HP Spectre Folio: One Of The Most Unique Devices I’ve Ever Reviewed

By Patrick Moorhead - November 5, 2018
HP Spectre Folio.  HP INC

I have spent nearly 30 years in and around the personal computer market as a PC manufacturer, for the leading PC desktop search engine of its time, a PC processor company and today with my firm researching the entirety of computing device industry.  When I was younger, I used to make fun of the older, grizzly analysts who seemed like they had little good or positive to say- until I became one. But when I do see something new that is truly different and useful, I want to tell everyone about it. I am here to tell you that after two weeks with the HP Spectre Folio, I find it one of the most unique devices I have ever used.

Premium packaging You know you are experiencing a premium device when you first look at the Spectre Folio’s packaging. The device is in a premium, black box with its picture on top. As you open the magnetically-closed lid (it snaps!), you see what looks like black crepe paper with an HP sticker connecting the two ends of the paper, just like you would get in a boutique clothing shop. After opening the black crepe paper, you are presented with the Folio in a black, cloth bag. The power cable is wrapped in a premium, cloth-like material, reminding me of super-high-end speaker cables. All of this reinforces how premium a device unpacking experience should be. The one thing HP could have done to exude premium throughout the entire unboxing would have been to put the included pen and USB-C to USB-A dongle in something other than a electrostatic bag. Three usage modes or “positions”
Three different usage position. HP INC
As I said on launch day in New York City, the Spectre Folio is a leather-bound PC that isn’t a notebook, convertible or detachable- it’s arguably a new form factor. HP nailed it. Think of the Folio starting with a thin notebook base with a full-sized keyboard and trackpad, detaching the 13.3” display, and wrapping it in full-grain, leather (Cognac Brown and Bordeaux Burgundy) and then adding a very thin and flexible hinge.  This enables three form factors that just “work”:
  • Standard notebook that is very “lappable” as most of the weight is the base with a very thin (3mm) and light display.
HP Spectre Folio as a notebook.  HP INC.
  • Movie mode for, let’s say, watching a movie on an airplane where the display is closer to you, so it is bigger yet staying out of the way of that huge reclining airline seat in front of you. The display magnetically clicks into place right above the trackpad.
HP Spectre Folio worked great for movies.  HP INC.
  • Tilted tablet mode for inking with a comfortable incline with the included HP Tilt Pen.
HP Spectre Folio. HP INC Having used hundreds of different 2-in-1s since Windows 8 was announced through today, I can say Folio is as close to perfection as it gets. Many detachables and convertibles have “wobbly display syndrome” meaning if you are on a plane or a train, the display wobbles back and forth. Also, most detachables are not lappable and fall over or are wobbly when using on the lap.  How many times has your detachable with a keyboard fallen off the back of an airline tray? Finally, most convertibles have no tilt in pen mode, and it’s like writing on an inch-thick legal pad which, quite frankly, sucks. HP nails all three use cases. HP’s reminder of the three usage modes in case you forget. PATRICK MOORHEAD When I wasn’t using the Folio, it was easy and light to carry around and stick in my backpack at 3.28lb and .6 inch thick and the leather makes it look like a professional portfolio. 3.28lbs and .6 inch thick makes Folio as thin (thinner, if we want to be precise) and a half pound heavier than the new MacBook Air at 2.75lb and .61 inch thick. Stylish yet durable “chrome-tanned” leather The leather is fantastic and high quality. As an equestrian, my wife is a self-proclaimed “leather snob,” and it even passed her test with flying colors. As a decade-long MacBook user, she said, “I need one of these.” If you are concerned early on about the leather durability, don’t fret. This isn’t like the leather handle of designer bags that stain with the first carry.  Think of this more like leather in your car, where you can expect to spill drinks, food and everything else for the five years you keep the Folio. I spilled some cream cheese on my Folio, panicked, wiped it down with a wet paper towel as HP instructs and there was no mark. I spilled coffee on it too, which didn’t leave a mark. HP said its leather is treated like car leather is treated, to withstand the test of time and use. Spectre Folio comes in Bordeaux Burgundy (L) and Cognac Brown (R). PATRICK MOORHEAD Keyboard and trackpad Full-sized, backlit keyboard with Synaptics glass touchpad.  