HP Chromebook 11 review: Affordable style for life in the cloud

Google's latest Chromebook brings a fresh look to the Chrome OS universe -- and for $279, the laptop has some interesting things to offer.

1 2 3 Page 3
Page 3 of 3

Like I said, though, there is a limit. It's one most typical users won't ever encounter, but if you're a freak-geek like me and sometimes end up working with more than 20 tabs open -- especially ones with resource-intensive services like Google+ or online image editors -- the Chromebook 11 may start to struggle. For those sorts of usage scenarios, you really need a higher-powered system.

But those are uncommon extremes, and even with a fair amount of stuff running, the Chromebook 11 holds its own. As I'm writing this review, for instance, I have 20 tabs open across five different windows. Even with that above-average workload, the system is doing fine: Each window is performing well, and switching tabs is snappy and lag-free. If I refresh a page or open a new tab at this point, things start to take a little longer to load than they should -- the signs of my hitting that upper limit I've been discussing.

The Chromebook 11 never sounds like it's working hard, though: With its fan-free processor and solid state drive, the machine is completely silent the entire time you use it. The bottom of the laptop gets ever-so-slightly warm when it's running, but it's barely noticeable -- far less than the heat you feel from many laptops (Pixel included).

HP's Chromebook is listed for "up to six hours of active use," which has been more or less in line with what I've experienced. I've actually managed to squeeze a little more use-time out of the system -- even with nonstop multitasking-heavy use -- but it's remained well within the six- to seven-hour realm.

In terms of networking, the Chromebook 11 supports dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. An LTE-connected model of the computer is expected to become available at some point soon; specific launch and pricing details for that system have yet to be released.

The Chromebook 11 has 16GB of onboard storage. It also includes 100GB of cloud-based Google Drive storage for two years -- an upgrade that'd set you back nearly $120 if you paid for it outright. After the two years elapse, any files you've stored utilizing that space will remain in your account and accessible; you'll just lose any unused space from the allotment unless you choose to renew the subscription.

In addition to the Drive space, the Chromebook 11 comes with 12 free sessions of GoGo Inflight Internet service and a 60-day subscription to Google Play Music All Access, Google's on-demand song streaming service.

The software

Chrome OS is a very different kind of computing experience than what you get with a Mac or Windows PC, as the platform is cloud-centric and revolves around Web-based services and applications instead of traditional local programs.

That means instead of using Microsoft Office, you use Office 365 or Google Docs (or the native document- and spreadsheet-editing now built into the OS). Instead of Photoshop, you use a cloud-based image editor like Pixlr. With the advent of a category of programs called packaged apps, there's a huge variety of applications that run in the browser but look and act like regular programs, too. It's an atypical model, and it comes with some interesting pros and cons.

Because of the platform's cloud-centric nature, all of your apps, settings and data are always synced and consistent across devices. You don't have to deal with bloated software, messy drivers or cumbersome software upgrades; everything just works, and all of your software -- including the OS itself -- is updated automatically and silently over time.

The setup also negates the need for virus protection, as the very architecture of Chrome OS makes such precautions unnecessary. The cloud-based model also allows Chromebooks to get faster over time instead of growing increasingly bogged down and poky as traditional computers tend to do.

And contrary to what you may have heard in the past, Chrome OS is quite capable without an active Internet connection; you can browse through the scores of offline-ready apps in Google's Chrome Web Store to see for yourself. There's really very little you can't do offline on a Chromebook these days.

All considered, Chrome OS certainly isn't for everyone -- if you rely on specific local programs for your work or don't care for the idea of cloud storage, a Chromebook probably won't be the right fit for you -- but if you already live mainly on the Web, the platform can be a refreshing change that provides the experience you want while eliminating many of the hassles traditional computing requires.

I've dabbled in Chrome OS myself since its launch and now use it on a near-daily basis. You can visit some of my previous coverage for a more in-depth look at the software and what it's like to use in the real world -- like my two-week-long hands-on evaluation and my myth-busting list of misconceptions about the platform.

Bottom line

HP's Chromebook 11 is an excellent entry-level laptop for users who want to embrace Google's Chrome OS platform -- either as a full-time computing solution or as a supplementary system for around-the-house and travel-oriented use.

The new Chromebook has a clean, modern design, a great-looking display and impressive speakers. It also utilizes a micro-USB port for charging, which will make life easier for anyone who owns Android devices.

The computer does, however, lack USB 3.0 and microSD support, and it isn't designed to handle power-user-level activity. The limited local storage and cloud-centric software also won't be an ideal solution for everyone.

Within the Chrome OS universe, though, HP's Chromebook 11 is an attractive new option at an enticing price. With the series of higher-powered Haswell-based Chromebooks expected to arrive later this fall, Google's Chrome OS army is looking to be in fighting shape -- and ready for battle.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. For more Android tips and insights, follow him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 3 Page 3
Page 3 of 3
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon