The HP Spectre Folio might not be a complete reworking of the concept of a laptop, but this convertible laptop is innovative and stands out in a sea of silver… it works as a regular laptop, as a media station, and as a tablet. But the real twist is that the whole package is tightly bound in leather.
HP is in the middle of a strong run of laptop designs. While there are enough design cues between the various ranges that allow each laptop to physically say ‘HP’, you’ll find that there are different approaches to gaming, consumer, or enterprise laptops. Which leads nicely into the Folio.
This is HP looking towards a demographic which is looking for a ‘premium’ laptop experience that wants something more than a polished block of machined metal. You get your two main ‘transformer’ modes as well as the third ‘wedge’ mode that offers a useful presentation mode, but rather than cold aluminium you have warm and welcoming leather.
The Folio is going to stand out not just in use, but while being carried as well. The clue is in the name – closed up it really is an office folio binder in looks; in tablet form you have the leather wrapped around to create a strong folder-like spine; and in the two deskbound modes you have a regular laptop and a media presentation wedge with character.
All of this comes to nothing if the HP Spectre Folio does not work well as a computer. With premium materials on show, it needs to offer a premium experience to the user.
Even though leather is a key material, the underlying structure of the Folio is pretty solid. Using the keyboard is the easiest way to feel this. resting on a desk there is almost no flex or bounce in the keyboard layer even when typing at speed – and I do ‘hit’ the keys with some force. You can flex if you push down hard on a key, but this is harder than I would normally type, so I feel that the HP’s designers have got the balance pitched correctly.
What is awkward is the inclusion of the home, end, page up, and page down buttons. While these are nice to have on the keyboard, by running them in a vertical column the rest of the keyboard is offset. The centreline of the keyboard is no longer the centreline of the laptop – which you can see clearly between the space bar and the mouse pad. It’s awkward to start with, it leaves my right palm over the mousepad while typing, and the inclusion of these keys is not something that I think is worth the trade-off.
I’d also question the artwork on the keys. Yes the laptop is wrapped in leather, but it’s not screaming out ‘look at me’, it’s a bit more subtle than that. But not the letters. Garish, blockly, and filling as much space as possible, the lettering does not match the surroundings. I would have preferred something a little more subtle, such as the smaller artwork on the HP Elite X2 keys.
For all the trimmings, the Folio is more ultrabook than performance powerhouse. Its slim profile and construction means that there is no room to pack in the fans and heat sinks needed for high-end performance. HP has decided to go for a fanless design paired up with a twin core Intel i7-8500Y CPU, paired up with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage in my review model. Intel’s UHD 615 graphics chipset powers the visuals, so media playback and general use is not a problem, but don’t go looking for any complex gaming or video editing – this is not a workstation machine. This is for carrying around the office and getting through a working day (while still having Netflix streaming in the background).
HP’s specs suggest that the Folio comes with “up to 18 hours of battery life”. As with all battery projections there are certain conditions that need to be set up, and real-world performance is not always going to match those conditions. But the Folio comfortably manages over seven hours in use with browsing, social media, and ‘office work’ activities – that covers the 9 to 5 and a little bit of travel, allowing for some standby time in meetings and over tea breaks.
One additional demand on the battery is the inclusion of 4G LTE connectivity. Flip the screen right over into tablet mode, but before the keyboard meets it, and you’ll spot the SIM card slot. It’s not covered with any flap, or does it have a SIM tray, but it does’t need it, given that the transforming modes will keep it covered by the hinge under most circumstances. You now got an option for seamless connectivity when away from wi-fi coverage. Yes, almost everyone nowadays has a smartphone with hotspot functionality, but for an enterprise-minded device such as the Folio, having a ‘work SIM’ in place for data on the laptop is a smart option. In use switching from wi-fi to 4G was a smooth as switching between two wi-fi networks.HP has future-proofed the circuitry so it will support gigabit class LTE.
In a world of super-thin bells and maximizing usable space, the Folio comes up short. Like most of HP’s recent laptops, the lower bezel on the screen is quite deep… deep enough to accommodate the HP logo and an ‘Intel inside sticker. This is a double-edged sword. It means that compared to the likes of Dell’s thin bezelled laptops the HP feels clunky, but it also means that when you move to tablet mode there is a decent amount of ‘safe space’ you can place your thumb and fingers into without risking any contact with the screen.
HP has also left a large gap between the top of the keyboard and the hinge mechanism. Part of this is taken up by the speakers, which have a decent output in terms of volume but as with most ultra thin laptops the bass response is very weak, leading to a tinny sound. Once you move into the presentation mode the speakers push the sound out into the space behind the screen, which leads to a weaker than expected sound when watching films.
And for all the move of a touch screen and stylus combination, a stick on pen loop as the carrying mechanism for the stylus feels cheap.
There is no doubt that HP has put together a striking laptop in the HP Spectre Folio. It stands out from the crowd without being garish, it is striking without being unconventional, and it is practical without carrying too many compromises.
But this does come at a cost. The base model is priced at $1299, with configurable options pushing that higher – the 4G enabled model reviewed here is $1499. If all you are looking for is performance in a thin profiled device there are better options out there. But benchmarks don’t tell the whole story of the Folio. It’s a head turning laptop, it’s a statement, it’s fashion and business in a package with very little
While it might not be the complete reworking of the concept of the laptop, HP’s design team has come up with a creative reimagining that delivers.