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HP Spectre Fold review: Cutting edge at all costs

The Spectre Fold is a showcase for what 2-in-1s can be, but at $5,000, it's still too expensive.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

It’s rare, but now and then a company will go out on a limb and create a truly cutting-edge device, even if its books take a hit. That’s exactly what HP has done with the Spectre Fold. Despite having the same processor as last year’s ASUS Zenbook 17 OLED, HP’s take on a flexible-screen laptop is thinner, lighter and more polished than anything that’s come before it. The Spectre Fold represents a true leap when it comes to next-gen hybrid design to the point where you might even want to buy one. The issue is that at $5,000, this thing will blow up pretty much anyone’s budget.

Display

The centerpiece of the Spectre Fold is its 17-inch, 2,560 x 1,920 OLED panel from LG, which features plenty of brightness (400 nits for SDR content or up to 500 nits with HDR) and an impressive color gamut (99.5 percent of DCI-P3). More importantly, it has thin bezels and only the faintest hint of a crease. This means that in laptop mode, the Spectre Fold looks almost like any other small ultraportable, with what is effectively a 12.5-inch screen. But at a moment’s notice, you can pull its keyboard down to create what HP calls Expanded mode (which gives you the equivalent of one and a half screens) or prop the system up on its kickstand to use its full 17-inch panel.

So, depending on your needs, you get the perfect-sized display for your content or working space. For me, someone who grew up watching Transformers, there’s something magical about a portable all-in-one that you can pack up and easily toss in a bag. (I still haven’t decided if the Spectre Fold is more like Perceptor or closer to a bot like Reflector, though.)

  • Spectre Fold

    The flexible-screen laptop you want but can't afford

Design

However, where HP really flexes its skills is with the Spectre Fold’s design. Unlike the Zenbook 17 Fold which had a clunky design and flaky peripherals, it feels like HP has accounted for every detail. There’s a kickstand that folds flush against the body of the system, so it disappears when not in use. And its keyboard fits neatly inside the system when closed, while hidden magnetic charging coils keep both the keyboard and HP’s included stylus topped up so they’re always ready to go. The whole kit weighs just 3.58 pounds and measures 0.84 inches thick when closed, which is significantly thinner and lighter than ASUS’ flexible Zenbook (4.04 pounds, 1.25 inches).

Also, unlike the ASUS machine, there's virtually no setup involved. The keyboard automatically paired itself during the Spectre Fold’s initial boot and its Bluetooth connection was rock solid. And while the Spectre’s two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 might seem awkwardly placed at first, having them on opposite sides of the device means there’s always at least one within reach regardless of what mode the system is in. To ensure the Spectre Fold is never short on connectivity, there’s an included dongle that adds two more USB-A ports and an HDMI jack. The result is a device that feels surprisingly polished, especially when you consider that this class of laptop has only existed for just a few years.

In traditional clamshell mode, the Spectre Fold has what is effectively a 12.5-inch display.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The one awkward thing about the Spectre Fold is that, while it has a sharp 5-megapixel webcam with support for Windows Hello, the orientation of the camera itself can be an issue depending on what mode the laptop is in. When set up as an all-in-one, the webcam is in portrait mode instead of landscape. And when you combine that with a sensor that’s located on the left bezel of its display, it can be difficult to frame yourself properly while keeping the laptop centered.

Performance

The Spectre Fold’s processor is the one part of its spec sheet that doesn’t feel quite as sophisticated. There’s only a single configuration that features an Intel Core i7-1250U chip along with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. This isn’t very impressive for a system this pricey, though HP says it chose that chip to ensure it would fit inside the Spectre Fold’s super thin chassis (just 0.33 inches unfolded). Regardless, for general productivity, this thing is speedy enough. Just don’t expect to do any sort of serious gaming or video editing.

Battery life

Typically on gadgets like this that are basically glorified concept devices, battery life is an afterthought. But the Spectre Fold defies those expectations with longevity that’s on par with more-traditional ultraportables. On PCMark10’s Open Office rundown test, it lasted 10 hours and 29 minutes, which is just 10 minutes shorter than the ASUS Zenbook S13’s time of 10:39. Though that was in laptop mode. With its 17-inch panel fully unfolded, battery life dropped by two hours to 8:31.

Wrap-up

A lot of people remain skeptical about gadgets with flexible displays (for good reason, I might add), but the $5,000 Spectre Fold is the best example yet of what this tech can offer. It’s a sleek machine that fits in tight spaces but also expands when you have more room to work. And when you need to pack up and go, it tucks away neatly in a bag. It gives you all the benefits of carrying around a portable monitor but with practically none of the drawbacks, while also addressing nearly every shortcoming from previous bendy attempts by Lenovo and ASUS.

The Spectre Fold comes with a well-rounded kit including multiport dongle, a stylus and a spare charging cable for its detachable keyboard.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

However, putting a concrete score on something like this feels like it would be missing the point. Sure, it’s insanely expensive, but HP’s goal wasn’t to make something with mass appeal. The mission was to take the most advanced components and design principles available today to showcase the true potential of next-gen hybrid devices. To that end, I think this device is a success. With the Spectre Fold, HP has made the first flexible-screen laptop you might want to buy. But now comes the hard part: making one that people can actually afford.