HP’s $299 Stream 11 Windows 8 laptop reviewed
3.8Overall Score
Price (RRP): $299 Manufacturer: HP

Remember when laptops used to be expensive? HP’s Stream 11 is here to show that’s no longer the case, with netbook-style computing made for a budget price of $299. Is this ideal for the little ones?

Features

HP might not have been seen by many a consumer lately, but the company appears to be back in a big way, showing off machines made for every day consumers who don’t want to fork out an arm or a leg for a decent computing experience.

In this computer, you can take that philosophy and plug it into the student market, with the Stream, a computer loaded with Windows 8, a small amount of storage, and a complimentary one-year version of Office 365, making it ideal for students.

More than just a copy of Office and Windows, there’s a computer here, and you’ll find an Intel Celeron N2840 processor clocked at 2.16GHz and running alongside 2GB RAM and 32GB storage.

That storage amount can be upgraded slightly thanks to an SD card slot located on the side of the computer.

Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 runs out of the box here, with the aforementioned copy of Office 365 ready to use in a one-year license.

An 11.6 inch screen is how you’ll see things on this computer, with this display running the high definition resolution of 1366×768, with a matte finish applied to this display.

Connections are fairly plentiful here, at least for an 11 inch computer, with one USB 2.0, one “superspeed” USB 3.0 port, one HDMI, and the typical 3.5mm headset jack, as well as the aforementioned SD card slot.

Wireless connections can also be found here, catered through Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11a/b/g/n and even ac connectivity (802.11ac).

A webcam can also be found at the top of the screen, providing a 720p HD video capture, ideal for video conferencing.

The battery is not removable (3-cell, 37Wh).

Performance

We’ve seen a slew of budget computers in the past few months, as Microsoft and PC manufacturers began to work together to face the onslaught of the other budget machine, the Chromebook, a computer that ran an operating system based on Google’s Chrome browser.

In the time since Microsoft’s low-cost Windows concepts were shown, we’ve seen tablets out from the likes of HP, Pendo, and Toshiba, and now it’s time to see what the computers can do, because you shouldn’t be forced into buying a tablet if what you really want is a laptop.

And a laptop is exactly what the Stream 11 is, a clamshell entry into the HP Stream series of computers, of which Australia has seen a tablet variant of, the Stream 8.

In the Stream 11, though, we’re looking squarely at laptops, with a keyboard fit for an 11 inch computer, trackpad in the centre. and a 11.6 inch screen, with the entire system running Windows 8.1 out of the box.

We’ll start with the design (as we so often do), and here it’s clear that HP has actually taken the time to do something a little different and focus on the likelihood that the Stream will be given to kids.

As such, there are two colours available for the Stream 11 — blue and pink — with a metallic gradient found on the inside of these colours along the keyboard, while the rest of the case is coloured plastic to match the choice you’ve made.

And we like it. HP could have gone with a thoroughly generic black computer if it had wanted to, or made a silver plastic to look like brushed aluminium, but it instead embraced the fact that this would probably head to school and made something fitting of the people who would likely be using it, with playful colours that are easy to see in a bag, and a plastic body that actually doesn’t look bad.

Good work there, HP.

Open it up and you’ll find a power button along the inside, with a bright white keyboard staring back at you, inside that metallic gradient that looks quiet snazzy.

Switch the power on and the screen comes to life, loading Windows 8 in no time, which we suspect is that 32GB solid-state storage helping it along with the 2GB RAM.

Upon first glance, it’s easy to see where HP has cut down on performance for the budget $299 price, and the screen is one of those areas: it’s an older style of display and fits in-line with the Twisted Nematic (TN) panels from computers where you had to set the screen to the right angle to see the colours correctly.

It also lacks the oomph in brightness you might come to expect from laptops, and while it’s easy enough on the eyes — and supports a high definition resolution of 1366×768 — this is by no means a spectacular screen.

But it definitely works, and in a machine where you’re looking from one specific place, as well as hitting below the $400 mark, we’re fine with this sort of panel, since it’s not like a tablet and needed to be used from several angles.

Get to using the machine and for the most part, you’ll be relatively happy, with the Stream letting you load apps in both the modern Windows 8 and older Windows desktop (7) interface, which means apps from old and new both run here.

