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
|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|
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.
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.
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.
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