Fun and stylish design; Comfortable keyboard; Quality DTS speakers; Solid performance for price
Relatively dim display; Finicky touchpad; Below-average battery life; Bottom runs hot;
The HP Stream 11 is a stylish Windows laptop that's just as affordable but more capable than a Chromebook, if you're willing to put up with a finicky touchpad.
Take that, Chromebooks. HP's cute Stream 11 is one of the most affordable Windows laptops yet, at $199, and like its Google-powered rival, it is geared toward cloud-based computing. That's why HP and Microsoft throw in a whole terabyte of cloud storage for one year. Unlike Chromebooks, though, you can still get plenty of stuff done offline. To help keep you productive, the Stream 11 comes with the full version of Office 365 Personal (also for a year). Sounds like a pretty good deal, but is this ultraportable really a Chromebook killer, or just a netbook by another name?
I give HP serious style points for this clamshell, but it's not for everyone. The HP Stream 11 comes in a bold Horizon Blue color with a matte finish that wraps around the entire plastic chassis. Open the lid, and you'll find a stylish dot pattern that cascades from blue to indigo as you go from the top to the bottom of the deck. (HP also offers the Steam 11 with a magenta lid and a keyboard deck that goes from tulip purple to lily pink.) The aesthetic kind of reminds me of a snow cone: fun and playful. However, the bright white keyboard and thick bezel around the screen give the Stream 11 a kiddie laptop vibe.
The right side of this notebook houses a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port and an HDMI port, while an SD Card slot, headphone jack, power jack and lock slot line the left side.
Weighing 2.74 pounds and measuring 12 x 8.1 x 0.78 inches, the Stream 11 is compact enough to take anywhere. It's a little heavier and thicker than competing 11-inch Chromebooks, but not much. The Samsung Chromebook 2 is 2.65 pounds, 11.40 x 8.60 x 0.66 inches and the Acer Chromebook C720 is 2.6 pounds and 0.75 inches thick. However, HP's own Chromebook 11 is a featherweight 2.2 pounds by comparison.
The 11-inch display on the Stream 11 doesn't wow. The HD resolution (1366 x 768 pixels) is fine, but I didn't like that I had to tilt the display back 25 degrees to get the best picture. The horizontal viewing angles are a little more generous.
When watching the HD trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, I could easily make out the intricate markings on Dave Bautista's mountain of a back, but the overall picture looked somewhat washed out.
Averaging 165 nits on our brightness test, the Stream 11's screen is dimmer than similarly sized Chromebooks. The Samsung Chromebook 2 hit 214 nits and the Lenovo N20p, 194 nits, while HP's Chromebook 11 registered 267 nits.
The Stream 11's display is capable of displaying 64.2 percent of the sRGB color gamut (close to 100 is best), and it notched a Delta-E rating of 7.9 for color accuracy (closer to 0 is best). Still that's better than the N20p (59.5 percent/10.1 rating) and the Dell Chromebook 11 (60.5 percent/11.7 rating).
I didn't expect to hear great sound from the Stream 11, but the speakers (located underneath the front lip) pleasantly surprised. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding laptop for such a cheap price. Arcade Fire's "Rebellion" filled my office at only 55 percent volume, and the breathy vocals and jangling guitars each sounded distinct.
You can also tweak the audio profiles using the DTS Studio Sound control panel. Rock sounded best to my ears, while Live was a bit flat. The Stream 11 registered 90 decibels on our audio test, which is much higher than the 84 dB ultraportable laptop average. However, the Samsung Chromebook 2 reached an even higher 93 dB.
The white keyboard on the Stream 11 offers more travel than other Chromebooks we've recently tested, and it shows. I averaged the same 68 words per minute on HP's layout as I did on my 13-inch, albeit with four errors instead of one on the Apple. Still, that's pretty good news for those who want to type longer emails or book reports.
We measured a key travel of 1.37 mm, compared with a shallower 1.09 mm for the Samsung Chromebook 2 and a 1.2 mm for the Lenovo N20p.
On the plus side, the Stream 11's touchpad is plenty wide at 3.75 x 2.5 inches. I found it easy to navigate the desktop with the cursor, and the pad smoothly executed Windows 8 gestures like switching apps (swiping in from the left).
Unfortunately, the touchpad sometimes misinterpreted a left click for a right click. Other times I had to click the touchpad twice for it to register. Two-finger scrolling on websites like NYTimes.com also proved choppy. It was as if the machine was fighting me.
HP brags that the Stream 11 sports a fanless design, but it could probably use one. On our heat test, which involves streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the bottom of the laptop hit 101 degrees Fahrenheit. That's well above our 95-degree comfort threshold. At least the touchpad (78 degrees) and the keyboard (91 degrees) stayed cooler.
The Stream 11 is geared toward casual computing and is equipped accordingly with an Intel Celeron N2840 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 32GB hard drive. However, keep in mind that only 21.5GB of that amount is available out of the box.
The Stream 11 was generally responsive when opening and closing apps, and it ably handled the Despicable Me game -- even though using the cursor keys isn't quite as satisfying as a touch screen. The notebook also smoothly streamed a high-def Tonight Show clip of Jimmy Fallon and Adam Levine with multiple tabs open in Explorer.
