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The next generation of Chromebooks - A complete review
on October 14, 2013
==UPDATE 12/26/13== Well, the HP Chromebook is back on the shelves after the whole issue with the chargers overheating. After a couple months with this Chromebook and the other model, I still say the Acer Chromebook is a better value--but for those who don't multitask as often and just prefer a well designed laptop for a low price (it does look good!), this is probably the best model for you.
This is getting to be a long review, so I've split it up into multiple sections. Feel free to jump to the section which you think will help you the most.
1) Upgrades from last year
2) Alternative models
3) First impressions
I'll be updating this review as I use the Chromebook more often as well, so check back once in a while! As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments section, and I'll be happy to answer them.
==UPGRADES FROM LAST YEAR==
In 2012, with the Samsung Chromebook becoming the #1 best selling laptop on Amazon, it seemed like there was hope after all for the Chromebooks. It was something that not many people expected, but the thin, silent design, combined with a decent battery life and a low price point managed to attract enough people to give Chromebooks a chance.
One year later, the time has come for its successor--the HP Chromebook 11. Is it a worthy successor? This review will take a closer look at what changed over the last year as well as explore some of the alternative options.
Let's start with the hardware. The design of this Chromebook is completely different compared to Samsung's model from last year. This is partially because it's made by HP, but also because Google teamed up with HP to design this new Chromebook. There's two color choices now, black and white. If you pick the white version, you also have the option to add Google-colored accents to the edges of the keyboard, while the black version is more understated, with an all black finish. Whether you like the new design or not is subjective, but it does retain the thinness (.69 inches) and is actually .1 pounds lighter than the previous Samsung model. There's also a new LED light bar on the back, similar to the Pixel. It lights up with the Google colors when it's on, and it looks pretty nice. Personally, I think it's a well designed laptop. It's simple, lightweight, and the unsightly bump from last year's model is gone.
The keyboard and touchpad are still extremely good. It's comfortable to type on, and overall has a much sturdier feel due to a new magnesium frame that they put in to support the plastic shell. There were some complaints about the Samsung model from last year regarding how flimsy it felt and how easy it was to bend it, and they definitely improved it here. Also, they've moved the speakers to underneath the keyboard, similar to how Apple does it. This way, the speakers do not get muffled when you put the notebook on your laps. Speaker quality is actually pretty decent for a sub-$300 laptop, but headphones are still going to be the obvious first choice for audiophiles.
Another major improvement is the screen. Google's making a big deal about the brightness of the new screen, but it truly is better than last year's model. Though it retains the same 1366x768 resolution (which is fine for a 11 inch laptop), the viewing angles and the contrast is much better. It is a glossy screen though, so unless you absolutely loved the more matte feel of last year's model, then the screen's also a big improvement.
The best hardware improvement for me personally is the new power port. It's now charged through a Micro USB cable, a cable that's currently used to charge most Android phones as well as the Amazon Kindles. As someone who travels a lot, this would mean just packing one cable to charge all my devices, something that I think adds a lot of convenience. Another advantage is that the abundance of Micro USB cables makes it easy to find a replacement should you ever lose it(you probably have one lying around in your house!). Note that it does charge slower if you use another cable: the one that comes with this Chromebook has been optimized for it. With that being said, the HP Chromebook 11 does lose the HDMI port found in the previous model, but it's still possible to connect it to your TV. To do so, you'd have to buy a Slimport adapter and then connect the HDMI cable from there. It's not a big hassle, but it's still something worth mentioning.
All of these changes mentioned above have been mostly good and welcomed improvements to last year's model, but perhaps it's the parts that haven't changed which are the most disappointing. Unfortunately, Google has decided to not upgrade any of the internal aspects of the Chromebook, so it still retains the same ARM based processor found last year's model, the 16GB of flash storage, and the 2GB of RAM. Battery life remains more or less the same as well, at around 6 hours. Considering the brisk pace technology moves at, I think it's hugely disappointing that Google is still using last year's chips, and it's the one major flaw with this Chromebook. One of the biggest changes in technology this year was the introduction of Intel's 4th generation Haswell processors, giving solid processing power while drastically increasing power efficiency. The new Macbooks are using it, and some of the new Chromebooks are too, increasing their battery life to around 9 hours per charge. One might argue that Chromebooks don't require much processing power, but with websites and web apps becoming more advanced every day, I think it's disappointing that none of the internal hardware was upgraded. Note that overall performance isn't bad, but it's not great either. It's the exact same as last year's model - most websites I tried run smoothly, but some of the more graphically heavy websites stutter when you're trying to scroll. HD video playback is relatively steady, but if you have too many tabs open, the quality suffers. For the pages most people visit, like Facebook, Youtube, Gmail, etc., I thought this Chromebook handled it pretty well as long as I didn't have too many tabs open.
In regards to the software, this is still running Chrome OS, and if you used any of the Chromebooks before, you'd be familiar with it's capabilities and limitations. There's no real changes here, since all Chromebooks are continuously updated with the most recent version of Chrome OS, but for those looking at the Chromebooks for the first time, here's a little rundown on how the Chrome operating system works. At its core, it's the Chrome web browser, and only the Chrome web browser. Though the pictures in the advertisements shows a desktop and wallpaper, don't be fooled: it's not a traditional PC. Therefore, if you use programs like Microsoft Office, Photoshop, iTunes, etc., know that you won't be able to use any of those programs on a Chromebook. However, there are substitutes for most of those programs online, such as Google Docs, Picasa, Google Music, etc. The advantage of having such a simple system is speed: it boots up in less than 10 seconds, and you're instantly connected to the web (provided you have Wi-Fi). Therefore, if most of what you do on a computer is browse the web anyways (Facebook, E-mail, Youtube, etc.), then a Chromebook allows you to do all of that very quickly.
