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Hands-on with The New Ultrabooks of HP's Global Influencer Summit

HP Envy Spectre XT

In August last year, HP declared that they would be spinning off their PC division and bowing out of the hardware business altogether. Today, things are looking decidedly different with the unveiling of HP's second generation Ultrabook lineup at their Global Influencer Summit held in Shanghai, China.

HP Envy Spectre XT

Leading the charge in HP's newest line of Ultrabooks is the HP Envy Spectre XT. Think of the Spectre XT as the missing piece of the puzzle in HP's first generation Ultrabook range. Where the Folio 13 was designed with business users in mind, and the Envy 14 Spectre was aimed at premium consumers, the Envy Spectre XT is aimed at the everyday consumer looking for an Ultrabook with mobility and style, without having to break the bank.

As such, the Spectre XT fits more closely into conventional Ultrabook expectations: it weighs about 1.39kg, it's got a 13.3-inch, 1366x768 resolution display, a tapered body design, a brushed aluminum finish with a magnesium alloy baseplate and, of course, a long battery life - HP is claiming eight hours, but we expect that to be more like five in actual testing. The version we saw was specced with a 2.0GHz core i7-3667U Ivy Bridge processor, 4GB RAM, and a 256GB Samsung SSD, although other SKUs will also be available. Despite the Gorilla Glass being absent, the NFC compatibility we saw in the original Spectre returns in the Spectre XT.

In terms of ports, you'll find one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, an RJ-45 port, an HDMI port, a headphone/microphone combo, and a multi-card reader.

In hand, there's an undeniable MacBook feel to the Spectre XT - that's not a bad thing, but unlike the original Spectre, there's certainly no points for originality here. We had a chance to ask Stacy Wolff, HP's Vice President of Notebook design, how he feels about people saying the Spectre XT (as well as other HP notebooks) are copying Apple's design.

Wolff said, "There's a lot of publicity about a particular shape or color that a lot of people believe one company holds. But really a lot of things cross over and are shared. With the Spectre XT, there are similarities to the MacBook Air in the shape of the tapered wedge, but that's not due to Apple, that's due to how the technology has to be laid out.

Likewise, there's a few colors in the world. I'm sure the guys at Cupertino would love to say they own silver, but they don’t, silver is a universal color. At HP we always try to advance our knowledge of what consumers want and love, and we give it to them. In no way has HP ever tried to mimic another company. Just remember that in life there are always similarities, but they're not always intentional."

Build quality on the Spectre XT feels solid, and while it may not have the distinctive high-design look of the original Spectre, it still feels like a premium Ultrabook with top notch finishing.

The Spectre XT's most impressive feature is its large track pad which looks to be about 11cm in length. Our first impression was positive, with the click pad handling well and recognizing gestures accurately. According to Wolff, part of the reason for the increase in the track pad's size is to ensure compatibility with Windows 8's gesture controls in the future.

As with all Envy notebooks, audio is by Beats, with the Spectre XT packing four speakers, two front facing, and two on the sides, which provide both directional and ambient sound. While it was a bit crowded in the demo hall, audio was still quite impressive and it seems to be one of the loudest we've heard from a 13.3-inch form factor. We were impressed by the original Spectre's audio, so if HP have managed to improve on that, they will definitely have a good talking point here.

 

While we're usually wary of bloatware pre-installed on a computer, the Spectre XT might actually be the first notebook that you don't immediately wipe clean, as all SKUs will come pre-installed with full versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 and Adobe Premiere Elements 10. The concierge customer service hotline exclusive to Spectre users that the original Spectre enjoyed will also be extended to owners of the Spectre XT.

Expect the Envy Spectre XT to be available in Singapore from June onwards, with SKUs starting at US$999. A business oriented version, dubbed the Spectre XT Pro, with additional enterprise options such as Windows 7 Professional and a TPM security chip will also be available - pricing for the Pro version is currently unavailable.

Oh, and if you're wondering what XT stands for, while you probably won't find it on any promotional or marketing materials, according to the folks at HP, officially it's eXtra Thin.