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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.
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|
|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.
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.
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.
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jack|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, microSD card reader|
|Networking||802.11AC Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
The Hisense's biggest cuts are in the performance department, but even then, it's actually not that bad for the things you're most likely to use a Chromebook for. It's powered by a quad-core 1.8GHz Rockchip CPU -- you're forgiven if you've never heard of the brand, it's a Chinese chipmaker that Google seems to be embracing in the latest low-end Chrome devices. The system includes 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which you can expand with the aforementioned microSD card slot. You'll also find 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, which makes this a fairly typical Chromebook. Barring the off-brand CPU, this loadout is pretty much identical to the $250 Samsung Chromebook 2 , though that machine packs an Intel Celeron processor.
It handles like a typical Chromebook, too: streaming HD video or Spotify while working in another tab works rather well (barring the audio quality). Your gaming options remain limited, but many of the offerings on Chrome's Web Store work well. Cut the Rope works far better on a touchscreen, but I spent ample time testing the game on the Hisense and can report that it's as maddeningly enticing as ever. Fire up lots of Chrome tabs and things will start to get a little sluggish, but that much is expected from Chrome. I'm not really a fan of Web-based image editors like Pixlr Editor but it works in a pinch, and Adobe's streaming version of Photoshop isn't readily available yet.
The Hisense lasted for 6 hours and 55 minutes on our video-playback battery-drain test. That's not a bad showing. In fact, it's just behind the Samsung Chromebook 2, which saw 7 hours and 6 minutes in the same test. Some models do a fare bit better -- consider the $300 Acer Chromebook 13 , which lasted for 8 hours and 3 minutes. Of course, you could get a pair of Hisense Chromebooks for that price, and just swap to your backup when one runs dry.
The Hisense feels like a true Chromebook, which is something of a backhanded compliment. When Google first pitched these devices, they were ostensibly disposable: all of your files and such live in the cloud, and the machine you were using was little more than a window to the Web.
I realize that $150 isn't exactly under-the-couch-cushions money, but a college student who skimped on beer for a few weekends could easily afford this Chromebook. Spending more will ultimately get you more, of course. The $330 variant of the Toshiba Chromebook 2 offers a 1080p display and better overall performance. The $350 version of the Acer Chromebook 15 also offers a 1080p display and bumps the screen size up to 15 inches.There's also another $150 Chromebook on the way from Haier: it was one of the models Google showed off at a Chrome OS event in March.
The Hisense won't play the latest games or run any downloadable Windows apps, and you probably won't be showing it off to your friends. But you will be able to take notes and crank out papers, binge watch cat videos on Youtube or TV shows on Netflix, and dabble in all that the Web has to offer. Just make sure to use the money you save on a decent set of speakers.
Chrome OS; 1.8GHz Rockchip RK3288 ; 2GB RAM; 16GB SSD
Toshiba CB35-B3340 Chromebook 2
Chrome OS; 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; 16GB SSD
Acer Chromebook 15 CB5-571-C09S
Chrome OS; 1.6GHz Intel Celeron 3205U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; 32GB SSD
Dell Chromebook 11
Chrome OS; 1.7GHz Intel Core i3 4005U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; 16GB SSD