PATRICK MOORHEAD The lighted power button is on the keyboard deck, a nice change from many 2-in-1s that have it on the side, which is prone to “hot-bagging,” where the device turns on and heats up in your bag or backpack. The full-size, two-level backlit keyboard and premium, Synaptics glass trackpad worked great.  I appreciated having quick keys that I actually use like brightness up/down, volume mute/down/up with full page up/down and good directional key placement. I’d love to see the airplane mode key swapped out with a Windows 10 “Focus assist” button as I’d use that a lot more. Face login As I have come to love over the past few years with Windows devices, the Spectre Folio has Windows Hello face login support. The Folio uses a dual-sensor solution, and it is very fast. If you don’t want to use your face to log in, you can always use a password or even a PIN to do that. Fingerprint login is not supported, but that’s OK with me as my chapped skin rarely works with fingerprint sensors on any device and face login is so much quicker and convenient.  Literally, you open the lid and Folio logs you in. Performance The Spectre Folio is both thin and light, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the performance to get you through many productivity usage and movie watching scenarios. My review device came configured with an eighth generation, dual core, quad thread, Intel Core i7-8500Y CPU operating at 1.5Ghz. (max Turbo 4.2 GHz.), formerly code-named “Amber Lake-Y.” The 8500Y includes Intel’s integrated UHD 615 graphics. Customers also have the choice of the Core i5 8200Y (-$200) as well with a bit less frequency but more battery life. I had 8GB of memory and 256GB of PCIe SSD. HP has available configurations with 16GB of RAM (+$100) and 512GB (+$140), 1TB (+$440), or 2TB (+1,040) of PCIe NVMe M.2 storage. For two weeks, I ran an office productivity use case with Office 365 (via GSuite), Chrome (5-10 tabs open), Photos plus a few Store social media apps (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram), and messaging apps (Messenger, WhatsApp), plus Mail and Calendar to get notifications.  I did not edit videos, play games, or workstation programs as I do not think this device is built for those use cases. I am happy to say that after I synced and indexed all of my personal files, mail, calendar and photos to the system from OneDrive and G Suite, I had enough performance to do everything I needed to do for my personal use case, without any evident slowdowns.  Boy has the Y-Series Intel processor line come a long way since inception. I will add that with Photos and Outlook indexing, I hit 80-90% peak CPU, but know that this is a one-time event Windows and Outlook require to make all your files searchable. This is why I only review personal computers a day after loading all my data, giving Windows time to index and make all your files, including photos, searchable. While running Intel’s Power Gadget 3.5 (nerdy I know), I did, in fact, hit 4.2GHz. boost with a processor power as low as 3 watts at 24% CPU utilization and as high as 8 watts at 67% CPU utilization.  This tells me that the cooling system is working pretty well. After 63,531 readings from Power Gadget performing my typical use case, frequency averaged 1.608 Ghz utilizing 3.65W of energy. This tells me my typical productivity use case, at least on average, is supported by the platform. The Folio is fanless and silent, and the processing module cools by way of a grill right above the keyboard which looks like speaker grills.  The bottom of the Folio generated some warmth on the bottom of the device, but I did not notice it when I sat it on my lap. Battery life and charging The Folio comes with a 54 Whr battery and a 65-watt power adapter. As I said in my event coverage, for the i5 model, HP Inc. is claiming 19 hours of battery life using MobileMark 14 using the 1W, 1080P display. My review configuration came with the i7 model using the 2W display. I got between 6-8 hours non-stop use in my productivity use case at 50% display brightness with WiFi on. This is about a third of what I have experienced with the latest Qualcomm-based ACPCs like the HP ENVY x2, but still in line with other very thin and light Windows 10 devices. I must also say that while the Folio got a third of the battery life of the Qualcomm-based ACPC’s the performance was snappier with fewer hiccups. HP is stating the Folio can display 21 hours of local Netflix and almost 17 hours over WiFi, which was very close to what I got in real use. Unbeknownst to many, often, you can get better battery life with a personal computer than you can with a large tablet, primarily because the batteries are so much larger in a notebook and in some cases, because of the resolution. The iPad Pro has a 37Whr battery at 2388x1668 resolution and Folio has a 54Whr battery at 1920x1080 resolution, which is why you could get 11 more hours of battery life with the Folio. Apple says the new MacBook Air can get 13 hours of videoplayback battery life, which has a smaller battery at 50.3 Whr but operates at higher 2560x1600 resolution.
