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HP Stream 11 review: Inexpensive HP Stream 11 wants to be as cloud-friendly as a Chromebook, with Windows 8

If you keep expectations in check, this bargain-basement Windows 8 laptop has good battery life and a decent design.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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6 min read

The pitch for laptops running Google's Chrome OS, known as Chromebooks, is pretty straightforward. Why pay extra for a laptop running Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system, when all you really need is access to a Web browser? For some people, nearly everything they use a PC for is online, from webmail to social media to streaming music and video.

hp-stream-11-product-photos-01.jpg
7.8

HP Stream 11

The Good

The HP Stream 11 looks good for such an inexpensive laptop, battery life is excellent, and it includes a year of Microsoft Office 365 and 1TB of OneDrive online storage.

The Bad

Even running a few tasks at once can slow it down. The touchpad is often finicky, and the onboard 32GB SSD is too small for even casual use.

The Bottom Line

The HP Stream 11 aims to be a cloud-focused laptop, much like a Chromebook, but with the added utility of Windows 8. It's a rock-bottom budget laptop, so don't get your hopes up, but the battery life is impressive.

That argument seems to have resonated, as Chromebooks are now a huge part of the budget laptop market, and several models, including the recent Toshiba Chromebook 2 and Samsung Chromebook 2 , are actually quite good. But, the success of Chromebooks is eating into Microsoft's budget laptop market share, which is a big reversal from several years ago when low-cost netbooks were (briefly) popular.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Microsoft and HP are now actively promoting a new HP line, called Stream. These low-cost laptops and tablets are being sold as essentially Chromebook-style devices, meant for low-power online use, but with the added utility of Windows 8. These systems, including the $200 HP Stream 11 (£179 in the UK, and AU$299 in Australia) are pitched as being cloud-friendly, which is a polite way of saying they're too underpowered to satisfactorily run a lot of standard apps. The Stream includes codes for a one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 (regularly $99, £79, AUS$79), and 1TB of online storage for one year through Microsoft's OneDrive service.

The Stream 11 has a low-resolution non-touch 11.6-inch display, runs an Intel Celeron processor, combined with 2GB of RAM and a minuscule 32GB of solid state storage, more than half of which is consumed by the operating system and related files. In that sense, it really is Chromebook-like, and not idea for local storage of big files or large applications. You can, however, use the included SD card slot to add another 16 or 32GB of space.

The reason you might choose this system over a Chromebook, which is really a more polished (if limited) low-end experience, is that you can install Windows apps such as Photoshop, Office, or iTunes. They won't run great, but they're there if you need them in a pinch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Other products in the new Stream family include the 7-inch and 8-inch Stream tablets, running Intel Atom CPUs, with the 7-inch model starting at $100 (£99 in the UK; only the 8-incher is currently available in Australia for AU$229), and a 13-inch version of the Stream laptop, running the same specs as the 11-inch, starting at $229, £199, AU$379. Both the 8-inch tablet and 13-inch laptop versions will also be available in configurations with 4G antennas for extra, which includes 200MB of monthly data.

Overall performance was roughly comparable to current-gen Chromebooks or basic Windows 8 clamshells and hybrids , faster in some tests, slower in others, and our hands-on time with the system clearly indicated that will not be your all-day, every day computer. The Stream 11 did, however, have one killer feature. It ran for about eight hours on our battery drain test, which was very impressive, given our modest expectations.

There are not many cases where you'll find a ton of utility in a $199 laptop, especially one with the learning curve of Windows 8. But this little blue box did more than we expected, making it a rare budget PC that's also a good value.

HP Stream

Price as reviewed $199, £179, AU$299
Display size/resolution 11.6-inch, 1,366x768 screen
PC CPU 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840
PC Memory 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz
Graphics 64MB Intel HD Graphics
Storage 32GB SSD
Optical drive None
Networking 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8.1 (64-bit)

Design and features

The HP Stream 11 looks nice, at least for a $200 laptop. Skipping the cheap glossy grey plastic of so many budget laptops, it's instead covered with a matte blue (or pink) pattern, with a subtle dotted gradient on the keyboard tray.

The outer surface is fingerprint-resistant, and the body is stiff enough to feel safe to travel with, although everyone who looked at our test system saw a little bit of warping on the base, bowing the keyboard tray up to the center-right. It wasn't enough to make the laptop look truly deformed, but it certainly wasn't ruler-straight.

