To stand out in a sea of ultrabooks that generally look alike, a manufacturer need not cram an ultrabook with features that are already in the portfolio of competitors or ones that are just gimmicky. To stand out, a manufacturer needs to focus on one crucial thing: PRICE.

It’s not like the important stuff like the internals and the overall design of an ultrabook are to be overlooked for the sake of pricing. It’s just that cramming in the latest and greatest features naturally results in a higher price, something that consumers are very keen on considering. I mean, would you buy an under powered ultrabook compared to a slim laptop that does what an ultrabook does (albeit with added heft) and more?

For the majority of the impoverished citizens of the world, the answer is, of course, no. Pushing into a higher pricing tier is an invitation for a commercial flop at best or brand discredit at worst. That’s why consumers tend to pass by the pricier offerings and instead, debate to death which of the cheaper laptops gives more value for the money.

Enter HP’s offering, the Spectre XT, which at first glance will certainly be mistaken for a MacBook Air, looks every bit like a normal ultrabook, though the “Apple look” screams of a premium price. Not pricy like Apple, but definitely close to it.

But no. This one costs just $699 for the Windows 8 version and $624.99 for the Windows 7 version. Is this a flop or a great value for money? Let’s see.

Aluminium Is Not Apple-Patented

When closed, the Spectre XT looks like a MacBook Air with a suspiciously embossed HP logo. The brushed silver finish also adds to the illusion that this is an Apple product. The Spectre XT weighs 3.97 pounds, almost a pound heavier than its predecessor, the Spectre (3.07 pounds). Perhaps, the added heft is because of the aluminium generously used on this laptop.

The Spectre XT feels very premium when you hold it, the soft-touch bottom is smooth and provides an excellent grip. This ultrabook is somewhat chubbier than the MacBook Air; the tapered edge gives the illusion that it is thinner. Faced with a Zenbook Prime UX31A and the Samsung Series 9, which are both shockingly slimmer, the Spectre XT looks like a fatty.

The plugs and slots of the Spectre XT are all ultrabook standard such as two USB ports, one USB 2.9 and the other is the faster USB 3.0, an SD card slot, audio jacks, Ethernet slot and an HDMI.

The keyboard is traditional HP, a black island-type keyboard that offers great tactile feedback and is pretty different from the shallow keyboards other ultrabooks have. The touchpad, too, is excellent, quite different from what HP dished out for its previous laptops. Different in a good way.

The real downer, though, is the screen.

The 13.3 inches is standard, though the 1,366 x 768 resolution is below par. Some ultrabooks offer up to 1600 x 900 pixels, though, those are the pricey ones. Still, the low-res screen will be a deal-breaker for some. Adding to the screen’s woes are the limited viewing angles; tilting the screen forward or backward will cause the display to be washed out at best, un-viewable at worst.

So far, the screen is the biggest disappointment, however, with a price like that, it’s certainly unrealistic to demand a high-res screen.

When Less Is Actually More

The Spectre XT is powered by a 1.7 GHz Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000. Though not sounding like much, the Spectre XDT managed to stand its ground in synthetic benchmarks, matching its competitors that are priced higher. Scoring 12, 223 in PCMark Vantage and 5,197 in 3DMark06, the HP managed to keep up with the $1,069 Asus Zenbook Prime (12, 494 and 4,989) and the $1,200 MacBook Air (13,469 and 5,827).

Furthermore, the Spectre XT has a 128 GB SSD which is ample enough for files that you need on the go, and 4 GB of RAM which is enough for most tasks. However, lacking a dedicated video card, the very low settings and unplayable fps (frames per second) will frustrate gamers. The Spectre XT can handle most casual to light gaming, though. It heats up quite fast, though.

The Spectre XT’s four cell lithium-ion battery falls short of the average runtime for ultrabooks, just lasting a little under five hours when used strenuously.

It comes preloaded with Adobe Photoshop elements and Premiere Elements, which are full versions, by the way. There is also a two-year subscription to Norton Internet Security 2012.

The ultrabook also comes with Beats Audio for a better listening experience, though I didn’t actually find anything ground breaking with the audio quality.

Envy of Ultrabooks

At the end of the day, there is little to hate with the HP Spectre XT. The aluminium shell is just great; the lid that screams Apple is very pleasant to touch. To be honest, an Apple logo at the center of the lid would’ve blended nicely.  The trackpad is short of perfect and the internals are up to par with what the competition has to offer.

Best of all, the HP Specter XT’s price is phenomenal. I just wish that manufacturers would follow HP’s way and make affordable ultrabooks that do not compromise quality.

Living up to its name, the HP Spectre XT is truly an envy for other manufacturers and a spectre that pricey ultrabooks need to watch out for.