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HP Spectre Folio Review: Everything You Need to Know About the New Convertible Laptop

November 19, 2018, 7:50 PM UTC

So many thin and light laptops, so little time.

Well, HP has a new laptop that is designed to stand out in a crowded field and, for the right user, it’s a winner. Dubbed the HP Spectre Folio, the new Windows laptop has a 13-inch touch-sensitive screen and a funky hinge that can swivel the display so that it partially flips out and then folds down to cover the keyboard and create a tablet.

At 3.3 pounds, it’s too heavy to hold in one hand and surf the web, as you would with an iPad or HP’s very different Chromebook x2 detachable tablet that I reviewed last month. But the Folio as a tablet still works well propped in your lap or against the arm of a chair.

Covering the keyboard completely is more than what most convertible laptops can do. Typically, users can merely tip the screen around and leave the keyboard as an unpleasant, crunchy surface exposed on the back.

The Folio also has an in-between mode, folding the display over the keyboard but not the trackpad to keep it propped up for watching movies.

And there’s more than just the innovative hinge to set the Folio apart. Leather covers the laptop’s exterior, except for the screen and keyboard.

The idea is to make the Folio look and feel more upscale, matching the fancy leather portfolio or briefcase that you may carry to a business meeting or job interview. The leather, available in a light brown called cognac or a dark red called burgundy, isn’t what’s typically used on wallets or watch bands, however.

HP calls it chrome-tanned and says it’s made using the same process used to create leather car seats. More resistant against fading and staining, the material is also slicker and somewhat less supple than what you’d find on most leather items. It’s a nice overall touch, though, giving the laptop a smart look when closed and providing soft and comfortable palm rests below the keyboard.

As a laptop, the Folio’s performance matches its typical thin and light rivals. The Intel (INTC) 8th generation Y-series processors inside are from a line that emphasizes longer battery life over raw computing power and is commonly found in similarly-sized devices, including Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s (AAPL) new MacBook Air.

The built-in graphics chip, also from Intel, likewise goes for power savings over power computing. The result is a machine that’s great for web surfing, spreadsheets and word processing, plus the occasional photo edit or simple video game. If you’re looking for something to run Adobe Photoshop, compile programming code, or play hardcore games on a regular basis, this isn’t the right choice.

The sacrifice is probably worth it for most people, as the Folio maximizes battery life—HP claims it has enough for 21 hours—like no other laptop I’ve seen recently. I found it was easy to get a full day’s use out of the machine and still have 40%—or even 50%—battery life still in the tank.

Charging is via a gorgeous, braided USB-C power cord that HP includes. The Folio isn’t big on ports, however, with just three USB-C and a headphone jack.

Two of the USB-C ports are of the more capable Thunderbolt 3 variety, at least, so you can connect 4K and 5K high-resolution external monitors or very fast external storage drives to the Folio. HP also includes a stylus for writing on the screen in compatible apps, like Microsoft’s (MSFT) OneNote, or just to use instead of your finger for poking at on-screen controls and moving the cursor.

Another potentially useful feature is the optional mobile 4G LTE modem. Currently available to connect to AT&T’s (T) service, with Sprint (S) compatibility “coming soon,” the wireless modem offers Internet connectivity on the go when Wi-Fi is unavailable or isn’t reliable or fast enough.

Using the AT&T service on the review unit that HP supplied, I got a quick connection everywhere I went in town that worked fine for downloading files, streaming on Spotify, and accessing a few cloud-based apps. Still, it’s an option that costs an extra $200 (currently on sale currently for $160) and also requires a monthly wireless subscription.

In terms of downsides, HP made a few annoying choices with the Folio’s design. For one, the otherwise excellent keyboard has a non-standard row of keys on the right side. Usually, the all-important backspace key is at the far right side. On the Folio, it’s one row in from the edge, with the “home” key, which moves the cursor to the beginning of the line, where it should be. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to hit backspace to erase a mistyped character and instead sent the cursor to the beginning of the line.

Also, while the tablet mode can be pretty useful, the lack of a power button on the edges or outside of the case mean you can’t turn on the screen from tablet mode. The power button is above the keyboard, which is covered completely by the display when it folds over into tablet mode.

And finally, the Folio starts at $1,300 with an Intel i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB storage drive, though you can quickly pay over $2,000 for options including faster processors, more RAM, extra storage, and the LTE modem. Lenovo’s comparably-equipped Yoga Book 920, which also converts into a tablet, starts at just $1,050 with similar specs. It doesn’t have the leather wrapping or the LTE modem option, but does weigh about one-third of a pound, or almost 10%, less.

In the end, HP has created an appealing portable work machine with a little extra panache. That comes at a cost, but who says fashion is dead?