User Interface, Display and Audio Quality
The Spectre’s keyboard is typical Envy. Island-style, with large gaps and square keys with slightly round edges. The layout is excellent. The extremely large Shift, Enter and Backspace keys deserve particular note as it’s not unusual for laptops of this size to truncate them in an effort to conserve space or squeeze in a row of Home and Page Up/Down keys.
Key feel does suffer because of the slim form factor. Each downward press is met with an abrupt bottom that is both jarring and vague. Don’t misunderstand me – you can enjoy this keyboard and type accurately on it. But it doesn’t manage to side-step the shallow key travel that causes all ultrabooks to fall short of the best mobile keyboards.
Backlighting is standard, but there is only one brightness option available. This is disappointing. Also disappointing is the quality of the lighting. Many keys, particularly the larger ones, are not evenly lit. This can be overlooked on a laptop with a low price tag but it’s not acceptable on one that starts at $1400.
The glass touchpad offers a smooth feel and excellent multi-touch scrolling support for a Windows laptop. Even complex multi-touch gestures, like zoom, work well. Additional surface area would have been appreciated, as the Spectre doesn’t offer a lot of room for wagging your fingers, but what’s provided is adequate.
Display And Audio Quality
You may not mind the Spectre’s bland keyboard and palmrest because you’ll be gawking at the display. It offers edge-to-edge glass to the max. Only a quarter-inch of black gloss borders the display on each side and the bezels above and below are also small. This feature contributes more to the Spectre’s feeling of luxury than any other.
The display is more than just a pretty face. It offers decent black levels, excellent contrast, a bright backlight, a resolution of 1600×900 and decent viewing angles. It’s easily among the top displays I’ve had the pleasure to use on any laptop it is also, in my opinion, more attractive than what is offered on the MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air.
I also checked for the “red is orange” problem that showed up on Envy 15 laptops earlier this year by comparing the display with other laptops I had on hand including a MacBook Air and the venerable ASUS N56VM review unit. Reds are red, as they should be.
My only gripe about is the ease with which you can distort the image by moving the display forward or back. The pressure of your fingertips gliding across the skinny bezels will cause minor ripples along the edge of the LCD. Major issue? Nah. I was using the laptop for several days before I noticed it, but if you own the laptop you will, eventually, see the problem.
The Spectre’s audio lives up to its Beats branding. I listened to a number of tracks via Grooveshark and found even those with significant bass to be enjoyable. There’s not much bass here, but there is a tad, and it is produced without completely distorting the rest of a song.
I have heard better sound systems in gaming laptops and 15.6” multimedia laptops, but this is easily the best audio ever produced by a laptop under an inch thick. It absolutely dominates the tinny, lifeless sound available in various other ultrabooks.