The storage can post a bit of a problem some of the time, because the included 32GB doesn’t mean there’s a lot, even if Microsoft is trying to sweeten the deal with 1TB of online storage you’ll probably never use. Seriously, it’s 32GB here, though you do get a full-height SD card slot, so expanding the storage for movies, music, and photos shouldn’t prove difficult at all since SD cards are so cheap these days.

Using the computer will be like using a regular laptop without a touchscreen because, well, this is a touch-less Windows experience.

To help you get around, you’ll find a decent keyboard and a reasonable mouse, and we’ll happily say that we like the keyboard much more than the mouse.

For the keyboard, there’s a good amount of travel with a solid click, and you won’t find yourself needing to exert too much energy to make the keys strike down on the letter. We typed this review on the keyboard and found minimal errors, which is a solid result from our point of view. While it’s not our favourite keyboard ever, certainly for the size, it’s not half bad.

The trackpad could do with some work, though, HP going with a rectangle about as wide as the space bar positioned a little to the right. Obvious buttons can’t be seen, but they’re available, found underneath the trackpad as you use it.

You’ll find pinch and zoom gestures working here, as well as the standard two finger scroll, though the click can sometimes not register as well as it should, an issue which may come from a very shallow button. In a way, it reminds us of the sort of button-less trackpad LG once used in its laptops, with an odd and unfulfilling click available when you’re trying to hold the mouse down to select text.

Certainly, the trackpad will get you through using the computer, though if you need to get more in depth with using the mouse, we’d certainly grab an external mouse for longer uses here.

Over to the battery, and we’re pretty satisfied with what the HP Stream 11 can do here, providing around 5 to 7 hours in our tests, which saw us writing this review, surfing the web, reading emails, and general use of the computer.

That’s not bad at all, and a result that should see a student through the six hour school day provided they’re not using the computer through lunch and recess, which isn’t too shabby at all.

And if they are, the small power charger is at least another positive.

Being a budget machine, you can’t expect the best of the best, though HP’s Stream 11 does nail a few things down, such as the balance, the feel, and a keyboard that is comfy and offers enough travel and no change to the layout to make it a breeze to get work done on.

That said, the inclusion of 32GB of storage isn’t a win, especially when only 17GB is available to the user out of the box. That means anyone who needs to install a fair amount of apps will probably need an SD card pretty quickly, though we’re at least happy that the included space isn’t down to the paltry 16GB we see from so many other brands.

No touchscreen is one that some people may find a touch frustrating, especially since Windows 8’s desktop mode isn’t loaded by default out of the box, which is a strange omission from HP since it can certainly enable that.

We’ve included instructions on how to do that below, but given the lack of a touchscreen — definitely a cost cutting thing — it would have been handy to see Windows 8.1 move straight to the desktop, though this will be much, much easier when Windows 10 rolls around later this year.

Right click on the taskbar on the desktop and select "properties". From here, select the "navigation" tab and you should see the screen above. In the bottom quadrant is a box that says "When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start." Check that and hit "apply" or "ok". You're done!

Conclusion

While the screen and mouse could certainly be better, HP’s Stream 11 packs a solid punch when it comes to a laptop for anyone on a budget.

Frankly, we’re reminded of netbooks circa five or six years ago, with an 11 inch screen that works at the right angle and a computer experience that anyone can take with them.

It’s worth noting that this is totally different from the budget Windows tablets we’re seeing of late, and while some of these beat the Stream 11 from screen choice and touch experience (which helps to use Windows 8), the Stream 11 is a great choice because of the solid and comfortable keyboard packed into a computer that can handle its own and does so with a design that doesn’t come across as ordinary.

At $299, HP’s Stream 11 is ideal for people who need a keyboard and is totally worth checking out.

HP’s $299 Stream 11 Windows 8 laptop reviewed
Price (RRP): $299 Manufacturer: HP
Matte screen; Full-size SD card slot included; Decent battery life for the size, equating to between five and seven hours; Comfy keyboard;
32GB storage isn’t enough, with only 17GB available to the user; No touchscreen; Screen viewing angles aren’t the best, though not as bad as other budget machines we've tested; Windows 8 desktop isn’t automatically loaded (though this is easily fixed);
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
3.8Overall Score
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