The HP Stream succeeds where many others have failed: making cheap look good. And I mean cheap in a literal sense -- the best laptops start around $1,000, while the HP starts at $200. It's £149 in the UK, or around AU$300 in Australia.
Almost identical to last year's model, but now running the Windows 10 operating system -- and, unfortunately, a slightly slower processor -- the Stream brandishes an 11.6-inch screen and a beautiful, vibrant shade of blue that I absolutely love. (It also comes in a magenta-ish color.) Like a vase of fresh flowers or a little puppy's tummy, it makes me smile, and, judging by a few positive comments I got while using it in public, I'm not alone.
It's also available in the US in a 13-inch version for a list price of $30 more, but we've seen the online price difference as little as $5. The larger model weighs 13 ounces (372 grams) more and its battery is about 25 percent less prodigious.
Opening up the plastic laptop shell reveals a bright, white, perfectly spaced keyboard on top of a polished blue keyboard tray. In a departure from the solid matte blue found on the outside, the HP Stream has a glossy, gradient woodgrain pattern on its keyboard tray, adding more pizazz to its design.
And that surprisingly not-tacky white keyboard? It's the electronic equivalent of a writing with a silky, smooth, gel ink pen. In addition to its low price and stellar design, it has a long-lasting battery -- better than 8 hours in our video rundown test -- and includes a year of Microsoft Office 365 and 1TB of OneDrive online storage (a $70 value).
To be sure, at this price, you're definitely making some compromises. HP downgraded the Stream 11's processor speed, meaning this model is slower than last year's. It also has a measly 32GB SSD that requires you to always upload to the cloud or make good use of the microSD card slot or two USB ports. Additionally, the touchpad response is rather slow. And the screen isn't anything to write home about: it doesn't have a touchscreen, and the 1,366x768-pixel screen resolution is underwhelming. (Pro tip: connect it to a TV or monitor with the HDMI output, and it supports resolutions up to 1,920x1,080.)
Still, it's a full Windows 10 laptop for $200, and perfect for Facebooking, Netflixing and streaming audio to a Bluetooth speaker. Unlike a similarly priced Chromebook, it can run things like Java (still a necessary evil for some of us), as well as full apps such as Photoshop and Microsoft Word, not their browser-based equivalents.
While it's not as slick or light as an iPad, it costs less -- you can get two Streams for the price of the most affordable iPad Air 2, or one for less than the iPad Mini 2. And while competition on the bargain laptop front is heating up -- check out the similar Lenovo Ideapad 100S, for instance -- the HP's divine design would tip the buying scale for me.
In fact, if all cheap things looked as good as the HP Stream 11, maybe the word "cheap" wouldn't have such a negative connotation.