HP Expands Stream Line with 4 Windows Laptops, Tablets (Update with Hands-On)

At the beginning of Septemeber, HP revealed a single member of its Stream line, a $300 14-inch laptop featuring a low-power AMD CPU and a full version of Windows 8.1. Now HP is back to add four new devices to its budget-friendly, Chromebook-altnernative family: two laptops and two tablets that will come with free 4G data for life.

The colorful laptops are the $200 Stream 11.6 and the $230 Stream 13.3, which will be accompanied by the $100 Stream 7 and $150 Stream 8 Windows tablets. HP is targeting consumers looking for thin-and-light machines that can work seamlessly on the go but without breaking the bank.

MORE: Best Laptops 2014

UPDATE: Shortly after writing this post, I was able to get a hands-on with with both the Stream 11 and 13 laptops and the Stream 8 windows Tablet.

First up are the HP Stream 11 and Stream 13 laptops. Both Stream machines have the exact same specs featuring a quad-core 2.16 GHz Intel Celeron N2840 CPU, 2GB of RAM and 32 GB of flash memory. With both displays having a resolution of 1366 x 768, the only difference is the size of the screen. Both machines feature one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 Port, HDMI port, and SD card reader. Battery life is estimated at around 8 hours for the smaller Stream 11 and around 9 hours for the Stream 13. The one tiny catch with the Stream laptops is the use of Windows 8.1 with Bing. This is a full version of Windows, but the cost of the OS has been reduced due to a deal with Microsoft that prevents the manufacturer from switching the default search engine away from Bing in Internet Explorer. Thankfully there are no restrictions for end users,  meaning that they are free to choose whatever search engine they want.

One of the most striking aspects of HP's Stream laptops (aside from the price) is the chromatic paint job featured on both the blue and magenta color options. There is a gradient that transitions from a shiny metallic appearance on the palm rest to the flat color seen on the lid and bottom of the PC. During my limited testing, both computers were snappy and responsive, and for my money gives the traditional Chromebook tough competition for best budget notebook. There will also be versions of the Stream 11 and 13 that include 4G antenna to make mobile data access a breeze.

The pre-production version of the Stream 8 looks very similar to the current Dell Venue 8 Android tablet with its matte black plastic body. The insides differ with the Stream 8 tablet featuring a 1.33 GHz Intel Atom CPU, 1GB of RAM and a 32 GB of eMMC flash memory. Storage can be expanded up to 32 GB via the microSD slot, although the only way to access the reader was by removing the plastic back panel. A nearby HP representative said that this would probably be changed for the final consumer unit though. The solid case and speedy new processor makes the Stream 8, and even though I would have preferred 2GB of RAM, HP had to make some sacrifices to reach its low $150 price point.

All four Stream devices include a year of 1 TB storage with Microsoft OneDrive and a one-year subscription to Office 365. Stream laptop purchasers will also get a $25 gift card for anything in the Microsoft Store, with owners of the 4G versions getting 200 MB of 4G data per month, free for the life of the device. Additional data can be purchased without a contract from T-Mobile.

HP is likely hoping to take advantage of the drastic increase in Chromebook sales over the past two years, which has seen a rise from 0.2 percent of the market in 2012 to 4.5 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, Windows PC sales have dropped 6.8 percent during the same time period, according to NPD.