on December 4, 2013
Although I bought My chromebook 14 in the UK, it is not available on amazon UK yet, I had to buy it direct from HP. Like the T-mobile version here, mine comes with a built in HSPA+ radio that gives me superfast mobile internet in the area of London where I live, on par with wifi speeds pretty much. This is the first product I reviewed that got a 5-star rating although perhaps 4.75 stars would have been more accurate. The tiny flaws that it does have are balanced out by the stupendously low price, basically this is a machine you can easily compare to a macbook or a windows ultrabook that costs 4 times as much an it will still hold its own. Obviously this is a Chrome OS device so one has to do their research if they can live with a cloud-based OS and there is a very small learning curve when switching, but honestly Chrome OS is so easy to learn, almost anyone should be able to do it. I also wrote a detailed and critical review looking at every little aspect of the device, meant for chromies who are already sold on the concept but need comparisons with other chromebooks available on the market. For my money, this particular model is the best chromebook you can get out there, factoring in things like price, battery life, 4g connectivity and screen size. Without further ado here are my initial impressions:
Initial Impressions about the HP chromebook 14 UK 3G version and comparison to the Samsung series 3
Feel and Quality
This is definitely a laptop, it feels very different from the samsung, the weight is substantial, it is much bigger and the fan is constantly on and very much audible. I suppose I will just have to get used to the noise, but that is definitely a step back from the Samsung. Some reviewers noted they can only hear the fan when they put their ears next to the keyboard, definitely not the case with me, I hear it all the time when I’m in a quiet room. When I take it to the kitchen, where there is a lot of ambient noise from the fridge, it gets cancelled out and I can’t hear a thing. Most people probably won’t even notice the fan unless they use it at night in their bedrooms.
The keyboard has a different feel to it than the samsung, it has textured keys and they keys have slightly more travel. Annoyingly, the keyboard is narrower than on the samsung despite the bigger size of the machine itself, so you get narrower enter, backspace and shift keys. The keyboard otherwise feels good and it is quite silent to type on, but not as much as on the samsung, perhaps that will change with time. The keys are not as rounded as on the samsung and I must say I prefer the typing experience on the samsung so far, but maybe I’ll get used to it in a few days. There is more key travel on the HP, that is definitely in its favour.
The trackpad is the same width but slightly taller. I feel no difference in practical use, however the HP has a slightly loose trackpad that rattles every time I tap to click, which is annoying, so I find myself preferring to actually click the trackpad. Thankfully the trackpad requires less pressure to click than on the samsung and the noise is more satisfying. The loose trackpad feels cheap, I’m not sure if this is an issue with my machine in particular or if it is more widespread.
The 14” screen makes a huge difference in comparison to the Samsung, I don’t have to put on my glasses and I don’t have to zoom in or squint to see text properly. The bigger screen is the main reason I bought this machine and overall I’m satisfied. I did not find the lower PPI to be an issue, you tend to sit a bit further away anyways. The lack of an anti-glare coating is preferable in my case, text appears to be clearer and more crisp. The screen does reflect when switched off, I see no reflections when it is switched on, I keep it at about 80 percent brightness. Reflections from the blazing sun is not an issue we have to grapple with here in the UK. Maximum brightness appears to be about 10 percent higher than on the samsung, it is definitely noticeable and a welcome change. On the other hand contrast ratios are worse and colours are more washed out than on the samsung. Next to each other, the same background photo shows truer colours on the samsung, the setting sun is more orangey. The HP seems to struggle with contrast, for instance a light skinned person on a white background looks quite bad. Also, I find that I need to tilt the screen quite a bit back to get decent contrast ratios when writing and reading text on a white background, then when I watch videos I have to tilt the screen a bit forward to get better colour reproduction. It seems that constantly adjusting the screen is just something that comes with TN panels. But like I said, overall this is a pretty good screen for the price.
Materials and Build quality
This is where the HP truly shines compared to the samsung. This is a beautiful machine, well made, sturdy, quality materials, and the heft seems to add to the quality feel. The plastics used are much thicker than on the samsung, there is no creak when you pick it up. Mine is the snow white colour which is just amazingly gorgeous, I’m truly in love with the look and feel of this. This all comes at a price though, the bottom half of the machine is twice as thick as the samsung, the height difference is noticeable when you are typing on the table. As for weight, this is no macbook air, I definitely won’t be carrying this around as much. I plan to keep this for home use and take the samsung with me when I’m out and about.
