Note: This article may contain affiliate links, but the review is completely honest and will include pros and cons of the product; I only review products I own or have used.
Something that’s important to have as a photographer is a machine to process your images with. For a while, I’ve been using an HP desktop purchased in approximately 2013. When I recently decided to upgrade from Photoshop CS4 to the current version of Photoshop CC, I realized I had a problem: my dinosaur of a computer couldn’t run this new version. In fact, it couldn’t run much of anything; at times, it would freeze just after being turned on, or while asleep. But when I did get the computer to turn on, performing a task such as merging an HDR image from 5-6 bracketed shots would take up to 30 minutes to complete. Factory resetting didn’t help. so I opted to buy a new machine rather than spend more time and potentially money trying to diagnose and repair the problem on a 5-year-old machine.
I never saw myself buying another laptop; in fact, I’d been eyeing the iPad Pro 12.9. But I realized it wouldn’t be able to do a lot of crucial Photoshop features, so I began looking at laptops.
Here’s what I was looking for:
- At least 16 GB RAM, because 8GB RAM doesn’t really cut it with Photoshop
- Powerful processor
- At least 1 TB SSD storage
- 2-in-1 tablet laptop, because I want to be able to travel with it, quickly take notes in meetings, etc
- Lightweight, because what’s the use in a laptop that doubles as a tablet if it weights a thousand pounds and is uncomfortable to hold
- Ability to write notes/draw with a pen
- Superior battery life
- Under $1500
Pretty tall order, right?
I began looking right around the time the new MacBook Pro was released, and though I’m not an Apple guy, its processing power appealed to me. The price tag, however, did not. So I began looking at HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, even Samsung. Online research of specifications gave me several machines that looked okay, but it was hard to narrow down. Eventually, I decided on the HP Spectre 13″ 2-in-1 laptop. Here are its specs:
- 16 GB RAM
- 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-8550U mobile processor
- 512 GB SSD
- 13.3″ 4K touchscreen
- Intel® UHD Graphics 620
- Weight: 2.78 pounds
- 0.5″ thin
- 3-cell Li-ion battery
As you can see, I had to make some compromises, primarily in the storage space and battery life departments. As a photographer without a huge cloud storage subscription, storage space is important; my old desktop had a 1TB drive, and it was 60% full. This meant I had to make some choices when it came to what data I wanted to transfer to the new machine.
What I love about the HP Spectre x360 13″ 2-in-1 laptop
The speed: As stated above, I was looking for a machine with speed. The same HDR merging process I described as taking about 30 minutes on my old machine took around 1 minute on this one. It did max out the processor for a several seconds, but the RAM stayed healthy as I monitored the performance in the task manager. I’ve been using this laptop for about three weeks with some pretty heavy image editing use, without a hiccup.
The versatility: The HP Spectre x360 13″ 2-in-1 laptop comes with the ability to automatically switch from laptop to tablet mode, based on the position of the screen. And it’s easily the lightest-feeling laptop that converts to a tablet out of all the ones I held in a local electronics store.
The pen: It probably isn’t the greatest in the world, but it works relatively well in Photoshop (especially considering Photoshop CC isn’t really designed for touch, much less a stylus). The pen features two customizable buttons, three extra nibs, and doesn’t require powering on/off or pairing; it’s all automatic. Oh, and it’s included free, the best part! It runs off tiny AAAA batteries, which I bought for pretty darn cheap on Amazon.
The looks: This machine looks the part with its ash gray exterior, lighted keyboard, and gold accents.
The price: This laptop was $1500 when I bought it – versus the $2000-$3000 price tag I kept seeing with machines that had similar specs. As of right now, it’s around $1375, which makes it even more of a deal!
The sleeve: I was considering buying a sleeve for the laptop to keep it in and carry it in when not in my backpack, but to my surprise, it came with one! It’s a relatively nice, black faux-leather sleeve that includes a space to slide the pen so it won’t get lost. Perfect!
What I don’t love about the HP Spectre x360 13″ 2-in-1 laptop
The heat: As other reviews will mention, this thing puts out a ton of heat, not unlike most other laptops – but that’s not a dealbreaker for me, because the majority of the time I am using it as a laptop sitting on a desk or table.
The sound: I’m rarely impressed with the sound coming from the speakers on a laptop or tablet; this one is no exception. The sound from the Bang & Olufsen speakers is “okay,” not great.
The lack of ports: Also not a dealbreaker, because I know it’s 2018 and tech is moving to strictly USB-C and HDMI, but the only ports on this thing are two USB-C and one standard USB. No ethernet, and no video of any sort. For those, you’d need the USB-C dock, which is sold separately. I didn’t want to stomach an extra $200 for a dock, much one at that price with mediocre ratings, so I went for a much more reasonably priced Cable Matters adapter. The specific one I ordered included standard USB ports, a DVI port (my ancient but large desktop monitor uses DVI), and ethernet (which I tested with my DSL connection at 2x the speed of the wi-fi connection).
That’s about it. I’d mention the battery life here, but it actually isn’t horrible as long as it’s optimized a bit when I need it to last a while. Turning the screen brightness down and the keyboard lighting off, as well as setting the screen to go to sleep after a minute or so of inactivity goes a long way. I’ve been running on battery all day with light use, and it’s at 75% right now at 4:45 PM.
But as you can see, the things I don’t love about the HP Spectre x360 13″ 2-in-1 laptop are really non-critical trade-offs that I expected to make with a top-of-the-line laptop; you can’t have a massive battery and it also be lightweight, and you can’t have a bunch of ports when the device is only half-an-inch thick. And I preferred the thinness and lightness over ports I’d only use occasionally. And I am okay with the lack of storage space with all the other features that this machine packs, and because it comes with a microSD slot.
Other cool, mostly untested features
The HP Spectre x360 13″ 2-in-1 laptop comes with the options of unlocking via facial recognition, fingerprint, or PIN, which is a pretty cool feature. But I haven’t set that up yet, so I just use my Microsoft PIN.
To sum it up, the HP Spectre x360 13″ 2-in-1 laptop is almost everything I was looking for: The speed to deal with resource-hungry Photoshop, the ability to transform easily to a tablet, a decent pen included in the box, and portability. The only trade-offs involved make sense for a modern, ultra-portable machine and don’t have a big impact to the way I use it.
Yes, I would recommend this item