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

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 Pentium Intel Core m3 Intel Core m5 Intel Core m7
RAM 4GB 4GB 8GB 16GB

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.

google-chromebook-hp-8151-001.jpg

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 13 Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook Acer Chromebook 14
Price as reviewed $819 $845 $355
Display size/resolution 13.3 13.3 14
PC CPU Intel Core m5 Intel Core i5-6300U @2.4GHz Intel Celeron Quad-core N3160 @1.6GHz
PC Memory 8GB 8GB 4GB
Storage 32GB 32GB 32GB
Operating system Chrome OS Chrome OS Chrome OS

Google Octane

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook
30415
HP Chromebook 13
27178
Acer Chromebook 14
8474

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

JetStream

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook
179.72
HP Chromebook 13
154.68
Acer 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.

google-chromebook-hp-8151-001.jpg

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.