Introducing the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart

As we saw last week with Mythlogic's Callisto 1512, ultrabooks in the 15.6" form factor are strange beasts. It's pretty clear the industry as a whole is moving towards thinner, lighter notebooks at every traditional size; Intel's ULV processors aren't as fast as the standard voltage parts, but they're close enough that it can be difficult to justify the added bulk of a thicker machine. Couple this industry transition to slightly slower but much more power frugal parts with the increased emphasis on touch interfaces that Windows 8 brought and you end up with the most upheaval in notebook design we've seen in a long time.

With that upheaval we also get unique designs like the one we have on hand today, the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart. Spectre is essentially HP's premiere notebook brand until you get into their enterprise-class hardware, and so the Spectre XT TouchSmart is destined to be the absolute cream of the crop. The aluminum finish, glass touchpad, and 1080p IPS display are evidence enough of that. Yet while HP may have buffed the value proposition in a lot of places, the Spectre XT TouchSmart is unfortunately not without potentially severe compromises.

HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-3517U
(2x1.9GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3GHz, 22nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 2x4GB DDR3-1600
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(16 EUs, up to 1150MHz)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1920x1080 IPS Touch
Hard Drive(s) Seagate Momentus Thin 500GB 5400-RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD

Samsung PM830 32GB mSATA 6Gbps SSD (used as cache)
Optical Drive -
Networking Realtek RTL8168 Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino 6235 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio IDT 92HD99BXX HD Audio
Quadrophonic speakers
Combo mic/headphone jack
Battery 4-Cell, 48Wh
Front Side -
Right Side SD card reader
Combo mic/headphone jack
USB 2.0
AC adapter
Kensington lock
Left Side Ethernet
2x USB 3.0
Back Side Vent
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 14.87" x 10.01" x 0.87"
378mm x 254mm x 23mm
Weight 4.96 lbs
Extras 1080p IPS touch display
HD Webcam
SSD cache
BeatsAudio quadrophonic speakers
Backlit keyboard
Warranty 1-year limited parts and labor
Pricing $1,299

Chances are if you've been paying attention, two things popped out at you from the spec sheet: the Thunderbolt port, and the SSD caching. One of these additions is a fantastic value add; the other almost seems like a sad joke. Understanding that there are a lot of premium features on the Spectre XT TouchSmart, and that Thunderbolt isn't inexpensive to add, being stuck with an SSD cache backing up a dismally slow 5,400-RPM mechanical hard drive in a $1,299 notebook is inexcusable.

It's frustrating because the rest of the design is firing on all cylinders. The Intel Core i7 CPU is more than fast enough for the majority of tasks, HP includes the requisite 8GB of DDR3-1600 to guarantee a comfortable Windows experience, and 5GHz wireless networking is accounted for. Connectivity is healthy with USB 3.0 support alongside Thunderbolt, there are four speakers with BeatsAudio branding, and the display is even a quality 1080p IPS panel. So why hamstring the build with Intel Smart Response Technology instead of just installing a 128GB SSD minimum? Was the cost savings really worth it?

In and Around the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart
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  • StealthGhost - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    I don't see the point In an ultrabook that has to stay connected to the wall because it only gets 3 hours of battery life.
  • deeps6x - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    So much to dislike already about this laptop and I didn't even get past the spec sheet on the first page. To start, you put a frickin' hard drive in your premium product? Come on HP. I thought you were smarter than that. Nobody wants the heat and noise. 1080P, IPS? Yes! Glossy touch screen? FAIL. FAIL HARD!!! No need to read further. Jumped to comments. First comment is about another fail - junk battery as well it appears. My oh my. So disappointing HP. Sad.
  • CSMR - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    Stupid comment. This products "fails" to be suitable for you, but not everyone is like you.

    Hard drive + SSD is an excellent combination for people who want both an extremely responsive system and storage space. A 500GB SSD would be better but such a laptop would be much more expensive.
  • Egg - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    There are very few matte touch screens. Have you ever seen a matte touch screen at say, a POS kiosk or an ATM? Touching it quickly wears down the finish so you have glossy spots on the screen. See for an example of a rare matte touchscreen that doesn't have this problem.

    If you're complaining about a touchscreen itself, well it's somewhat useful for Windows 8.
  • Voldenuit - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    Lenovo Thinkpad X230T has a matte touch (and active digitizer!) screen. I should know, I got one for my wife last xmas.
  • WhiteAdam - Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - link

    Love my job, since I've been bringing in $82h… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online. (Home more information)
  • rvd2008 - Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - link

    "Come on HP. I thought you were smarter than that."
    Are you kidding? After Touchpad, WebOS and Autonomy fiasco? Think again, same board of directors who appointed Apotheker rule HPQ with Meg Whitman at the helm. What can go wrong?
  • StormyParis - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    I disagree with your dislike of SSD cache. I'd rather my laptop have a small SSD cache and some real storage, than a full SSD that will be 1- holding stuff that doesn't require speed (data files, media, rarely used codeà 2- small 3- expensive. I think HP have made a good trade off here.
  • arthur449 - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    An HDD is only acceptable in a computer if you don't care about or have control over all the software running in the background. If I'm going to recommend this device to anyone, and they're not going to take the time to cut away the useless bundled crapware, then its not an acceptable experience.

    A single SSD in a store-bought PC like this is a necessity, not an option, for a positive out-of-the-box experience. (Of course, that depends on whether or not they chose an absolutely horrid SSD, but that's what reviews like these are for.)
  • hughlle - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    Necessity? Don't be silly. Positive out-of-the-box experience is completely subjective. Next people will be telling me that 4gb of ram is a necessity in this regard, or 64 bit etc.

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