Is it time to ditch Windows and Macs for Chrome OS? HP's Chromebook 14 certainly makes the case. For those who mainly use their notebook to surf the Web, watch videos and send email, this Chromebook (starting at $299; $349 as configured) may be all you need. With a large 14-inch display, long battery life, free 4G and an attractive design, HP's laptop will force you to take a second look at this lightweight OS.
No longer relegated to the bargain bin of design, Chromebooks are finally attractive. The HP Chromebook 14 is a prime example, with offerings in three colors (snow white, ocean turquoise and coral peach). The lid, bezel and bottom of the notebook are all coated with a soft-touch finish in one of these playful colors, while the deck on all versions is a sand-blasted aluminum. This chassis is arguably even nicer to look at and hold than the all-plastic Toshiba Chromebook, which itself gives off a classy MacBook Air vibe.
In the center of the lid is a chrome HP logo, while the Google Chrome logo is in the upper left corner. Atypically for most notebooks, which have a black or silver keyboard, the keys on all versions of the HP Chromebook are white. While this color really pops on the all-silver deck, we wonder if it will appear dingy over time.
At 13.56 x 9.44 x 0.81 inches and weighing 4 pounds, the 14-inch HP Chomebook is, naturally, slightly larger and heavier than the 13-inch Toshiba Chromebook, which measures 12.9 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches and weighs 3.3 pounds. Still, the HP is one of the lighter laptops with its size screen.
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Keyboard and Touchpad
The island-style keyboard on the HP Chromebook provided a very comfortable typing experience. Like all Chromebooks, HP's keyboard has OS-specific keys: the Caps Lock key is replaced with a Search key, and in lieu of a function row are buttons for Forward, Back, Refresh, as well as maximizing and minimizing the browser window.
The keys didn't offer as much resistance as we'd like, and felt a little mushy. Using the KeyHero Typing Test, we averaged 57.68 words per minute with a 98.42 percent accuracy, about 9 wpm slower and 1 percent less accurate than our desktop keyboard.
A spacious 4 x 3.75-inch touchpad beneath the keyboard was plenty spacious for scrolling, and the integrated mouse button felt snappy. We also liked that you can switch between natural and inverse two-finger scrolling. Still, unlike Windows-based notebooks, there aren't many multi-touch gestures available, and using pinch-to-zoom in Google Maps was very erratic.
The glossy 14-inch 1366 x 768-pixel screen on the HP Chromebook kicked back a fair amount of reflections, but displayed movies crisply and vividly. The red and blue in Spidey's suit popped when we watched a 1080p trailer for "Spider-Man 2," and the exploding police cars seemed to jump off the screen.
With a brightness of 209 nits, the HP Chromebook is on a par with the Toshiba Chromebook (also 209 nits), but is about 30 nits below average (244). The Acer Chromebook C720P is a dimmer 183 nits.
The stereo speakers on the underside of the Chromebook 14 delivered above-average audio, especially for a notebook in this price range.
Midtones, such as John Coltrane's tenor sax on "In a Sentimental Mood," rang through clearly, as did some of the higher tones of the accompanying piano. However, the snare drums were a bit muddy, and bass was a bit lost. We had a similar experience listening to Jay-Z's "Encore." Lower notes were drowned out, and the high end was mushy.
At 89 decibels, the HP Chromebook cruised past the thin-and-light average of 82 dB, but it's not a match for the 94 dB of the Toshiba Chromebook or the 91-dB Acer C720P.
After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the Chromebook 14 stayed cool, only reaching 89 degrees Fahrenheit on the middle of the underside. That's comfortably below our threshold of 95 degrees. The touchpad (77 degrees) and the space between the G and H keys (80 degrees) also remained cool to the touch.
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Ports and Webcam
On its left side, the HP Chromebook 14 boasts two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and a combo headphone and mic jack. On the right is one USB 2.0 port, an SD Card reader and, in our configuration, a micro SIM card slot.
The HP Truevision HD webcam offered accurate colors, but not the sharpest picture. Our skin tones looked accurate, as was our brown, white-and-blue-checked shirt, but everything looked somewhat fuzzy.
Made for those who only need to perform light tasks and spend the majority of their time connected to the Internet, Google's Chrome OS is the simplest operating system you'll find on a laptop.
The entire interface consists of a plain desktop with icons in the lower left and right corners. On the left hand side, you'll find an icon that opens the Chromebook's app launcher, which houses any apps associated with the Google account you use to log in to your device. There's also a shortcut to the Google Chrome browser right next to it.
Similar to Windows 7, the right hand side displays the time, battery and Wi-Fi. Clicking on this area will let you manage settings, which include turning off Wi-Fi, logging out of your account, adjusting settings for the Chrome browser and shutting off the notebook.
