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HP Chromebook 13 review: An affordable HP Chromebook with MacBook Air appeal

The HP Chromebook 13 is a slim and portable alternative to the pricier Apple MacBook Air.

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Xiomara Blanco
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Xiomara Blanco

Associate Editor / Reviews - Tablets and monitors

Xiomara Blanco is an associate editor for CNET Reviews. She's a Bay Area native with a knack for tech that makes life easier and more enjoyable. So, don't expect her to review printers anytime soon.

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5 min read

If a Chromebook and the Apple MacBook Air had a baby, it might look like the HP Chromebook 13.

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7.8

HP Chromebook 13

The Good

The HP Chromebook 13 has a lightweight, portable and posh aluminum design.

The Bad

It's more expensive than other Chromebooks, and the Chrome OS is naturally limited.

The Bottom Line

The HP Chromebook 13 satisfyingly combines the cloud-based simplicity of the Chrome OS with a stylish modern design, even if it's expensive for a Chromebook.

This HP laptop has a slim and sleek aluminum design that almost rivals the $999 Apple MacBook Air in portability and polish. Its all-metal, anodized aluminum chassis is more durable and eye-pleasing than less expensive, plastic Chromebooks.

However, with configurations starting at $499 and going up from there, it's expensive in comparison to most Chromebooks, such as the $299 Acer Chromebook 11 or $149 Hisense Chromebook.

If you're interested in a laptop for casual use, like streaming Netflix, reading email or checking Facebook, most Chromebooks fit the bill. And if you don't mind paying extra, the HP Chromebook does it with faster performance and more style.

HP Chromebook 13 looks as good as a Macbook Air for half the price

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For the binge-watcher

  • 13.3-inch screen
  • 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution; 3,200 x 1,800-pixel resolution
  • B&O-branded audio

The HP Chromebook's screen looks sharp and bright for everything from reading Reddit threads to streaming "Stranger Things." But as I sometimes forgot, evident by the fingerprint smudges on its screen, it lacks a touchscreen. (It's common for Chromebooks to have touchscreens.)

The laptop is light enough to comfortably prop up on your lap in bed while rewatching "Friends" for the 89th time and doesn't get too hot even after long video viewing marathons. The screen also has great viewing angles, so no matter how it's tilted, the image is clearly visible.

Above the keyboard there's a speaker grille that stretches across its entire length. The B&O-branded dual speakers are loud enough to watch a movie with a friend or two, but sound quality is tinny at high volume.

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Backlit keys are always a plus.

Josh Miller/CNET

For the writer on the go

If you're carrying around a laptop everyday for work or school, the less cumbersome, the better. And as much as I love a big screen, sacrifices have to be made for portability.

The HP Chromebook 13 hits that perfectly portable 13-inch sweet spot. It was as unintrusive as the 13-inch MacBook Air that I carry to work every day. Like my MacBook, it barely made a dent in my bag and wasn't a burden to bring along to after-work happy hours (don't worry, I kept it in my bag the whole time!) or last minute errands.

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Packed with two USB-C ports

Josh Miller/CNET

Anything smaller than a 13-inch laptop makes for a cramped keyboard, and the HP's compact keys took me some time to get used to. Though I quickly got comfortable with it., I still preferred the more spacious feel of typing with my 13-inch MacBook Air.

The keyboard is also backlit, making it easy to see in dimly lit environments, but it can't flip over to use the laptop as a tablet, like the Acer Chromebook 11's keyboard can. If you're flirting with the idea of a laptop-tablet hybrid, that's something to consider. (I already have a tablet, so I never had the need to use the laptop in that manner, making it a moot design point for me.)

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The HP Chromebook 13 comes in a few different configurations.

Josh Miller/CNET

For the casual user

  • Chrome OS 64
  • 32GB internal storage
  • USB port 3.1
  • 2 USB-C ports
  • SD card reader
  • Headphone jack

Available models

Price $499$599$819$1,029
CPU Intel PentiumIntel Core m3Intel Core m5Intel Core m7
RAM 4GB4GB8GB16GB

Like all Chromebooks, this one runs Chrome OS. Unfortunately, the simplified operating system can't run programs like Photoshop or Final Cut, and you can't download apps on it the way you can on an Android device --yet.

This lack of OS functionality -- and the fact that the OS is free -- is why Chromebooks are cheaper than a Windows or Apple laptop. But if most of your computer activity is cloud-based and revolves around using a browser, then this won't be a deal breaker.

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Streaming HD video was smooth as butter.

Josh Miller/CNET

If you only need a laptop for reading email, casually browsing the internet and checking Facebook, the HP gets the job done. Though the bare-bones Acer Chromebook 11 and Hisense Chromebook are cheaper options that also get the job done, the HP has a leg up with its bigger -- yet still portable -- design and faster performance.

Speaking of fast performance, the HP is a step beyond the typical Chromebooks because it uses a Core m5 processor (like the 12-inch Apple MacBook) instead of the cheap Celeron chips found inside models like the Acer Chromebook 14. It can handle more complex cloud-based tasks, like multiple active tabs, with less slowdown.

Specs compared

HP Chromebook 13Lenovo ThinkPad 13 ChromebookAcer Chromebook 14
Price as reviewed $819 $845 $355
Display size/resolution 13.313.314
PC CPU Intel Core m5Intel Core i5-6300U @2.4GHzIntel Celeron Quad-core N3160 @1.6GHz
PC Memory 8GB8GB4GB
Storage 32GB32GB32GB
Operating system Chrome OSChrome OSChrome OS

Google Octane

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook 30415HP Chromebook 13 27178Acer Chromebook 14 8474
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

JetStream

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook 179.72HP Chromebook 13 154.68Acer Chromebook 14 47.171
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

While using the HP, I had no complaints about its performance. There was no lag when switching between tabs, websites loaded quickly and viewing HD video streams was always smooth. Most of the time, I forgot I was using a computer that couldn't even run a full version of Photoshop. I was pleasantly surprised by how seamless its performance felt.

Granted, the review model of the HP Chromebook I tested was the Intel Core m5 version. That makes it more comparable to the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (review coming soon) instead of the Acer. The Lenovo has a regular Core i5 CPU, which makes it more like a standard mainstream laptop. This is why it outperforms the HP (and slaughters the Acer) in benchmark testing.

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It's affordable, but not cheap.

Josh Miller/CNET

To state the obvious, high-end Chromebook models perform better than cheap ones, but since most of what you're doing with a Chromebook is web surfing or using cloud-based tools, the extra expense of a better CPU for a Chrome OS device may not be the best investment, especially if you're trying to keep the costs low.

During my time with the HP Chromebook 13, I was never disappointed by its battery life. With heavy use, it lasted me about a day and a half. It averaged about 9 hours in our CNET Labs battery testing. That's pretty average for a Chromebook.

Better than your average Chromebook?

Like any good laptop, the HP Chromebook 13 comes in a few different models. The $499 base model covers all of the basics, and the more expensive variations offer even faster processors and more RAM. The most expensive one runs a staggering $1,029, but for that much you can buy yourself a MacBook Air or a premium ultrabook like the Razer Blade Stealth.

When compared to other Chromebooks, the HP is expensive, but faster and sleeker. Skip the expensive souped-up versions, since you can find a better deal in the $999 price range, but the $500 is right up your alley if you don't mind being attached at the hip to the cloud.

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7.8

HP Chromebook 13

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Battery 8
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