Google and HP have joined forces to create an officially designated Chromebook. Is this a great way to take your world online for under $500?
Google is teaming up with quite a few companies lately to build what it sees as the best examples of its devices. For the phones, we’ve seen LG take the stage with the Nexus 5, Asus used for the Nexus 7 tablet, and now HP is getting its chance in the HP Google Chromebook 11.
Designed for people who need to take the web with them on the go, the Chromebook 11 isn’t decked out in the specification department, including enough to make the machine perform, but not enough to make it run a ton of games.
As such, you’ll find a Samsung Exynos processor here clocked at 1.7GHz, running alongside 2GB RAM and 16GB solid-state storage.
Like other laptops, the screens sets the size of the machine, and in this computer, it’s an 11.6 inch display running on In-Plane Switching technology, with the High Definition resolution of 1366×768 used here.
On the connection front, you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, and a microUSB port for video out via SlimPort and charging the laptop, while wireless connections are handled through dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0.
A headset jack is included, as is a webcam, and just like pretty much every other Chromebook, Google has added 100GB Google Drive Cloud storage free for two years.
The battery is rated for up to six hours of use, with the whole computer weighing in at 1.04 kilograms.
Considered by many to be the new netbook, Chromebooks aim to deliver everything you need and nothing you don’t by letting you access the world through a web browser, and by making that web browser the operating system.
For those caught unaware, a Chromebook doesn’t rely on a traditional operating system in any sense of the word. You don’t install apps on this system like you would on a Mac, a Windows PC, or even a Linux box.
Rather, Chrome OS is based on Google’s Chrome browser, and the whole operating system literally sits around this web browser. This might not make sense initially, but when you realise how much of the web you’re using, it could begin to.
When you go home, or even at work, you might be using web-based mail, such as Google’s GMail. All of our social networking is done in a web browser, and you can listen to music over the web using online applications. Google has even made it possible to write and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online, and all of this is backed up online in the cloud.
All of these rely on a web browser, and when you combine these with the knowledge that there are fewer security attacks on an operating system that is a web browser, you get the feeling that Google might be onto something here.
Offline browser is, of course, possible (otherwise, how would you use it on a plane?), and when you eventually get access to a network again, things will re-sync and update accordingly.
It’s not for everyone, but if everything you use a computer for can be accomplished with a web browser, the Chrome OS concept could be well suited to you. It helps that the files you edit on Google Drive can later on be edited with any other computer, Mac or Windows PC, with phones and tablets included here too.
HP’s formula for the Chromebook isn’t too dissimilar from one we’ve seen before, and in this computer, you’re basically getting the same as what Samsung engineered in its version, complete with the same set of specs, but placed inside of a different frame.
To HP’s credit, there’s a durable metal chassis with plastic coating the outside, and this combination of materials helps to make the Chromebook 11 feel less like a toy and more like an expensive laptop.
It even reminds us of a laptop that Apple retired, with the old shiny white Macbook very reminiscent here, except in a smaller body with a far more glossy outside, and a colourful strip on the top of the lid that lights up when it’s in use.
Open the computer up and it literally springs to life, the Chromebook switching on very quickly, and letting you jump into the world of Chrome.
You’ll be asked to log in (or create an account), with that act granting you access to a clear desktop with a few icons at the bottom. You start with the basics — Chrome, GMail, YouTube — but you can expand this by clicking on the small square grid which will bring up the rest of your apps, and you’re able to drag these into the shortcut bar. To install more apps, you merely head to the Store and install them.
It needs to be said that these aren’t real apps in any sense of the word.
They’re essentially plugins or shortcuts to web services, bringing you quickly to another website, and these will install on any other Google Chrome browser you’re signed into on another computer (though not on phones or tablets).
And you’ll see that these apps are closer to websites when you click on a shortcut for one and it loads in a tab in the Chrome browser, because that’s how this whole Chrome thing works.
Once you get your head around that, you realise that the Chromebook is essentially just a well designed web browser in a laptop with access to most of the services you would normally use in a regular computer.
You do have some space to move files over, if needed, though with only a little over 9GB on offer from the 16GB (the operating system takes up some of that space, sadly), you’ll want to make sure the files here are necessary.
In the keyboard department, there’s a solid typing experience on offer here, with virtually no movement from the plastic underneath. That makes the keyboard excellent, with solid clicks as the keys go down, and a decent amount of room as the island-style keys fall down when hit.
Similar to the laptop design, we’re also reminded of something Apple-esque in this department, as the keyboard evokes the feeling of an Apple keyboard. Aside for the obvious white keys with a different font used from traditional computers, the keyboard is sturdy and feels good not just when used on a solid surface, but also on your lap.
