On computers, particularly the HP Spectre x360

This is about the third piece I’ve written on (loosely) this subject; perhaps it will be the one I actually publish. I’d been thinking a lot about computers lately, and what my needs would be in my next machine. I’ve long considered myself a Mac user, despite currently owning one Mac and four PCs (two of which I use with regularity). Apple has been incredibly disappointing to me lately, on both hardware and software fronts. On the other hand, I still truly hate using a non-Unix OS, and there are plenty of other points of contention that make Windows my least favorite modern OS. My approach on my Lenovo X220 (a machine which I will be keeping and using for writing, I suspect) is to dual-boot with Ubuntu as my default. This is viable, though I need to pay closer attention to partitioning, and likely add an exFAT part or the like for a shared space. I’m currently uncertain whether I’ll continue with that approach on my new machine, or attempt KVM with GPU passthrough.

At any rate, I was looking for a two-in-one (which Apple refuses to make), yet something at least somewhat powerful. If I wasn’t going to go for a two-in-one, I wanted something very powerful, and something with a trackpoint1. I think trackpads are the absolute worst pointing devices in existence, and I hate that they’re the norm. I had been looking for a while, and ended up semi-impulsively pulling the trigger when a very good sale landed on the HP Spectre x360 (13″). I’m still working on getting it set up (debating on a Linux distro, messing with the new version of WSL, making Windows tolerable, &c.), but I’m using it (under Windows gVim, egad) to write this post.

The keyboard

Is backlit,
which I don’t really care about at all, but it has two levels and they seem… functional, if that’s a thing that one needs for typing in the dark.
Has decent travel and overall feel,
which I was worried about, being a two-in-one and all. It’s about as slim as possible while still having a USB-A port, which meant that the keyboard could be a major compromise, but… it types pretty well. It’s a chiclet thing, of course, so it’s not as typable as, say, my X220. But it’s not bad at all. Keys have a satisfying sound to them as well. Not the clunk of my beloved ALPS mechanicals, certainly, but they sound like they’re doing something.
Has some awful cluster decisions,
like the cursor key garbage that Apple recently abandoned. The left and right cursor keys are full-height, while the up and down are half-height in between them. It is unusable. There’s enough space to bump the cluster down, or failing that, a cluster of all half-height with pg up/pg dn or home/end above /. I’ve used all of these configurations extensively. They are usable, this is not.
But also the right-side has a cluster of full-height home, pg up, pg dn, and end, and this… also kind of sucks. I’d prefer these as a function layer, to be honest. I over-reach and mash pg dn when I’m trying to hit enter, like… a lot.
Has a couple of other things worth mentioning:
No application key, which is absolutely vital as a keyboard-user in Windows. This is, unfortunately, not unique to this machine, and I’m used to simply remapping the right ctrl to this key.
No function-layer numpad, which seems to be a dying trend. I don’t see why one wouldn’t just opt to include it, except for the visual clutter on the keycaps? Oh well; I would have appreciated it, but it isn’t a deal-breaker.
It does have a visible indicator for mute on the mute key, which… I appreciate far more than I thought I would. Also, it’s amber, so it stands out (the backlight and indicator on caps lock are white)

The screen

Is glossy,
which I know is pretty common these days, but I think it’s the first glossy-screened laptop I’ve owned? Or, I guess my first MacBook probably had one, and I’ve just wiped it from my memory. But regardless, I don’t know why people put up with these. I mean, I’m going to, I’d be far more likely to return this thing based on the keyboard layout than the glossy screen, but damn it’s annoying.
Has a very cool privacy feature,
called SureView. This was an option (and meant I couldn’t get the 4K display, which I had no desire to get anyway), and it’s one of the things that really makes me happy about this machine. There’s some kind of filter, and some kind of directional backlight, and when it’s lit a certain way… it just looks like a normal screen. But when you press F1 suddenly the whole thing washes out a bit, and viewing it becomes very directional. It feels a little blurry almost, and like even directly in front of it you’re not getting a good view of the whole screen, but it also gets the job it sets out to do. It really washes out at angles that aren’t directly in line with it, and will be valuable when I use this on the train, etc.
Is a touchscreen, of course, and also a digitizer,
and that all works fine? It’s the sort of digitizer that requires an active pen (so, not Wacom, and not as good as Wacom, but still quite good). I don’t really know what complaints one could have about a modern touch panel, but I have none.
Is 120Hz
which I think is still fairly unusual for a two-in-one? Maybe not, but regardless, visually… the screen is quite good.