If you usually use your notebook for checking email, browsing websites, working in Google Drive and streaming video, you should be able to get by just fine with a Chromebook. And, since apps that live in the cloud are heavily sandboxed, Chrome OS is very secure.
Chrome OS currently has 33,614 apps, according to ChromeOSApps.org, a website that keeps track of apps for the platform. Although far fewer than the 100,000 apps available for Windows 8, you'll find such recognizable names as "Angry Birds," "Bejeweled," Spotify and The New York Times. Surprisingly, Google Earth isn't yet available for Chrome, in any form.
Google divides its Chrome Web Store into a few different categories, such as Business Tools, Education, Lifestyle, News & Weather, Games and Utilities.
Many Chrome OS apps live in the Chrome browser, but Google has made an effort to make Chrome OS apps feel more like a traditional desktop with packaged apps. These apps run in their own window on the Chrome OS desktop outside of the browser. Packaged apps include photo-viewing app 500px, "Tank Riders," Pocket and Any.do.
One of the biggest drawbacks to the Chromebook platform is its limited use when offline, but Google has been working to address that concern. The Chrome Web Store features 38 packaged apps in the "For Your Desktop" section, which means these apps will work without an Internet connection.
That doesn't mean the experience won't be limited in certain cases, however. Simple games like "Angry Birds" worked just fine offline, but we could only access the Flow feature in 500px rather than the full list of options, which includes Editors' Choice, Popular, Fresh and Search.
It's also important to note that you'll have to toggle some settings in certain apps to get them up and running offline. For example, you must grant access for Gmail to work in offline mode before you lose your Internet connection, and you have to enable Offline Mode in Google Drive as well. Fortunately, enabling these settings just once allows you to access Gmail and Google Drive without a Wi-Fi connection.
Inside the HP Chromebook is a 1.4-GHz Intel Celeron 2955U processor, 2GB of RAM, Intel HD graphics and a 16GB SSD, the same specs as the Toshiba Chromebook. However, in our synthetic tests, the Toshiba proved slightly faster.
On the Peacekeeper browser test, the HP's score of 2,771 was about 200 points less than the Toshiba (2,920), but still bested the category average of 2,203 by a comfortable margin.
Still, the HP Chromebook booted into Google's Chrome OS in a blazing 6 seconds, nearly twice as fast as the Toshiba (11 seconds), and more than twice as fast as the average (14 seconds). The Acer C720P took just 8 seconds.
When using the Chromebook for what it was intended--surfing the Web, watching videos and writing documents--the notebook was speedy enough, and easily kept up with us as we slung "Angry Birds" across the screen. The Chromebook 14 also quickly rendered photo edits made with Picasa and the built-in photo editor.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi with the brightness set to 100 nits), the Chromebook 14's 4-cell 51-Watt-hour battery lasted 7 hours and 57 minutes. That's an hour longer than the thin-and-light laptop average of 6:52.
By comparison, the Toshiba Chromebook's 4-cell, 52-Watt-hour battery lasted a very long 8 hours and 2 minutes streaming Hulu video with the screen at 40 percent brightness. On the same test, the HP Chromebook lasted 6:42.
HP offers four different configurations of the Chromebook 14. Three cost $299, and have a 1.4-GHz Intel Celeron 2955U processor, 2GB of RAM and a 16GB SSD; the only difference is the color.
The fourth (our review unit), the HP Chromebook 14-q070nr WWAN 4G-- HSPA+, not LTE--costs $349, and has the same specs as the first three, but also includes 200MB of 4G data per month for free through T-Mobile for as long as you own the notebook.
Once you hit that 200MB cap--which isn't very large--4G data will turn off for the rest of the month. However, T-Mobile will send you warning emails as you approach the limit, and you can supplement the free data by signing up for an on-demand or a monthly pass.
On-demand passes include 500MB for $10, good for one day; 1GB for $15, good for one week; and 2.5GB for $30, good for 30 days. Monthly passes start at $20 for 500MB, and go up to $80 for 12.5GB.
Software and Warranty
As this is a Chromebook, the only thing preinstalled on the notebook is the Google Chrome operating system. However, also included with the Chromebook 14 is 100GB of Google Drive storage, free for two years, as well as 12 free sessions of GoGo Inflight Internet service.
The Chromebook comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty and technical support, and 30 days free limited software support.
The HP Chromebook 14 offers a lot for a low price. This affordable laptop provides excellent battery life, a colorful display and an attractive design in your choice of three color options. Plus, there's a built-in 4G connection--albeit HSPA+--for when you're outside of Wi-Fi range.
Consumers looking for something more mobile would be better suited with the smaller and lighter 13-inch Toshiba Chromebook, which lasted even longer on a charge. But for its intended audience the HP Chromebook 14 is an excellent choice.