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 encourage you to take the plunge. The slim design and refined looks are augmented by some generous freebies – like free Google Drive storage space, and a trial of unlimited music – but it's the small improvements and innovations that help set this notebook 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 favourites.
The Chromebook 11 has a sleek new design, with a clean white exterior and rounded corners which are reminiscent of the old white Apple MacBook, but with a splash of colour. On the bottom of the laptop are two large rubbery feet, brightly coloured in Google's familiar hues (red, blue, yellow, and green).
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 and Samsung Series 3 Chromebooks to an IPS panel. The wider colour gamut means that colours pop more, and the display has much wider viewing angles. Unfortunately, while the quality of the panel is improved over previous Chromebooks, it's still limited to a resolution of 1366 x 768. 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 microUSB charger, like the ones bundled with 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, or misplaced during travel – you can use any other standard microUSB charger instead of having to 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 £230 device. There is no flexing at all when lifting the laptop by one corner, and despite weighing a light 1.04kg, it doesn't feel flimsy or low quality.
The lid of the Chromebook 11 is adorned with glowing multi-coloured stripe, similar to that seen on the Google Chromebook Pixel. 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 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, these are: 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 coloured stripe around the keyboard, a small accent that matches the coloured footpads of the underside.
The keyboard also functions as a hidden speaker grille, 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-£250 laptop I've tested.
The Chromebook 11's few ports are all found on the left-hand side of the system. There's the microUSB 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 scant, 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 with the Samsung Series 3, the Acer C7 and the HP Pavilion Chromebook. The lack 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.
With regards to HDMI, however, the HP Chromebook 11 does have two distinct alternatives. The first is streaming via Chromecast – when it becomes available over in the UK – which plugs into a TV via HDMI and streams video content over Wi-Fi. If you absolutely must have an HDMI connection, the microUSB 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 Wi-Fi 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) 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-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 traditional Windows or Mac laptop, but it 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 in the gaps pointed out by naysayers.
To entice new users of Chrome OS, Google offers a couple of 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 (which is £9.99 per month normally).
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 and 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 and 13 minutes, easily beating out the Acer C7 (which managed 4 hours and 12 minutes) and falling only minutes behind the long-lasting Samsung Series 3’s 5 hours and 25 minutes.
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). This inexpensive laptop does, however, manage to bring some new and improved elements to the budget Chromebook category, boasting a bright IPS display, a unique microUSB charger, and a magnesium-reinforced design. The Chromebook 11 is definitely a good value machine, there's no doubt about that.
Manufacturer and Model
HP Chromebook 11
Samsung Exynos 5
Google Chrome OS
802.11n (2.4GHz + 5GHz dual-band)