Chrome OS, redux
So, here's the thing about Chrome OS: it's fast-booting and excellent for Web-based work, and there are a growing number of apps, both for free and for purchase in the Chrome Web Store that enable additional functions. But, these apps all feel like browser extensions, and most of Chrome OS really feels like a specialized super-browser than any sort of Mac/Windows (or even iOS/Android) killer.
You're basically working in browser-land on a Chromebook, for better or worse. Google's cloud-based offerings keep getting better: Google Drive is a solid repository for files, and more apps are becoming offline-enabled. Beware, though: you can boot up a Chromebook offline, but I had mixed results. One time it wouldn't let me log in because I wasn't online: another time, it did. You can always close the lid and put the Chromebook to sleep and go offline later, but apps generally need to be offline-enabled before they work. Google Drive requires a setting to be checked off, and a file sync to kick in; some games need to be launched once in order to launch in offline mode. Most of the time, working offline feels like you're working in a cached browser window. I was able to create a document in Google Drive, close the window, then open Google Drive and resume that document, then sync it to my account once I was online, but it never felt as seamless as a basic iOS/Android writing app. Let's face it: Chrome OS is meant to be always-on. There's no other way about it on a Chromebook.
Chrome OS is great for casual multi-user home use: there are no files, really, to accidentally erase, and a guest-only mode sets up safe and separate browsing. For kids, it's a help. And in school settings where a connected "dumb terminal" type of computer might be preferred over a file-storing tablet or laptop, the Chromebook is refreshingly lean.
, Google's TV-streaming HDMI plug-in gadget, is supported on this Chromebook: you can mirror Web page tabs, or transfer streamed Netflix and YouTube videos over to the Chromecast stick and onto your TV. It's a nice added feature if you're ready to spend an extra $35 or already own a Chromecast, but fuller-featured streaming boxes like the Roku don't cost that much more, even if they can't mirror.
Mirrored Web pages show up cleanly on a big TV, but you'll be using this strictly for reading and photo browsing: video streams from Web sites get unwatchably choppy. Google Cast mirroring is marked as "beta," and rightfully so.
Ports: Why no SD card slot?
Remember that $249 Samsung Chromebook? Well, it actually had more ports than this HP one: an HDMI port, USB 3.0, and an SD card slot to boot.
The HP Chromebook 11 has two USB 2.0 ports, and a Micro-USB charge port that doubles as a Slimport video-out, which requires a separate cable from Micro-USB to HDMI. Between that video port and Chromecast, you could get away without needing HDMI, but why eliminate the SD card slot? SD cards are a cheap way to add extra storage space; dropping it from a Chromebook with only 16GB of onboard storage is unfortunate.
It has dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, so it's pretty well-connected wirelessly.
Performance: Fast enough, but Netbook-esque
We were disappointed by the sometimes-sluggish , which had the same Exynos processor as this HP Chromebook. And that was a year ago. Don't set your expectations here much farther than "higher-end Netbook," and you'll be fine. Multiple browser windows handled decently, and I didn't experience a lot of slowdown in most cases. The Chromebook 11 could handle Chromecast mirroring fine, too. Based on SunSpider benchmarks, you're looking at basically the same performance as last year's $250 Samsung Chromebook. So, that's a little disappointing.
I played a few games, including the HTML5-based Spelunky, and found mixed results. Spelunky, hardly a taxing game, got a little choppy-funky. A tile-based game, Entangled, played just fine.
Battery life is a little less enchanting: the Google claim is six hours, and we were able to play a streamed Hulu video for 4 hours and 35 minutes. Playing offline video files would let the Chromebook last longer, but who uses a Chromebook offline, really? Expect roughly five or so hours of connected activity. Like many other Chromebooks, this one retained its charge well when I closed the lid for standby mode, and booting up is very fast.
Is this the Chromebook's coming-out party?
Here's the problem: if you're spending around $250 on a device that checks e-mail and goes on the Web and plays videos, you're probably going for a tablet. If you want something that does more, stores files and acts as true home "hub" for your software and personal data, then you'd want a PC or laptop. And keep in mind, there are other Chromebooks that cost less -- as little as $199 -- or, for a few dollars more, promise better performance: the larger coming out soon costs $299 and has a Haswell-based Intel processor.
A Chromebook isn't really a laptop, exactly; it's more like a laptop-shaped device that works with a set of cloud-storage solutions and a Chrome operating system that can be, for a lot of people, just enough to get work done. Chromebooks are the budget cars of the computer world, or maybe they're the smart cars. But, in a world of pretty darn capable tablets that are getting cheaper and cheaper, a laptop-like Chromebook is still a tough sell -- especially when it can't do as much as a cheap Windows laptop.
This Chromebook comes close to fulfilling Chrome's identity: a simple, clean, always-on way to get work done on the Web, without messy software or downloads. Kids or relatives who want to borrow your laptop can use this as the "loaner car"; if you just want to write and use an uncompromised Web-browsing experience, this might be the answer over a tablet.
But, until Chrome and Android merge into something that does both online and offline, and tablet and laptop, equally well, Chrome OS still feels like an experiment ... albeit one that's getting more intriguing every day.
If you're in the market for a cheap laptop and want something to type on versus something to casually Web browse with, consider the HP Chromebook 11. But keep in mind this is the station car of computers; it'll get you to where you need to go, but it's not equipped to live your full life on it, unless your life is cloud- and Google-based.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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HP Chromebook 11
Chrome OS; 1.7GHz Exynos 5250 GAIA (ARMV7); 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 16GB SSD
Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550
Chrome OS; 1.3GHz Intel Celeron 867; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; Intel HD Graphics; 16GB SSD
Dell Latitude 10
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB MMC SSD