However, I noticed some lag at times. For example, on Yahoo.com my password took a few seconds to appear after I typed it. On another occasion when surfing the Web in the Chrome browser, black boxes appeared on the screen before the system reset. The issue didn't occur again.
On PCMark 7, which measures overall performance, the Stream 11 scored 2,570. That mark is higher than the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 (1,709) and the Acer Aspire V3-111P (1,566), both of which have Intel Pentium processors. Keep in mind that the Acer costs a pricier $299 and the Dell is a $399 convertible.
On our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, which involves matching 20,000 names and addresses, the Stream 11 took 15 minutes and 31 seconds. This time is on a par with the Inspiron 11 3000 (15:22) and the Aspire V3-111P (15:45).
The 32GB solid state drive in the Stream 11 took 1 minute and 56 seconds to complete our file transfer test, which equals a rate of 43.9 MBps. That beats the 5,400-rpm hard drives inside the Inspiron 11 (30.5 MBps) and the Aspire V3 (32 MBps).
To test the Stream 11's real-world graphics performance, I fired up the Asphalt 8 racing game, one of the most popular apps in the Windows Store. Overall, the game played smoothly, and I could easily make out the clouds overhead in my car's rear windshield as I sped around the track. I noticed just slight stuttering around one turn.
The Stream 11 notched 16,128 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, which tests graphics performance. That's lower than the Aspire V3-11P (20,500) and Dell Inspiron 11 3000 (20,361).
How about graphics performance versus Chromebooks? I pitted the Stream 11 versus Samsung's Chromebook 2 on the WebGL Cubes test (online), which renders 150,000 rotating cubes with three lights. This test offloads much of the computation to the graphics. The Stream 11 averaged about 12 frames per second versus 9 fps for the Chromebook 2.
Yes, Chromebooks do less that Windows laptops, but most of them offer more endurance than the Stream 11.
HP's mini notebook lasted 6 hours and 34 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Wi-Fi Web surfing at 100 nits of brightness. The Samsung Chromebook 2, for example, lasted 9:34, and the Asus Chromebook C200M lasted an epic 12:27.
Software and Services
The Stream 11 comes with Office 365 Personal preloaded, which means you can access word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote for one year.
Another trial comes in the form of 1TB of OneDrive storage for backing up everything from photos and videos to documents and other files. Once that period is up, you'll be forking over $6.99 monthly. The good news is that if you decide to keep OneDrive, that same monthly price will let you keep using Office 365. (Otherwise, Office 365 is $9.99 per month, or $99.99 per year).
HP throws in some apps and services of its own, including HP Connected Music, which integrates the Beats Music service as well as Internet radio with your own collection. You can also create playlists that mix tracks from your library with music services.
HP Connected Photo lets you edit and enhance your pics with everything from custom filters to text bubbles. From there you can share your images via Facebook or Snapfish. Connected Photo includes unlimited photo storage, and you can order prints to be picked up at Walgreens or Walmart.
HP Stream 11 vs Chromebooks
There are two key advantages the Windows-powered Stream 11 has versus Chromebooks: offline capability and a much better app store. While you can do some things offline in Chrome OS, such as Google Docs, most apps require an Internet connection. With Windows 8 you can work on documents, edit photos, or use apps like iTunes or Quicken when you're offline.
Microsoft also does a much better job of curating its Windows Store for apps and providing a seamless experience. For example, when I tried to download Asphalt 8 from the Chrome Web Store, I was brought to a third-party site, where I was asked to download a plug-in for the browser. Not cool. On Windows 8, I just installed the app and started playing -- after a lengthy download.
The Windows 8 modern interface is more confusing than Chrome's bare-bones, browser-first presentation. But it's also more dynamic, delivering updates to a Start screen you can customize as you see fit. More important, the file folder structure will be more familiar to existing Windows users.
On the other hand, the complexity of Windows 8 reared its head at times. I still don't like having separate settings menus for things like Wi-Fi and the mouse. And a pop-up for McAfee's antivirus software reminded me you don't need AV software on Chrome OS.
There's a war going on between Microsoft and Google, and because of that shoppers will ultimately win. But is the HP Stream 11 a winner? In many ways, yes. This ultraportable is more versatile than a Chromebook, and I like the comfortable keyboard and loud speakers. And while the playful design isn't for everyone, it will definitely stand out in a crowd.
What keeps the Stream 11 from being an Editors' Choice pick is its relatively dim display, below-average battery life and a touchpad that simply doesn't work as smoothly as it should. Assuming you want to stay in the Windows world on the cheap -- and are willing to store a good portion of your stuff in the cloud -- consider HP's Stream 13. That laptop gives you a bigger 13-inch display for just $229, or $30 more than the Stream 11. But if you want to travel really light, the Stream 11 is a pretty good bargain.
|CPU||2.85-GHz Intel Celeron N2840|
|Operating System||Windows 8.1|
|RAM Upgradable to||2GB|
|Hard Drive Size||32GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||Flash|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD|
|Touchpad Size||3.75 x 2.5|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone/Mic|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Card Slots||2-1 card reader|
|Size||12 x 8.1 x 0.78 inches|