Overall, this Chromebook is definitely an improvement over last year's Samsung model, but the lack of internal changes makes it really hard to recommend if you're looking to upgrade from the Samsung model. For people looking into Chromebooks for the first time, I'd say that this isn't a bad model - it's relatively cheap at $279, it's well designed, and it's overall performance is still solid. For people looking for a "cute" second computer, I do think this is a great model. However, I'd still recommend giving the other models announced this year a look (see below).
Even though this is Google's new flagship Chromebook - the one they're promoting as the Chromebook "for everyone", there are other options coming out.
Acer's C720 Chromebook (Acer C720 Chromebook (11.6-Inch, Haswell micro-architecture, 4GB))
I've been using this model for the last couple days and I must say I prefer this model over the Hp model. It's just so much zippier: websites load faster, scrolling is more responsive, and it handles multiple tabs better. It also has better battery life and more input/output ports. Sure the screen isn't as good, but it's not terrible either. Unless you really desire an attention-catching device, I'd recommend the Acer Chromebook over this model. I've written a full review for the Acer, so feel free to read it for a closer look.
HP's Chromebook 14 (HP Chromebook 14 (Snow White))
HP announced this as an update to last year's 14 inch model, which was moderately successful. They've completely redesigned it, and I think it looks much more elegant. It'll come in multiple colors for $299. It'll also include the new Haswell processors, giving it a 9-hour battery life. I think this is a great model for those who want a larger screen and do not mind the increased weight.
Google also packages this Chromebook 11 with some extra perks, including 12 sessions of GoGo In-flight Wi-Fi, as well as 100GB of Google Drive storage for 2 years. If you are a frequent flyer, those 12 sessions alone makes the Chromebook pretty cost-efficient. I'm not certain if the other Chromebook models include the GoGo WiFi, but they all include the Google Drive storage. Also something worth mentioning is that this HP Chromebook 11 model is fanless due to its processor, so it's absolutely silent. The other models do have fans, but in my opinion, the sound difference is negligible.
When I first heard about this Chromebook, I was pretty excited. I looked at a bunch of pictures, saw the price tag, and I thought to myself, "Now here's the Chromebook I've been waiting for". Prior to this, I've used the Samsung Chromebook S3 as well as the original CR-48 Chromebook test model, mainly for taking notes in class. After opening the box and turning it on for the first time, I was ecstatic, because to be honest, this screen looked great, especially compared to the older models. The Chromebook in general looked great. I loved the color bar in the back, the clean design, and the keyboard. It was light and portable, and it looked very...attractive (as attractive as a computer can be I suppose). Setting it up was easy as well: you connect to your Wi-Fi, enter in your Google credentials, and then it syncs with your Google account, and all your bookmarks and apps are automatically transferred over. Anyone who's used a Chromebook before would be used to this.
Bringing it to class was also a pleasure. It fits into one of my smaller bags, and it was light enough to be comfortable to carry. I thought the keyboard and trackpad were pretty awesome - they remind me of the Apple's keyboard, and I think that's a pretty high compliment. I'm a fast touch typist, and I was able to maintain my normal WPM with few errors while taking notes. Midway through the day though, I was working on a research project and had a bunch of tabs open and the Chromebook began to feel a bit slow: pages were loading slower and the scrolling wasn't as smooth. I attribute to the fact that Google decided to use last year's chips as I mentioned in the section above, as this was something that would happen with the Samsung model as well. This was frustrating for me, because I thought surely by now, Chrome would run smoothly on Chrome OS. This is the sole reason I'm giving this model 3 stars.
I got around 5.5 hours of battery life, so that's a bit less than advertised. Nevertheless, I did find the charging cable useful, and I was able to use it to charge both my phone and the computer.
With this year's updates, I'm sure Chromebooks will continue to be a rising star. This model, looks especially good. It's one of the best looking laptops that I've seen at this price point, and really raises the bar for low-end Chromebooks. However, if looks aren't everything for you, some of the other models equipped with the Haswell processors are especially worth looking into. While this HP Chromebook 11 is well designed - the screen is great, the speakers are decent, the keyboard is great - I'm slightly concerned about it's performance.When someone buys a laptop, they expect it to last them at least a couple of years, and I'm not sure how long a computer with a chip from the previous generation will be able to keep up.
- Great screen
- Great keyboard
- Great sound for a sub-$300 laptop
- Overall design is eye catching
- The processor is outdated, leading to sluggish performance at times
- Cannot be taken apart, parts are hard to replace (Cannot increase RAM for example)
- Less ports compared to previous generations
- Battery life is good compared to last year's models, but only mediocre compared to this year's models.
The HP Chromebook 11, with its solid keyboard and fantastic screen, allows you to get some serious work done -- and look good while doing it. If you can deal with a mediocre processor and battery life (and of course, Chrome OS), this is a great model. Otherwise, look elsewhere.