Katherine Stevenson Nov 25, 2013

HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Review

At A Glance

Ghost Writer

Nice IPS screen; good keyboard and touchpad; Thunderbolt port; quiet.

Ghost Whisperer

Heavy; constrained CPU performance; lacks full SSD storage.

15.6-inch Ultrabook both delights and disappoints

The Spectre XT TouchSmart is HP’s creme-de-la-creme consumer Ultrabook. In some ways, it lives up to that lofty mantle; in others, it doesn’t. The notebook is attractive all right, in a brushed-metal-chassis, black-island-keyboard kind of way. We also like that the interior is free of branding, save the Beats Audio logo on the speaker grill. But if the term “Ultrabook” conjures up images of dainty thin-and-lightness, the Spectre TouchSmart XT will cure you of that. The 15.6-inch all-aluminum body looks sleek enough—and its .87-inch height is within Intel’s Ultrabook specification—but its lap weight of nearly five pounds (close to six pounds with the power brick) will surprise you with its heft. At least it did us.

The notebook’s quad speakers—two up top and two underneath—get pretty loud, but even the Beats audio won’t have you ditching your headphones.

Nevertheless, there are advantages that conceivably offset the weight issues. The Spectre XT TouchSmart offers a relatively large display, keyboard, and touchpad, all of which impressed us with their quality. The display, framed by the slimmest of bezels, is an IPS panel with 1920x1080 resolution and a crisp, colorful picture. The keyboard seems spacious, the keys have decent travel by island-style standards, and we had no problems typing at a brisk pace. It’s also backlit, natch. The glass-surface touchpad feels wonderful.

The large body also accommodates a bunch of ports, including Ethernet, HDMI, two USB 3.0, and—as proof of the Spectre’s elevated status—a Thunderbolt port. Given the Spectre XT’s size and weight, you might expect to find an optical drive, but it lacks that.

Under the hood, the Spectre XT TouchSmart loses some luster. Its 1.9GHz i7-3517U should give the notebook some performance chops, but in our benchmarks, the CPU never came close to its 3GHz Turbo Boost potential, producing scores that were 30 percent lower than a competing notebook with the same CPU. It was even bested by HP’s own budget-minded Envy 4 , which had a slightly lower-clocked 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U and half the RAM. We’d expect this kind of performance throttling from a more space-constrained body; or maybe HP was primarily interested in keeping fan noise at bay, because the Spectre XT TouchSmart is certainly quiet even under heavy load.

The questionable component choices continue, with primary storage handled by a 500GB 5,400rpm HDD plus a 32GB SSD cache drive. That seems a bit pedestrian for a premium product. At least the cache enables SSD-like boots and restarts, 13 and 22 seconds, respectively. Theoretically, it should also speed up the performance in commonly used programs but we didn’t experience any noticeable improvement in repeated runs of CrystalDiskMark —results were consistently in line with an HDD’s limits.

Battery life was also unimpressive, totaling just three hours, 20 minutes in our high-def video rundown test.

Granted, as far as “premium” notebooks go, $1,400 isn’t that high a price. The fancy-schmancy Toshiba Kirabook that we reviewed last month was two grand. And like that one, the Spectre XT comes with Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, two years of Norton AV, and dedicated support service. But still we’re left wondering how premium a notebook this is when it’s kind of heavy to carry, performance is somewhat compromised, and battery life is weak.

$1,400, www.hp.com


PCMark 8 Home
2,718 (-5.1%)
Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)
1,7121,924 (-11%)
ProShow Producer (sec)
1,564 (-28.3%)
MainConcept (sec)
1,9012,617 (-27.4%)
Quake III (fps)358.2354.6 (-1%)
Quake 4 (fps)76.172.4 (-4.9%)
Battery Life (min)22.1200 (-9.5%)

Our zero-point ultraportable is an Intel reference Ultrabook with a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U, 4GB of DDR3/1600 RAM, integrated graphics, a 240GB SSD, and Windows 8 64-bit. 

1.9GHz i7-3517U
RAM 8GB DDR3/1600 dual channel
Display 15.6-inch 1920x1080 IPS LCD
Storage WD 500GB HDD w/ Samsung 32GB cache SSD
Ethernet, HDMI, Thunderbolt, 2x USB 3.0, headphone/mic, 802.11n, Bluetooth
Lap / Carry4 lbs, 15.7 oz / 5 lbs, 12.6 oz


HP Spectre XT TouchSmart

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