HP’s newly-designed USB-C charger. PATRICK MOORHEAD
As important as all of that, HP said the device can be recharged to 50% in 30 minutes with the included 65 watt power adapter.I performed a quick couple of charging tests and can confirm the charge claims. Folio can also be trickle (slow) charged with a USB-C smartphone charger if you forget your Folio charger and can even be charged via an external USB-C smartphone battery. I love USB-C. Display My unit shipped with a 13”, 1080P, 16:9, 2W, touch, and pen-enabled display, in a 16:9 configuration. A 1W display will be available soon that should get you a few more hours of battery life as well as a higher resolution 4K display later in the year. At 1080P I wouldn’t do professional photo and video editing, this unit is not designed to do that, so I’d rather take the better battery life than a power sucking, albeit more beautiful 4K display. The Folio’s display was bright enough indoors at 300 nits. While it’s hard to get near edge to edge with a 16:9 configuration without cramping the keyboard and trackpad, the edges on the top and bottom didn’t bother me at all.  16:9 is also the native resolution for movies, so when you watch them, it fills up the entire 13.3” display unlike on devices with 3:2 or 16:10 configurations. Audio Audio on any super-slim notebook or 2-in-1 device is almost impossible to get right as you just don’t enough air volume inside the device. Therefore, I normally take vendor claims on these devices with a grain of salt and assume the worst as the devices end up sounding tinny and sometimes even rattle.  Yes, I’ve had $2,000 notebooks rattle on me. Not so with the Spectre Folio. I don’t know how HP accomplished it, but I was very happy with the intensity and richness of the Bang & Olufsen “quad speaker” sound system on the Folio. While it looks like the speakers are above the keyboard behind what look like speaker grills, they aren’t- they are on the sides. HP appears to be using the volume between the leather and metal to make the audio fuller and wider some specialized EQ. Whatever it is, it’s like black magic, brought to you from HP and Bang & Olufsen. HP audio tool.  PATRICK MOORHEAD I don’t know how HP accomplished it, but I was very happy with the intensity and richness of the Bang & Olufsen “quad speaker” sound system on the Folio. While it looks like the speakers are above the keyboard behind what look like speaker grills, they aren’t- they are on the sides. HP appears to be using the volume between the leather and metal to make the audio fuller and wider some specialized EQ. Whatever it is, it’s like black magic, brought to you from HP and Bang & Olufsen. Wired connectivity As I said on launch day, the Spectre Folio has surprisingly good I/O for such a small and mobile device. It has three USB-C ports, one on the left supporting good old USB 3.1 at up to 5GBs and DP1.2 and two ports on the right supporting ThunderBolt 3 at up to 40GBps also supporting DP1.2. All three USB ports support charging, a nice feature I wish everyone would add to their devices as users shouldn’t have to choose or be able ready the cryptic and tiny port notations. I pushed the Folio to the connectivity max using its right UCB-C with Thunderbolt port to drive HP’s new ThunderBolt 3 dock. I got the dock, with one small cable, to drive a 49” Dell UltraSharp display at 5120x1440 (while using the folio at 1920x1080 as a secondary display), a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse, a Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam and gigabit wired ethernet.  To my surprise, the Folio didn’t miss a beat. Just for grins, I plugged in a second USB-C display and fired it up, so, conceivably, you could have three displays at the same time. Before you call me crazy and say “no one would do that”, this is a configuration I would take on the go. I travel 40 weeks a year and when I stay in one place for a week, I can get more work done with more displays. I can totally imagine using two external USB-C displays, one on the left and one on the right with my Folio display in the middle. This gets me close to my 49” Ultrawide display experience I get in the office. Some full-size notebooks cannot do this. As I am right-handed, I would love for HP to move all the USB ports to the left side as when I plug in an external USB-C display and a power cord, it encroaches on my external mouse space. Finally, and incredibly, HP managed to integrate a microSD card reader and yes, a real, live audio jack. Wireless connectivity My Folio came with AT&T LTE Advanced in a 2x2 MIMO configuration via an Intel XMM 7560 card ($+158.99). By using 2x2, this means when using a carrier with a service that supports 5xCA with 100MHz of spectrum, this will support “gigabit-class LTE.” HP says AT&T is supporting this 5xCA configuration and requires LAA to support gigabit speeds. While I really wish the Spectre Folio supported 4x4 MIMO as it would make gigabit LTE easier with wider carrier support, I can also empathize that the company had a 3mm thick display to work with. I hope this gets figured out with 5G devices as 5G requires 4x4 MIMO. Folio supports up to 802.11 AC and Bluetooth 4.2 in a 1x1 antenna configuration. That’s a bit light from an antenna point of view for a premium notebook, but, like LTE, there isn’t a whole lot of room to work within this thin of a display. Wrapping up HP Spectre Folio.  PATRICK MOORHEAD Using the HP Spectre Folio made me more excited about any notebook, 2-in-1 or tablet that I have used in years.  First off, its beautiful, durable and its unique chrome-tanned leather design isn’t just wrapped but integrated into its design. The leather is simply stunning. It’s a 2-in-1 that surprisingly manages to work great in all three use cases: notebook, movie, and pen mode. Folio had enough performance and memory to get me through my productivity use case which included a whole lot of Office 365, Chrome and movie playback with no gaming, video or high-res photo editing. I would have liked a lot more battery life in my productivity mode, but it delivers some sick battery life watching on-device videos on my recent trip to Hong Kong, twice what you can get with an iPad Pro. I was happy with the integrated 4G LTE gigabit wireless connectivity with AT&T using LAA, but I wished Folio would have supported 4x4 MIMO to more easily and more widely supported the highest speeds. I priced my configuration online at $1,657 which included the highest end processor and graphics with 265GB SSD storage plus an LTE modem, but you can get in at $1,299 with an Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage and WiFi.  This pricing is very much in line with any premium device. I highly recommend that if you are in the market for a premium notebook, premium 2-in-1 or even a 13” professional tablet, you must check out the HP Spectre Folio. Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.
Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.