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Sitting down in front of the $329 HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook, one could be forgiven for thinking this is just another in a long line of slim plastic laptops with budget prices. I previously reviewed the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z, an ultrabooklike 15-inch laptop with a similar black plastic body, and this looks like its slightly smaller cousin.
Besides having a larger screen than other currently available Chromebooks, making it feel more like a standard Windows laptop, The Pavilion 14 also has a familiar Intel Inside sticker on its wrist rest. In this case, it indicates an Intel Celeron processor, a low-power chip also found in some Acer and Samsung Chromebooks, but rarely if ever seen in a Windows laptop anymore.
As with the smaller 11- and 12-inch Chromebooks we've reviewed, this system operates almost entirely within the Chrome Web browser, which largely looks and feels the same as the Chrome Web browser you may be using right now on your Windows or Mac OS computer. But, that browser window is almost this computer's entire universe. I say almost, because Chrome OS now has a more pronounced (if still rudimentary) file system than the very first Chromebooks did.
This HP model only includes 16GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage, but Acer's C7 Chromebook includes a standard 320GB platter hard drive. In either case, photo, music, and video files can all be stored and sorted there, by downloading online or sideloading from a USB drive or SD card.
This HP model sits right in the middle of the range of other current Chromebooks, but often not to its benefit. There are less expensive models, as well as ones with mobile broadband antennas (originally pitched as a must-have feature for Chrome), more onboard storage, and longer battery life, and there's even Google's oddball $1,299 Retina Display-style touch-screen Pixel Chromebook. Aside from its larger 14-inch screen, the Pavilion 14 Chromebook is a competent effort, but doesn't stand out in any of these categories.
|Price as reviewed||$329|
|Processor||1.1GHz Intel Celeron 847|
|Hard drive||16GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics|
|Operating system||Chrome OS|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.4x9.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.8 pounds / 4.5 pounds|
Design and features
More so than any other Chromebook we've seen before, the HP Pavilion 14 is easy to mistake for a traditional Windows laptop. That's because it's not a diminutive 11- or 12-inch Netbook-like box. Instead, this is a 14-inch laptop, following the same design cues as HP's other midsize Pavilion models.
If it were not a Chromebook, HP would no doubt call this a Sleekbook, which is the company's proprietary name for laptops that are thin and light, but for a variety of reasons do not conform to Intel's strict guidelines for using the official ultrabook name. This is, in some sense, a hybrid of a Chromebook and an ultrabook.
The plastic body feels solid and dependable, considering this is a $329 laptop, but corners have clearly been cut for price. The flat-topped island-style keyboard looks similar to the versions found on other HP Pavilion laptops, but the keys themselves feel cheap and a little wobbly under the fingers, and the entire keyboard has a grating, hollow clacky sound when typing. Points, however, for the full vertical row of navigation buttons along the right side, including Page Up, Page Down, and Home keys. Those make moving around long Web pages easier, especially considering the lack of a touch screen and the low-end feel of the touch pad.
That pad is of a reasonable size for a 14-inch laptop. Like most budget laptops, the touch pad here has physical left and right buttons, rather than a larger clickpad-style surface. The pad is simply stamped into the plastic wrist rest via a raised dot pattern, rather than having its own low-friction surface -- another sign of a low-cost device. For general navigation, the touch pad works fine with single-finger input. The two-finger scroll move is a very important one, and here it's a little finicky, with a hint of lag that makes precise scrolling difficult. I ended up using the Page Up and Page Down keys more often on long pages.
The glossy 14-inch display could be considered a highlight, if only because it's larger than screens on other Chromebooks. It has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, common enough in budget laptops, but these days it's on the low side for a 14-inch screen. So many laptops, including the Google Pixel Chromebook, show what you can do with ultra-high-resolution displays, although those screens are in systems that cost a good deal more. Even for a budget laptop, the image on this 1,366x768-pixel display is a bit fuzzy and washed out, but it's important to keep in mind this is a $329 system, so you should expect some compromises.
|HP Pavilion Chromebook 14||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
Connections, performance, and battery
The larger screen and chassis of the HP Pavilion 14 mean that there's room to fit in a few more ports and connections than Chromebook users are used to. In this case, that means an SD card reader, three USB 2.0 ports, and a full Ethernet port, that last being increasingly uncommon in even slim Windows 8 laptops.
Performance is a tricky thing to quantify in a Chromebook, as much of it is dependent on what you'll want to do, and whether the Chrome OS is particularly well-suited for those tasks. For example, the current version of Chrome includes (very) basic photo-editing tools, limited to brightness and contrast adjustments, plus cropping and rotation. Photoshop it's not, and since you can't actually install a program such as Photoshop on a Chromebook, it's often one of the main examples people call up to show off why a Chrome OS device won't work for them (iTunes is another oft-cited example). There are a couple of online cloud-based tools that can help with Photoshop-style editing in a pinch, but it's far from an ideal solution.
Google of late has specifically emphasized the offline capabilities of Chrome, which are largely tied in to the offline modes that have been built into Google's various tools, such as Google Docs, over the years. A few other Chrome-compatible Web tools also work offline, and Google has set aside a section of its Chrome OS app store (really just a dressed-up set of links to Chrome OS versions of Web sites) to help find them.
But if you're connected to Wi-Fi, you'll likely end up using similar apps and tools to Windows and Mac laptop owners. Netflix, for example, works well (to be fair, Google pitches it as a key Chrome app). Amazon's music cloud player also works well, as does Outlook.com, Microsoft's updated answer to Gmail. But as the Chromebook is not capable of running truly separate apps, from AIM to TweetDeck, everything ends up in a browser tab, and you end up with a half-dozen or more open tabs within a few minutes while trying to set up for even basic productivity.
Despite it running some tests faster than an Atom-powered system, we still ran into situations where the Pavilion 14 Chromebook felt sluggish. Web pages often took an unreasonably long time to load or render, or would force themselves to reload if we spent too much time in another tab or browser window. The wonky touch pad made quickly navigating between windows and tasks slower than it should be, all of which added up to a laptop that feels -- as we've noted regarding other Chrome OS systems -- like a discounted experience compared with a Windows or OS X PC.
Despite the unchallenging hardware and lack of high-end features, the Pavilion 14's battery life was merely OK, at 2 hours and 54 minutes on a special streaming version of our video playback battery drain test. This Chrome-specific test uses the laptop's Wi-Fi connection, so it's more intense than our usual Windows video playback test. Still, an older Chromebook, the Samsung 550, ran that same test for nearly 90 minutes longer.
The HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook has to be considered on two levels. First, on its usefulness as a Chromebook in a world dominated by Windows and OS X laptops; and secondly as compared with the small number of other available Chromebooks, most of which are competing on price and ease of use, leaving very little margin for error when it comes to properly balancing price and features.
As a platform, Chrome OS is better than it might seem on paper. Using the Pavilion 14 as my primary PC for several days, I found the Chrome OS handled about 80 percent of my needs in a fairly transparent way. It's the other 20 percent, where the system doesn't respond the way a Windows user would be accustomed to, that gets tricky. It's rarely plainly stated, but like a tablet or netbook, a Chromebook is most workable as a secondary, part-time PC.
In the Chromebook ecosystem, the Pavilion 14 is bookended by systems that either cost less, or offer more and better features (such as mobile broadband, smaller and lighter bodies, or more storage). At $329, it's a good price for a midsize laptop for Web surfing, but it doesn't stand out as best-in-breed in this still-evolving category.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook
Chrome OS; 1.1GHz Intel Celeron 847; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM Intel HD Graphics 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