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A closer look at the Chromebook 11 laptop: HP has got it right

Google’s Chromebook offerings haven’t exactly hooked consumers. The Chromebook Pixel offers super-premium hardware, but the £1,049 price tag is considerably higher than most people will pay. The Samsung Chromebook, on the other hand, is inexpensive and feels like it. Now Google is blending these ideas to create a product that has the potential to finally make Chrome OS viable for the general public. The new £229 HP Chromebook 11 takes some design cues from the Pixel, but includes some more modest hardware from the older Chromebooks.

The HP Chromebook 11 is being billed as “inspired” by the Pixel, and that’s a believable claim. While the new Chromebook doesn’t have the precisely machined aluminium body of the Pixel, its polycarbonate shell has been put together with more care than past Chromebooks. The design is also playful with a variety of colour accent options and very clean lines. This doesn’t look like just another low-end laptop with Chrome installed on it – this notebook might not be premium, but it looks the part.

Getting the price of the Chromebook 11 down to a reasonable level required some sacrifices beyond the materials, though. This device lacks the Intel Core i5 CPU from its larger sibling, instead making do with the same Samsung Exynos 5 dual-core ARM chip that powered the old Samsung Chromebook. In fact, most of the specs are identical between the two models including the 2GB of RAM and 16GB SSD. The upshot of this design is that the Chromebook 11 has no fans and is completely silent.

The Chromebook Pixel’s selling point, and one of the reasons for its exorbitant price, was the super-high-resolution touchscreen which boasted 2560 x 1700 pixels. The Chromebook 11 has a slightly smaller 11in non-touch display and the resolution is the old laptop standby of 1366 x 768. The panel is apparently high quality and very bright considering the price of the machine, though. This was a necessary compromise to get the price down, but the smaller panel should make the pixel density of that resolution somewhat more tolerable.

The Chromebook 11 supports both charging and video-out through the same microUSB port. It might be a minor feature, but this shows thoughtfulness in the overall design. The laptop can be charged with the same cable virtually all phones use, and even the video-out standard (Slimport) matches recent Nexus devices.

It’s not that the Chromebook 11 avoids compromises – it simply makes the right ones. You can’t get to a sub-£250 price and keep the super-high-resolution screen or the Core i5 CPU, but Google and HP have figured out a way to make the device compelling anyway.

This machine plays to the strengths of Chrome OS by being small, portable, and very inexpensive. While the Chromebook Pixel is a nice machine, it was never going to make people care about Chrome OS – but the HP Chromebook 11 is the right niche for Chrome OS to be in.