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Mossberg: HP aims at the Mac with super-slim laptop
Welcome to Mossberg, a weekly commentary and reviews column on The Verge and Recode by veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg, now an Executive Editor at The Verge and Editor at Large of Recode.For years, Apple's Macintosh computers, while far from the biggest sellers, have been riding high. They've managed to outperform a sinking Windows PC market in most quarters, even if modestly. Mac laptops are potent sellers in the lucrative over-$1,000 category. Macs are widely used in colleges and in the media. And one model, the MacBook Air, has been praised by some reviewers as the best laptop ever made.Windows hardware makers — often stuck in a lower-price, lower-margin, lower-status rut — have long tried, without much success, to challenge the Mac. Now, the new HP Inc. (the PC and printer company spun off from the old Hewlett-Packard last year) is making a serious run at the Mac with a gorgeous new premium model: the 13-inch HP Spectre, which it's calling the world's thinnest notebook. It packs a punch.HP isn't coy about its competition. Its reviewer's guide, specifically and in detail, calls out comparisons to two Apple laptops: the beloved but venerable MacBook Air; and the new, very thin and light MacBook, which may be more comparable.HP is calling it the world's thinnest notebookI've been testing this new HP model, and it will likely be attractive to Windows users who are looking for something thin and light like Macs and who are willing to spend at least the base price of $1,170. But I have a few concerns — notably battery life, the trackpad, and fan noise.Before getting into the details of this newest HP, however, I think it bears noting that both the new Spectre and another much-praised Windows laptop, the Dell XPS 13, eschew the 2-in-1, flip-around, multi-use, gymnastic designs that characterized so many Windows laptops in the wake of the Windows 8 launch, which tried to combine tablets and laptops.This new HP doesn't try to be a tablet. In fact, it doesn't even have a touchscreen (just like three of the four models of the Dell XPS 13). It's a super-thin, light, stylish yet capable iteration of the good old clamshell laptop.The Spectre isn't trying to be a tablet; it doesn't even have a touchscreenWhile I don't mind touchscreens, and even think they can be useful with Windows 10, I'd rather have a smooth, large trackpad. And several of the largest PC makers, all of which make hybrid machines, have privately told me their research shows that while consumers might buy 2-in-1 devices, they wind up using them as regular laptops, rarely bending them around to be thick tablets. HP still makes 2-in-1 models, but I think it's notable that, for this premium, flagship laptop, the company chose to produce a thin, regular laptop as possible.If you're aiming at Apple's laptops, this is a good time. The sturdy, three-pound MacBook Air hasn't seen a really fundamental redesign since 2010, though it has kept up with the latest Intel processors. And the new MacBook, now in its second iteration, is an impressively thin and light 12-inch laptop, but it's filled with compromises: a single USB-C port, a flat keyboard, a less robust Intel Core M processor, and a high price starting at $1,299 (about $300 more than the Air).The main design and engineering coup of the HP Spectre is that it's a bit thinner than the new MacBook (by about 2.7 mm, HP says) and yet packs in full-fledged Core i-series processors and maintains a claimed battery life of up to 9.75 hours — almost as long as the 10 hours claimed by the MacBook. But like the more popular MacBook Air, it sports a 13-inch screen and a keyboard with decent travel that, unlike the one on the MacBook, felt normal to me right away.
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