HP’s effort to match the Apple MacBook Air 13 brings us the Spectre, which the company claims is the “world’s thinnest laptop”.
And Sony’s sound bar home theatre attempts to attract customers who stay away owing to the hassle of installing multiple speakers and the clutter created by wires.
HP Spectre 13
The Spectre 13 measures just 10.4mm at its thickest point (the Apple MacBook Air 13 is 17mm thick). HP has used a mix of aluminium and carbon fibre for the chassis—the lid and the keyboard deck, for example, use aluminium while carbon fibre is used for the base, which also improves heat insulation. Despite the use of the best possible materials, some flex is still visible on the keyboard deck if you press it hard.
The grey-colour finish with copper-coloured highlights provides a contrasting yet classy look. But the contrast may turn off some users, and HP perhaps missed a trick by not offering a more subtle colour option.
A premium leather storage sleeve comes as standard with the laptop, which is a nice touch. But flexibility is compromised by the bundled adaptors that you need to connect accessories, such as external drives, to the laptop.
The Spectre runs an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, 8 GB RAM and 512 GB solid-state drive (SSD). Multitasking is a delight, the apps open and respond in a snap and Full HD video files run smoothly. Press the power button, and Windows 10 is ready for use in less than 5 seconds. It is a shame, however, that the Spectre struggles to match battery-life expectations. At 60% screen brightness, the Spectre lasts a few minutes more than 5 hours when used for Web browsing, document editing and some YouTube streaming. The Apple MacBook Air 13, in comparison, offers close to 12 hours of battery life, and runs an Intel Core i5 processor.
HP is also offering the Spectre with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB RAM and a 256 GB SSD.
The “piston” display hinge is another design element that stands out, but it does somewhat restrict how far back you can push the display screen. Beyond that, the 13.3-inch Full HD screen is crisp and vivid and, apart from the odd reflections that bounce off it, can be easily used for productivity tasks as well as movies.
The touch pad is accurate and large, and the keyboard precise. The key spacing, however, seems to be a bit more than optimal, which will take some getting used to.
There is no doubt that the Spectre is a gorgeous device. It does very well in terms of overall performance, and is worth considering if your budget is a generous one. The battery life is admittedly less than perfect, but it isn’t a deal-breaker. The Windows ecosystem continues its pursuit of the perfect MacBook rival, and HP has come quite close with the Spectre.
Sony HT-RT3 home theatre
The HT-RT3 is a much less complicated and more compact take on the entire concept of the 5.1-channel home-theatre systems, and is largely fuss-free to use.
It has the five-speaker audio channel configuration—three sit in the sound bar, two are rear speakers, and one is an external subwoofer with the master controls. All the speakers connect to the back of the subwoofer. Each speaker comes with integrated, colour-coded cables, which make the home theatre pretty easy to set up.
The maximum sound output is 600 watts, and it uses Sony’s S-Master Digital Amplifier to improve sound quality. When connected to the TV using the optical audio out, it improves the audio experience by leaps and bounds. The powerful subwoofer pumps out the lower frequencies as and when it needs to, based on the movie or video you are watching, and makes watching movies a lot of fun—you can control the subwoofer level, and when close to maximum, it really makes the windows vibrate.
We were impressed with the clarity of the spoken word, even at fairly high volumes. The surround-sound effects too are reproduced to a certain extent.
The HT-RT3 also has Bluetooth and near-field communication (NFC), so it is quite easy to connect it to your smartphone to play wireless music. There is a USB port to play music files off an external drive.
The only shortcoming we noticed is that if the source audio is of really low quality (such as a low bit-rate MP3 file), the vocals tend to sound a bit too sharp, forcing you to reduce the volume.
At this price, the Sony HT-RT3 is a rather compelling option for anyone who wants to upgrade the sound experience to enjoy movies or even regular TV shows—the ease of use and overall performance are undeniable.