The rest

As I mentioned, I wanted a relatively beefy machine,
and this is an i7 with 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of SSD w/ Optane. For the physical size of the machine, it’s proving a bit of a beast. The fans are loud, but the vent they have to expel air from is tiny, and they have some heavy lifting to do. I haven’t really put it through its paces yet2, but what I have seen leaves me confident it’ll accomplish what I want it to.
It’s got ports!
Not a lot of them, mind you, but what I was looking for: USB-C with power delivery and USB-A. Obviously, it’s a slim machine, so there are compromises: only two USB-C ports, a single USB-A, and no dedicated DisplayPort or Ethernet (ha!). It does have a 3.5mm combo audio in/out, which is nice, and a microSD slot. It charges off of USB-C, and this leads to my one minor gripe: both USB-C ports are on the right side of the machine, the USB-A is on the left. Since both are power delivery ports, it would be nice if the USB-C ports were on either side. I’m sure this would be an internal layout nightmare, difficult or impossible due to the size of the machine. An Asus I was looking at was slimmer and arguably nicer-looking, but I don’t like dongles and am not ready to ditch USB-A yet.
is branded as being from Bang & Olufsen, a company whose industrial design I’ve lusted over for most of my conscious life3. I don’t generally put much faith in these alleged collaborations, and I have no idea how involved B&O actually was. But, for laptop speakers, they do sound good.
The webcam
is Windows Hello ready, and is also something I don’t care about at all. I haven’t tested it. It does have a hardware cutoff switch, which is great. In concert with the SureView display, this is a machine that has at least tried to put emphasis on privacy. Encryption was enabled by default, as well, though… that may be standard with Windows 10 Pro, I’m not sure. I do wish there would’ve been a physical switch for WiFi, but… if I only get one switch, having it prevent me from accidentally camgirling is… fine.
Et cetera
The physical design of the machine is like… faux luxe. There’s this aggressively-chiseled metal border around attractive-but-cheap-feeling plastic, and it just… doesn’t mesh. The aggressive lines also look absurd when the thing is folded into tablet mode, and… more masculine than I’d like otherwise. Which is fine, I have stickers to girl it up.
The trackpad sucks, but I can’t judge that fairly. I hate them all. Though I’m not getting the ‘precision trackpad’ options in Windows, which I think means it’s not quite up to modern standards? I just want to figure out how to assign middle-click, the internet is an inefficient mess without it. Also maybe find a mapping such that I can scroll with vim keys.
Battery life seems… fine, not great, so far. About all I have to say on that.
It’s very slippery in tent mode, rubberizing the top/bottom edges a bit would have been… bad for their weird aesthetic, I guess, but great for productivity. Might mod.
It has a fingerprint reader. Not sure I care. PIN is fine for me, honestly.

  1. Fujitsu actually made two-in-ones with Trackpoints for a bit, but it seems they don’t anymore. I wish a manufacturer (ALPS and/or Synaptics) would develop a slimmer Trackpoint so it would be viable in higher-end machines like the x360. ↩︎
  2. I did run some tests in 3DMark, and the results were about what I expected, impressive to me for a machine of this size and certainly good enough for any gaming I would want to do. But I’ll see how it bears out in practice. ↩︎
  3. I owned one of their turntables once, and it was a pleasure. Replacing the cartridge was an expensive ordeal, however, and at the time it made a lot more sense to replace the table with something I could upgrade over time. I ended up giving that table to a friend, but it got me really into pulley-change belt-driven basic turntable designs. Far from the B&O. ↩︎