Back in 2020, Lenovo released the first laptop with a flexible display. And then last year, ASUS added its touch to the category with the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED. Now HP is giving things a go with the Spectre Fold and, after checking out one of just three pre-production samples sent out to the media, it feels like this is easily the best use of the technology yet.
The most striking thing about the Spectre Fold is its design. HP has managed to slim down its bezels and remove nearly all of the chunkiness we saw on the foldable ZenBook. With its 17-inch 2560 x 1920 OLED display opened all the way, the whole thing looks just like any other premium tablet (except for it being really big), which is a pleasant surprise. At 8.5mm thick, it’s deliciously thin and by opting for a lightweight magnesium body, the Spectre Fold tips the scales at just 2.86 pounds (1.3 kg) – a full pound less than ASUS’ creation from 2022.
The Spectre Fold’s display looks great too. The panel is made by LG and basically crease-free (unless you look real hard from an angle), while boasting a listed brightness of up to 500 nits, along with VESA True Black HDR 500 certification. And for all your videoconference needs, HP crammed in a sharp 5-MP IR webcam that supports some clever security features like privacy alerts and automatic walkaway detection.
There’s also a slick kickstand that sits flush against the bottom of the system when not in use. In fact, it looks more like a simple design accent than something functional. Pretty much everywhere you look, the Spectre Fold feels just as sleek and polished as any high-end laptop. Now, that might not sound like a major accomplishment, but given the awkwardness that we’ve seen on previous competitors, that’s no mean feat. I also appreciate how HP included handy features like a switch for a physical webcam shutter and two Thunderbolt 4 ports. And then there are all of the Spectre Fold’s bundled accessories, which include a magnetic Bluetooth keyboard, a stylus (with a spare nib) and even a USB-C docking hub.
This brings me to the next best thing about the Spectre Fold, which is how well it works with all of its accessories right out of the box – I didn’t need to mess around with Bluetooth settings or anything. I just fired up the laptop, flipped the toggle on the side of the keyboard and they instantly connected. That is a big improvement compared to what I experienced on the Zenbook 17 Fold and its flaky Bluetooth that forced me to manually repair its keyboard on a semi-regular basis. HP also designed the system to have a 5mm fold radius, which allows the keyboard to nest neatly inside the laptop during travel.
But the perhaps coolest thing about the Spectre Fold (aside from its display, of course) is what you don’t see: a series of charging coils that are hidden inside one edge of the system. This allows both the keyboard and the stylus (which also attaches magnetically) to trickle charge from the laptop’s battery while not in use, so you never have to worry about topping them up yourself. Though, if the keyboard does for some reason run out of juice, HP does include a special USB power dongle that you can whip out in a pinch.
Of course though, the display is the coolest part. The bendability makes the Spectre Fold what HP says is its first 3-in-1 as it can transform into a tablet, a portable all-in-one desktop and a few different laptop setups. Tablet mode is pretty straightforward, while AIO mode allows you to prop up the display so you can get the most out of that big 17-inch display (I would have loved to have this while traveling recently).
As a laptop, you can choose a somewhat traditional clamshell configuration where you put the keyboard on the bottom half of the display while the top half provides what is essentially a 12.5-inch screen–which is great for tight spaces. Alternatively, you can slide the keyboard towards you to create what HP calls expanded mode, which might be my favorite laptop position. In this setup, the touchpad section of the keyboard drops down and provides a more ergonomic wrist rest. Doing that also reveals more of the folded display (around 14 inches in total) or what HP calls “1.5 screens.” This gives you just enough room to keep things like email or chat apps down below while you have a more important project open up top.
Finally, there’s extended mode in which you simply place the keyboard on a table in front of the Spectre Fold, giving you full access to that 17-inch screen, but in a bent portrait orientation. Regardless of which setup you prefer, the laptop tries to give you the largest display possible based on your current environment. And thanks to even more magnets inside the system, the keyboard naturally snaps to these various positions resulting in a surprisingly seamless experience.
Granted, even this early I’ve noticed a couple tiny issues, like how the display looks dimmer when viewed from more acute angles, which is what you’ll see in some of its laptop modes. But that’s sort of par for the course even among today’s best flexible screens. Also, while its Intel Core i7-1250U, 16GB of RAM and 1TB SSD delivered relatively snappy performance thus far, I’m not expecting a ton of oomph for stuff like editing videos or even light gaming.
However, the Spectre Fold’s biggest hurdle is its price: $5,000. That’s even more than the $3,500 ASUS Zenbook 17 Fold, which was already an extremely expensive machine. This is enough to put it out of reach of pretty much everyone, which is definitely a bummer. But at the same time, HP says it created this thing in large part just to show what the company can do with today’s cutting-edge tech. And when viewed more as a forward-thinking demo unit than something people are actually going to buy, I’m a bit less upset about its cost (if only just a bit). I should also point out that despite showing it off more than a year ago, Lenovo’s second flexible-screen laptop–the 17-inch ThinkPad X1 Fold–still doesn’t have a concrete release date. This just shows how difficult systems like this are to make even for companies of this size (Lenovo and HP are the two biggest PC vendors in the world).
That said, if you’re willing to throw a couple of rent payments (or more) at this thing, pre-orders for the Spectre Fold go live today from Best Buy, with official sales on HP.com and Best Buy expected to happen sometime in October.