- Review Date: 10/16/2013
- Bottom line: If you've been thinking about a Chromebook, HP's Chromebook 11 might be the one that sways you thanks to a slim and stylish design, lots of complimentary extras, and battery life to take you through the day.
- Pros: Extremely affordable sub-$300 price. Sleek design and solid construction. Lots of extras, like free Google Drive space, free music, and complimentary in-flight internet. Bright IPS display. Solid battery life. Micro USB charging is an unexpected innovation.
- Cons: Minimal port selection, even for a Chromebook. Performance lags slightly behind other models. Chrome OS still has some limitations.
If you've been on the fence about trying out Google's Chrome OS, the HP Chromebook 11 might be just what you need to reach the tipping point. The slim design and refined looks are matched with a handful of generous freebies—like free Google Drive storage space, a trial of unlimited music, and free inflight Wi-Fi—but it's the small improvements and innovations that help set it apart. Considering this isn't HP's first crack at the Chromebook, it's a definite step up, putting the budget-friendly laptop on the same level as past favorites.
The Chromebook 11 has a sleek new design, with a clean white exterior and rounded corners that call to mind the old white Apple MacBook, but with a splash of color. On the bottom of the laptop are two large rubbery feet, brightly colored in Google's familiar hues (Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green). The first models were available only in the white and blue color scheme, but the other colors will be available soon, and an unadorned black version is also available.
There are a few distinct features of the Chromebook 11 that stand out. The first is the display, which has upgraded from the basic panels used on the Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) and Samsung Chromebook Series 3 (XE303C12) Chromebooks to an IPS panel. The wider color gamut means that colors pop more, and the display has much wider viewing angles. Unfortunately, though the quality of the panel is improved over previous Chromebooks, it's still limited to 1366 by 768 resolution. At this price, however, the 720p picture quality is no surprise. It's also brighter than most laptop displays, with 300 nits of backlight. Placed side by side with the Acer C7, the HP Chromebook 11 clearly has the better display, even with the same low resolution.
The charger is also unique, as the HP Chromebook 11 is the first laptop to use a micro USB charger, like the ones you see on your tablet or phone. As a result, you can now share the charger between multiple devices, and if it ever gets lost—forgotten at home, left in a library study carrel, or misplaced during travel—you can use any other standard micro USB charger instead of having to special order a unique cable online.
The construction of the Chromebook 11 is a combination of high- and low-end, with a lightweight magnesium frame providing rock solid support for the chassis, and a white glossy exterior, which looks nice, but feels like the plastic it is. It's an odd juxtaposition, but the result is a design with a more premium feel than you might expect from a $279 device. There is no flexing at all when lifting the laptop by one corner, and despite weighing a light 2.3 pounds, it doesn't feel flimsy or low quality.
On the lid of the Chromebook 11 is a glowing multi-colored stripe, similar to that seen on the Google Chromebook Pixel (64GB, LTE). Though the size and price clearly put the HP Chromebook 11 alongside the Samsung and Acer models, this is the also the first inexpensive Chromebook to draw design elements from the premium-priced Pixel. In addition to the illuminated stripe, there's also the magnesium interior frame.
The keyboard is a Chrome keyboard, with the same sort of chiclet keys and Chrome layout seen on other Chromebooks. Caps Lock has been switched for a dedicated Google Search key, and along the top of the keyboard are several Chrome-specific function keys (Across from left to right: Escape, Back, Forward, Reload, Full Screen, Next Window, Brightness Down/Up, Volume Mute/Down/Up, Power). What's different, however, is the addition of a a colored stripe around the keyboard, a small accent that matches the colored footpads of the underside.
The keyboard also functions as a hidden speaker grill, with sound playing from beneath the keys. The sound quality isn't terrible, and while the sound gets a little reedy at high volume, there's none of the buzzing that is so common in low priced systems. The bass is, as expected, rather weak, but the placement of the speakers directly beneath the keyboard means that you feel it far more than you would with any other configuration. All things considered, the HP Chromebook sounds better than any other sub-$300 laptop I've tested.
The Chromebook 11's few ports are all found on the left-hand side of the system. There's the micro USB charging port mentioned above, along with two USB 2.0 ports and a combination headphone and microphone jack. While the port selection on other Chromebooks has always been scanty, it's a bit more sparse on the Chromebook 11.