I did not get the opportunity to test this extensively, so these are just initial impressions. My Samsung has increased scrolling performance markedly on the beta channel and when I go to google plus or the notoriously heavy Verge I see no difference between the two machines in normal scrolling. The HP seems to drop frames just as much as the samsung. Where I see a real difference is in loading times, pages load in about half the time on the HP and the waiting time to be able to scroll without jerkiness or checkerboarding is also about half of what you get on the samsung. Same goes for switching between tabs. Where the HP 14 really leaves the samsung in the dust is watching HD videos, there is just no comparison. The Samsung can just about handle HD streaming in netflix, but when it comes to youtube or other flash-based streaming sites, it struggles to play videos smoothly, there are missed frames, jumping and jerkiness. Also, I found that with the samsung switching between resolutions or going full window and back is problematic and really taxes the cpu. No such problems here, the HP plays everything beautifully, HD videos are crisp and fluid, they look beautiful on the large, glossy screen. Perhaps the only drawback of the glossy screen is when you watch dark scenes, you can see your own reflection a bit, but not a huge issue overall. The speakers are loud and clear, they are noticeably more powerful than the one on the samsung. Of course there is zero base, but they are still fine speakers for a laptop. Overall, if you like to watch videos and movies on your chromebook, the HP leaves the samsung in the dust, image quality, fluidity, responsiveness and speaker sound are all superior, but that is to be expected from a bigger machine.
Wifi performance is fine, same as the samsung, picks up signals easily. This model comes with mobile internet included. In the UK, as in the US it is an HSPA+ wireless radio. In the US this is marketed as 4G, in the UK this is considered 3G or 3.5G according to some marketing materials. It is faster than normal 3G, but it won’t be up to LTE speeds. The network provider is Fogg Mobile, a Swedish telecom company who have effectively outsourced the service to Three. I already have a mobile phone contract with Three and mobile internet speeds in my area are relatively fast (Wapping in East London), actually they are usually better than what I get from my BT wired broadband over wifi. Fogg mobile gives you 250 MB data per month free for 2 years, which is only enough to use in an emergency when nothing else is available. I will generally stick to wifi and tethering, but it is a good option to have and the sim is swappable, so you can easily get an unlimited mobile data SIM card from Three for around £15 per month which should give you constant internet coverage without having to use wifi or tethering. The only problem I have with Three is that they don’t always have their own masts, so when you head to central london you have to make do with the very low bandwidth that they manage to rent from other providers and at peak times that is nonexistent in places like the city. Still, you can insert a sim from any provider if they have better service in your area.
I tested HSPA+ vs BT broadband speed in Wapping at 5.30 PM with no one else connected to the wifi network. Streaming speeds were 6537 kbps on three’s mobile network, almost twice of what is minimally recommended for HD video streaming. ON BT wifi I got 9837 kbps, which is around 50 percent higher but in real world use both connection speeds are fine.
I had no chance to test this yet, at the moment I am at 90 percent charge and the machine estimates 7.5 hours of charge left, which seems to fall in line with what most people get. I’d say 8 hours is a reasonable expectation from this machine, but this will go down steeply if you stream HD videos. As for heat, the bottom of the machine is completely cool to the touch and it seems you don’t get the annoying spinning up of the fans that you get from windows laptops and macbooks when you tax the CPU. The Haswell microarchitecture really shines here.
Overall I am happy with my purchase, the HP Chromebook 14 is a significant step up from the Samsung series 3. What you gain in screen size, performance, quality and looks you lose in portability and weight, so you have to examine your usage scenarios to see if this is the right machine for you. My feeling is that for the time being this is the Macbook Pro of budget chromebooks. It is heavier and more expensive than the Acer C720 or or the Samsung, but it will serve you better as a desktop replacement and it is more suitable as a workspace. Built in mobile internet is also a huge plus in my eyes as unlimited data plans are becoming more common in the UK, so you could conceivably use this machine without ever needing to connect to wifi, therefore saving yourself a bunch on a wired broadband subscription. I think that the HP14 offers real value for money, particularly in the UK where laptops are significantly more expensive than in the US even if you factor in the 20% VAT. To give you an idea about the value proposition, the 3G model costs £279 whilst the Wifi only model is priced at £250 at the online UK HP store. To find a windows laptop that has comparable specs and build quality, you would have to pay at least twice as much, with apple you will have to pay 3-4 times as much. When it comes to chromebooks, the ACER C720 and the Samsung both cost £180 at PC World if you factor in the £20 cashback offer, but both have only 2 GB of ram. For the added quality and screen size, I think £70 is a reasonable price to pay if portability and weight isn’t paramount. It is also worth keeping an eye on special voucher codes, I managed to buy this model at a 10 percent discount, so I paid only £251 for it, there might be similar offers in the future.