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Hisense Chromebook review:

A cheap Chromebook that cuts the right corners

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The Good The Hisense Chromebook is cheaper than its peers, the battery will get through a single workday, and its keyboard is comfortable to type on.

The Bad The speakers deliver tinny audio, and the display's viewing angles are narrow. The off-brand Rockchip CPU offers decent speed, but can't keep up with the performance of Intel's offerings.

The Bottom Line The Hisense Chromebook offers just enough power and comfort for far less money than the competition.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Battery 7.0

The $150 Hisense Chromebook is a Walmart exclusive that lives up that inexpensive, nigh-disposable ethos Google seemed to be targeting when Chrome OS was first pitched. Low prices come at a cost though, usually in terms of build quality, performance, battery life or all three. And this little tyke isn't about to flip that script: it includes a meager display, an off-brand CPU, and a dull plastic body.

But the Hisense costs only $150 (that converts to £103, or AU$195) . That makes it one of the cheapest Chromebooks we've seen to date -- most models start at around $250. Chrome OS still isn't for everyone: you won't have access to familiar apps, and you can't readily install new software, as you're limited to what the Web has to offer. It's ultimately for those of us who spend the majority of our time working in a browser -- Google Chrome, specifically -- and you don't need full Windows apps. In that regard, the Hisense gets the job done, offering just enough performance for Web browsing at a price even the most cash-strapped college student won't balk at.

Design and features

hisense-chromebook-9858.jpg
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Hisense's Chromebook is a dainty little thing. Josh Miller/CNET

Unsurprisingly enough, $150 doesn't get you very much. The Hisense is a dainty thing, weighing a readily toteable 2.3 pounds, and is 0.6-inch thick. The body is primarily plastic, though that's broken up by a metal palmrest. The whole device feels utilitarian, a black slab built for getting things done and then getting out of the way.

Hisense Chromebook Samsung Chromebook 2 Acer Chromebook 13
Price as reviewed $150 $250 $299
Display size/resolution 11-inch 1,366x768 screen 11-inch, 1,366x768 touchscreen 13-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen
PC CPU 1.8GHz Rockchip RK3288 2.58GHz Intel Celeron N2840 Nvidia Tegra K1 (armV7)
PC Memory/Internal storage 2GB RAM/16GB SSD 2GB RAM/16GB SSD 2GB RAM/16GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac 802.11ac 802.11ac
Operating system Chrome OS Chrome OS Chrome OS

If you temper your expectations, it succeeds. The 11.7-inch screen has a 1,366-by-768-pixel resolution. Like the rest of the machine, it's functional, if not especially pleasant to look at. It's fairly bright, and reflections aren't an issue in standard office environments -- or most anywhere, really. Colors aren't as vibrant as those you might find on sharper, crisper displays, but images don't look washed out, either. Contrast degradation at wider viewing angles is problematic though: sit too far forward or back, or tilt the screen a few degrees too far, and it becomes entirely unreadable. There's no touchscreen, but Chrome OS isn't exactly optimized for touch, so no worries there.

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The keys are a little mushy, but it's an otherwise pleasant experience. Josh Miller/CNET

The keyboard is a pleasant surprise. It's full size, spreading out over the entire base of the Hisense to give even my oversized paws plenty of room to maneuver. The keys are large, and while they're a bit mushy they're generally comfortable to type on. I do miss the occasional stroke when my hands move a little too quickly and I don't apply enough force to a particular key. But it is, for the most part, a fine typing experience considering the price. The clickpad sitting beneath the keyboard is nice and responsive -- another unexpected bonus, although not close to what you'd find in a more expensive Windows or OS X machine.

Technically speaking, there are a pair of speakers sitting underneath the front lip, but you'll be better off sticking to headphones. The tinny warbling these crank out is fairly disappointing, though that's expected at this price point. Worse still, they're underneath the front lip: use the Hisense on your lap or set it on a table and you're already muffling the audio. That rules out pretty much all listening scenarios.

Connections, performance and battery

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There aren't too many ports to choose from. Josh Miller/CNET

Port selection isn't great. A pair of slower USB 2.0 ports sit on either end of the laptop, while the HDMI output jack on the left lets you connect the Hisense to a larger display. The right side offers up the headphone/mic jack and a microSD card slot. The microSD card is flush with the side of the chassis, and I find popping the card out a bit annoying as my nails are generally trimmed, but it's not exactly onerous.

Ports and connections

Hisense Chromebook
Video HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 2.0, microSD card reader
Networking 802.11AC Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

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