Thanks to its low-power platform, the system can run without fans, which helps with weight, heat, and battery life. The Stream 11 weighs a modest 2.8 pounds (1.3 kg), and has been, in our experience quiet and cool while running.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The large keyboard feels like it was dropped in from a more-expensive laptop. The island-style keys have minimal wobbling under the fingers, and a deep enough click for longer-form typing. Function keys are reversed, as on most HP laptops, which means you can access commands such as volume and brightness controls without having to hold down the Fn key.

The wide touchpad fared less well, offering two-finger vertical scrolling that worked well, but otherwise touchy performance, including edge-of-pad Windows 8 gesture commands that triggered far too easily.

The 11.6-inch screen has a 1,366x768 native resolution, which is about what one would expect from a budget laptop, but still not great for viewing HD video. The Windows 8 tile interface scales well, however. The screen has a matte finish, which is a plus, but also poor off-axis viewing, again adding to the budget feel.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Keep in mind that this is not a touchscreen, so all your finger-tapping shortcuts in Windows 8 for flipping through apps or entering networking preferences won't work -- you'll have to use a mouse or the sub-standard touchpad instead.

HP Stream ports & connections

Video HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery

For $199, it's hard to expect more than a pair of USB ports, an HDMI output, SD card slot, and a combo audio jack. That SD card slot is especially useful if you need more than the 10GB or so of storage space you'll have left after all the OS and system files are accounted for.

Performance in a system like this is hard to quantify. On one hand, this is a very slow laptop, even compared to other budget laptops. On the other hand, the inexpensive Chromebooks it's most likely to be compared to are similarly limited, and in fact can't even attempt to run the Windows programs the Stream 11 may struggle with.

In extensive hands-on use, the Stream 11 worked well for basic tasks, as long as expectations were kept in check. Keep in mind programs optimized for Windows 8 generally run smoother, so in our tests, IE was faster than the Chrome browser, and most off the built-in Windows 8 apps, such as Weather and News, also worked well.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Running both IE and Chrome Web browser windows, Excel, and streaming a Netflix video, the system creaked under the strain. Navigating my spreadsheet was slow, and the Netflix video stuttered a bit, although switching from the Web version to the downloadable Netflix app from the Windows 8 app store gave us much better video playback.

In the performance tests below, you'll find the Stream 11 compared to other low-cost Windows laptops when running Windows apps, but also compared to two recent Chromebooks, running the browser-based benchmarks we use for Chrome OS. Numbers aside, the Stream 11 worked reasonably well for tasks such as writing documents (including this review) and email.

Battery life was the biggest surprise we got from the Stream 11. In our video playback battery drain test, the system ran for just under 8 hours, at 7:58, longer than we expected and longer than most Chromebooks and low-cost Windows laptops. Note that we use a slightly different version of the test for Chrome OS, streaming online video, versus the local video playback used for Windows systems, but the Stream 11 still appears to offer the best battery life in this price range.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

With very low expectations going in, the HP Stream 11 ended up being a very pleasant surprise. It's a rare system that under-promises and over-delivers, although over-delivering for a $199 laptop still isn't setting the bar too high.

Having tried dozens of budget 10-inch and 11-inch PCs over the years, from older netbooks to newer hybrids, the combination of long battery life and a decent keyboard makes the Stream 11 not only one of the least expensive, but also among the most usable.

Handbrake multimedia multitasking test

Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch) 760Acer Aspire Switch 10 953HP Stream 11 2112
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance; results in seconds

Photoshop CS5 test

Lenovo Yoga 11 310HP Stream 11 690
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance; results in seconds

iTunes encoding test

Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch) 124HP Stream 11 342Acer Aspire Switch 10 372
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance; results in seconds

Video playback battery drain test

HP Stream 11 478Samsung Chromebook 2 426Acer Aspire Switch 10 372Toshiba Chromebook 2 357Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch) 335
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance; results in minutes. Also note that Windows systems use local video playback, Chrome OS systems use streaming video.

Futuremark Peacekeeper

Toshiba Chromebook 2 1694Samsung Chromebook 2 1614HP Stream 11 901
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Sunspider 1.0.2

Toshiba Chromebook 2 214.2HP Stream 11 304.2Samsung Chromebook 2 589
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance; results in milliseconds

Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.

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7.8

HP Stream 11

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6Battery 9
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