-1165G7 laptops, while the Core i5 Lenovo handled the Handbrake video processing task surprisingly well. 

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters. 

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) Photoshop

The Core i7 convertibles finished four abreast. If you don’t mind settling for 1080p rather than higher resolution, the Spectre x360 13 is a fine platform for managing a photo collection. 

Graphics Tests 

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs strut their stuff. 

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) 3DMark

Intel’s new Iris Xe integrated graphics silicon kicks sand in the face of the older UHD Graphics solution of the ThinkPad, though they’re crushed by the discrete GPUs of actual gaming laptops. Still, some light or casual gaming is definitely a possibility. 

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene, this one rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) Superposition

Serious gamers need not apply, but that’s not really a handicap for these productivity-oriented portables. 

Battery Rundown Test 

After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of SteelTears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits. 

HP Spectre x360 13 (2021) battery life

All five 2-in-1s showed good stamina, and should easily get you through a full day of work or school without having to search for a wall outlet. The two HPs and the Dell have enough left over for an evening’s streaming entertainment. 


Verdict: It’s All in the Ratio 

A screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio is better than a 3:2 display for one thing—watching videos—so if you’re a streaming junkie, you’ll find the Spectre x360 13 an excellent convertible choice. It’s also a good pick if your budget’s tight, with a capable base model priced under $1,000 and our well-equipped test unit coming in $440 under the Editors’ Choice-award-winning Spectre x360 14 (though, to justify the premium, that laptop had a higher-resolution OLED display and twice the storage). Otherwise, the productivity boost of the squarer screen tips the scale to the slightly larger Spectre.

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