A few features you won't see on the HP Chromebook 11, include a USB 3.0 port, full-size HDMI, or an SD card slot. These features were offered on the Samsung Series 3, the Acer C7 and the HP Pavilion Chromebook. The loss of USB 3.0 isn't a huge loss, though it does mean you'll be slowed down when using an external hard drive or high-capacity flash drive. The loss of an SD card slot, however, will be felt by anyone who might want to upload photos or videos from a camera or camcorder. For SD Card use, you'll want to pick up a USB connected card reader.
In regards to HDMI, however, the HP Chromebook 11 does have two distinct alternatives. The first is streaming via Chromecast, which plugs into a TV via HDMI and streams video content over Wi-Fi. If you absolutely must have an HDMI connection, the micro USB port—the same one used for charging the laptop—also supports SlimPort, which can output video to HDMI through a SlimPort adapter.
The Chromebook 11 is equipped with a dual-band WiFi adapter, pumping out 802.11a/b/g/n signal at both 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz, which should offer better connectivity in crowded buildings (like apartments or dorms) where a dozen or more Wi-Fi signals may crowd the airwaves. It's also equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 for connecting wireless peripherals. While this model is Wi-Fi only, Google will be selling an LTE 4G-equipped model sometime later this year.
The Chrome operating system is a lightweight OS designed around Google's Chrome browser. Google has built out the Chrome concept to provide many (if not quite all) of the same tools and functions you would use with a tradition Windows or Mac laptop, but uses Chrome Apps and Extensions to provide those same capabilities in a cheaper, web-connected system. With apps like Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides replacing most functions of Microsoft Office (it's compatible with Office files, too), photo editing via apps like Google+ Photos and Pixlr, video editing with apps like WeVideo, and offline modes providing Gmail and Google Docs even when away from the web, the Chromebook is a cheap way to get a lot of things done. Plenty of the Chrome faithful have embraced the always online paradigm, and constant development continues to improve Chrome to fill the gaps pointed out by naysayers.
To entice new users of Chrome OS, Google offers a few free extras. To encourage the switch to cloud storage, the Chromebook 11 comes with 100GB of additional storage space on Google Drive. To highlight the entertainment and multimedia options of the Google ecosystem, Google also throws in a 60-day trial of Google Play Music All Access, which gives you unlimited ad-free listening to the entire Google Play music library, create custom radio, and unlimited skipping. For those who expect to take to the air, the Chromebook 11 also comes with 12 free sessions of GoGo Inflight Internet, for use when traveling by air.
The HP Chromebook 11 is equipped with a Samsung Exynos 5250—the same 1.7GHz dual-core ARM processor found in the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. Paired with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of local flash storage, the processor is well suited to the lightweight Chrome OS, but it's actually a little bit slower than other Chromebooks we've seen that opt for Intel Celeron processors; when tested in BrowserMark 2.0, it was slower than both the Acer C7 or HP's own Pavilion Chromebook 14. Despite this, the HP Chromebook 11 is largely on par with the well-received Samsung Series 3, and offers snappy boot times (under 8 seconds), reasonably nimble browsing, and doesn't require any cooling fans—you can thank the Exynos processor for the sleek, vent-free design.
While past Chromebooks, like the HP Chromebook 14 and the Acer C7, have opted for removable batteries, the Chromebook 11 uses an internal battery that can't be removed. This allows for a slimmer, seamless design, and thankfully, the battery life is pretty good. In our battery rundown test, the HP Chromebook 11 lasted 5 hours 13 minutes, easily beating out the Editors' Choice Acer C7 (4:12) and falling only minutes behind the long-lasting Samsung Series 3 (5:25).
The HP Chromebook 11 isn't perfect, with all of the limitations of any other Chrome OS device (though those limitations are likely fewer than you might imagine). The inexpensive laptop does, however, manage to bring some new and improved elements to the inexpensive Chromebook category, boasting a bright IPS display, a unique micro USB charger, and a magnesium-reinforced design. It's definitely a good value, but it doesn't replace the Editors' Choice Acer C7, which offers a larger port selection and larger local storage for those not yet fully migrated to the cloud.