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Hands-on with HP's Spectre x360 laptop, a veritable HP-Microsoft collaboration

Gordon Mah Ung | March 2, 2015
If you thought HP's impending corporate split would make it slink away from the PC game, you're wrong. If anything, the company's new Spectre x360 laptop, announced on the eve of Mobile World Congress, seems intent on proving HP will be as frisky as ever once its PC and printer division is pushed off the HP lifeboat this summer.

Part of the added weight comes from HP's battery choice, a 56 watt hour cell. Compare that with the 52 watt hour battery in the Dell XPS13 2015 and the 45 watt hour cell in the Asus Zenbook UX305. 

HP says the Spectre x360 will give you 12.5 hours of battery life during office drone tasks, or 10 hours of web browsing. To get this battery life, HP says it made little changes like eliminating a hard drive activity LED. But perhaps the most eyebrow-raising "feature" of the Spectre x360 is that HP worked hand-in-hand with Microsoft to tune and optimize the new laptop.

Think of the Spectre x360 as the fifth Beatle

It's hard not to think of HP's new Spectre x360 as the fifth Beatle — or maybe the fifth Surface of Microsoft's lineup.

That's because the sexy Spectre x360 was built with unprecedented input from Microsoft. How closely did the two work? So closely that Microsoft engineering general manager Gabe Aul told us that "HP has gone all in" with Microsoft on the design of the Spectre x360.

"We worked in an open and more collaborative way than any one else," Aul said.

Microsoft labs helped tune drivers and firmware, and provided feedback on design changes. Microsoft techs even found a problem with the laptop's hinge sensor that was chewing up battery life. HP concedes this would probably have gone unnoticed.

Much of Microsoft's input to OEMs concerns the manufacturer's Windows build. Aul said that sometimes an OEM will submit an OS build to Microsoft for analysis, but by the time the laptop is launched, the build will have changed and the input from Microsoft will be of no use.

But Mike Nash, an HP vice president in the personal systems group, said his company took a much more careful approach with the latest Spectre. Microsoft's lab received prototypes of the x360 at the same time as HP, and HP submitted final system images to Microsoft well before the product was done. No other OEMs have done that.

Microsoft's advice was invaluable too, Nash said. In optimizing for just a plain run-down test where the laptop sits idle with a live display, Microsoft was able to squeeze battery life from 11 hours to 16 hours.

So why aren't other vendors seeking Microsoft's advice? It's not entirely clear, but it's possible OEMs are concerned about retaining competitive advantages. For example, Nash said during testing of the Spectre x360, a bug was found in how TPM was addressed by the OS. The fix didn't just benefit HP, but all PC makers. If an OEM had found such a bug by itself, it could keep it quiet as a unique performance benefit.


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