It’s one of the most surprising parts of the equation, and marks have to be given to HP here.
People who take aim at the netbook design of most Chromebooks will feel at ease here, as neither of the shift keys have been shortened, which is usually what happens to the right shift key on smaller laptops. In fact, the keys are all decently sized.
This is a great keyboard, which given the intended use over with students, makes a lot of sense.
HP’s positioning of the power button is the only confusing part, though, placing it right above the backspace button. This positioning is odd, not because something had to go above the backspace, but because it’s the power button, which is also a key.
It’s not as big a deal as you might think, because you have to hold the power button down in order to get it to log you out (your onscreen window will also try to expand as you do it), so you’re not likely to accidentally shut down when you just meant to hold the backspace button down, but it’s still an odd placement.
The mouse is also usable, though it could be a little more responsive, with a large wide trackpad ever so slightly out of centre from the spacebar. Multitouch gestures don’t seem to be the concern of this trackpad, mind you, and we found only two-finger scrolling, and three-finger swiping to work, the latter of which lets you jump between tabs in the Chrome browser, which also technically jumps apps on a Chromebook.
Performance isn’t bad, though we’d recommend not running more than ten to fourteen app tabs at once, as the system can begin to exhibit the odd slow down here and there.
The screen is nice too when viewed head on, with great colours and clarity, an obvious improvement on the usual displays we see on budget laptops, shifting from the cheap Twisted Nematic (TN) panel to one relying on the In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology that we see used in most tablets.
It’s so bright and clear that in many ways you’ll be reminded of a touchscreen, but don’t touch it because that feature isn’t included on this computer.
But the display isn’t perfect, and while viewing angles wash out a little, our real dilemma comes from the reflectivity, which is just so high on this laptop.
Heaven forbid you use the Chromebook outside or near a window, because the amount of glare you’ll find is just plain irritating. It’s a shame, too, because outside of this, the screen is very clear, providing an otherwise top front-on experience that looks so much better than other screens we see in similar bodies.
We’re also surprised just at how much is missing from this computer, many of which would be not just in competing laptops, but typically budget-grade machines.
One of these omissions is a card slot. Maybe you use a camera with a microSD, or the more commonly used SD cards typically associated with digital cameras. Well in either situation, there is no way to just load the card in the HP Chromebook as it is missing a card slot.
We’ve seen card slots in netbooks and budget notebooks, and every other Chromebook we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing up until this point has featured one, but not the HP Chromebook 11. It’s a strange thing to lack, especially since you can edit photos on a Chromebook using Google’s Snapseed, so we’re a little surprised by this.
People who like to plug USB devices in will only see USB 2.0 here, which isn’t too big a deal, but may annoy some. In truth, with only 16GB of storage (with just under 10GB available to you), you’re not likely to be doing a lot of file transfers back to the internal storage, so the speed here isn’t a big deal.
But the lack of storage without a card slot to expand it is, on the other hand, a big deal, and one that really means you’re limited to the small amount of storage provided by HP and Google.
This makes this specific Chromebook really built around the cloud, and your reliance of downloading information from the web, which is one of the ideas Chromebook computers were based on.
Another issue we take aim with is the battery life which sits at around four hours only, provided you’re connected over WiFi. We conducted our tests writing the review on the laptop, surfing the web, and listening to music, and this gave us roughly four hours.
Previous Chromebooks with similar specs have pulled in six hours, which puts this one a little under par.
The microUSB charger doesn’t help things much, mind you, as you’ll really want to carry the one HP and Google supplies which runs at three amps compared to the regular one for phones and two for tablets.
The good news is that this charger can supply power to a phone or tablet, but the bad news is that all your other microUSB chargers will take longer to charge the Chromebook in comparison to the supplied one.
HP’s first effort at the Chromebook is a decent one, but it comes with a few niggles that bother even us, most notably its lack of expansion on offer.
Google’s Chrome OS has been built around the idea of web-based computing, though, so at least there’s a method to this madness, but we’d still like to have seen some form of expansion slot here. MicroSD, SD… something. With only built-in storage, you are limited, and Samsung’s similarly spec’d XE303C12 offered an SD card slot, which is more than you’re treated to here.
Despite this, HP’s Chromebook is built very well and is lovely to look at, too. If everything you want to do can be done with a browser, and you’re looking to surf the web, write documents, and do your social networking, and you want it all with a keyboard in a body that won’t weigh down your back, we’d suggest to check the HP Chromebook out.