If you've browsed the electronics departments of Walmart or Target, chances are good that the HP Stream 14 ($219.99) has caught your eye, whether because of its candy-colored design or its ultra-affordable price. HP has been making the inexpensive Stream laptop for a few years now, presenting the low-powered budget laptop as a Windows-based competitor to Chromebooks. The Stream 14 is larger than HP's Stream offerings in previous years (the largest model used to be 13 inches), but not much else has changed.
Like a Chromebook, the Stream 14 keeps the price low by sticking to the bare essentials: a low-powered CPU, minimal RAM and 32GB of flash memory for storage. Unfortunately, that may not be enough to support the sort of Windows experience you expect from even a budget laptop.
The Stream 14 has a lightweight plastic chassis, measuring 13.3 x 8.9 x 0.70 inches and weighing just 3.11 pounds. The plastic construction feels hollow and flexes a bit with every keystroke and tap on the trackpad -- an issue we didn't encounter when we tested the smaller HP Stream 11. The palm rest has a textured pattern and gets a dash of two-toned style thanks to the white keyboard. This is similar in both size and weight to other 14-inch systems in this price range, like the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14, which measures 13.3 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches and weighs 3.2 pounds.
The Stream line has always sported bright candy colors, and although the unit we reviewed was bright blue, you can also get it in purple. Competing machines, like the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14, keep it simple with black plastic construction.
The Stream 14 has a 14-inch display with a 1366 x 768 resolution, which isn't uncommon in this ultrabudget price range. When I watched the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok, the colorful trailer looked OK. The Hulk's skin looked to be the right shade of green, explosions flared orange and the lightning crackling off of Thor looked bluish white.
HP's laptop can produce 81.5 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is nearly identical to the scores from the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 (81 percent) and the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 (84 percent).
The display's color accuracy isn't perfect, with a Delta-E rating of 3.86 as measured with our colorimeter (0 is ideal). That's pretty much what we expect in this price range, as both the IdeaPad 100S-14 (3.85) and the Inspiron 14 3000 (3.4) had similar color accuracy.
The display was also pretty dim, averaging 186 nits of brightness. That's better than the Inspiron 14 3000 (135 nits) and similar to the IdeaPad 100S-14 (188 nits), but we prefer a panel brighter than 200 nits.
The HP Stream 14 has a pair of downward-firing speakers, but on this laptop, you'll want to use a pair of headphones. When I listened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dark Necessities," I heard the lyrics clearly and could make out percussion well, but Flea's aggressive bass line was muted. The DTS Studio Sound utility, which offers some audio presets, is preinstalled, but none of the presets did much to improve the anemic sound from the small speakers.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The HP Stream 14's keyboard has white tile keys, which have 1.32 millimeters of travel and require 72 grams of pressure to register a keystroke. Despite the heavy pressure required for each keystroke, the keys themselves felt light and flimsy, and I briefly worried that they would come off if they were banged around in a laptop bag. On the 10FastFingers.com typing test, I managed to bang out 65 words per minute, falling a bit short of my usual 80 wpm.
The touchpad measures 3.7 x 2.5 inches, and has the same bright-blue color as the surrounding chassis. The matte plastic finish may not be luxurious, but it registered every click and gesture without trouble. The HP Imagepad uses clickable zones in the lower corners instead of discrete mouse buttons, and supports multitouch gestures.
The port selection is a bit slim on the Stream 14, but it's adequate for basic use. Along the left side of the chassis, you'll find a full-size HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port and an SD card slot. You'll also find a Kensington lock slot and an audio headset jack. On the right side of the laptop is a power connector. The Stream 14 has no Ethernet port, so you'll be dependant on Wi-Fi.
Equipped with a 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 processor, Intel HD Graphics 400, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMc flash storage, the Stream 14 has virtually the same components seen in the Ideapad 100S-14 and the Inspiron 14 3000, but with an additional 2GB of RAM. It's also identical to the Samsung Chromebook 3, which highlights the Stream 14's position as a Chromebook competitor.
While this Windows-based system may offer a more familiar OS environment and (ostensibly) support the programs and apps you're used to, the performance just isn't there. When I ran through basic aspects of testing, like snapping a photo with the webcam, there was noticeable lag for very basic functions, and when I tried running multiple browser tabs, things slowed and stuttered with only five tabs open.
The Stream 14 scored 1,817 in the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, which is a hair ahead of the Inspiron 14 3000 (1,807) and just behind the Ideapad 100S-14 (1,880), which was expected considering the Stream's low-powered Celeron processor. Although it costs a good deal more, at $350, the Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-575-33BM) (5,408, Intel Core i3-7100U) gives you substantially better performance while still coming in at well under $500.
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The Stream 14 uses 32GB of eMMC storage -- flash memory similar to an SD card, instead of a true solid-state drive -- but it performed adequately on the Laptop Mag File Transfer test, transferring 4.97GB of mixed media files in 3 minutes and 28 seconds. That works out to 24.7 MBps, which is slower than both the Ideapad 100S-14 (43.49 MBps) and the Inspiron 14 3000 (69.72 MBps), despite the similar storage setup.
In our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, the Stream 14 matched 20,000 names and addresses in 13 minutes and 4 seconds. That's faster than both the Ideapad 100S-14 (14:35) and the Inspiron 14 3000 (14:22), but a notebook with a Core i3 CPU, like the Aspire E 15, will take less than half the time.
The integrated Intel HD Graphics 400 on the HP Stream 14 can stream videos from YouTube and Netflix or run simple games, like Candy Crush Soda Saga, but not much more than that. In 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, it scored 19,073, which is better than the Ideapad 100S-14 (13,568) and the Inspiron 14 3000 (11,967).
The Stream 14's power-sipping CPU helped stretch the Stream 14's battery life to 7 hours and 4 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which simulates continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That's enough to get a student through a full day of classes, and outlasts the Ideapad 100S-14 (5:51). You will get slightly better battery, though, from the Inspiron 14 3000 (9:01) or the Samsung Chromebook 3 (9:44).
While we don't have high expectations for any webcam in the sub-$300 laptop range, the Stream 14's webcam is still very grainy, with a lot of noise in the image. It managed to capture color fairly well, but fine details got lost in the haze.
The slim Stream 14 manages to stay comfortably cool. After we streamed online video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 73.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and the keyboard reached 80.5 degrees, both of which are well below our 95-degree comfort threshold. The underside stayed pretty cool, measuring 75.5 degrees in the center, but it did have a hotspot that reached 92 degrees on the left-hand side of the laptop, where the processor is.
Software and Warranty
Microsoft offers manufacturers plenty of help in appealing to the budget crowd with the Stream and other Chromebook competitors. In addition to offering companies the OS for free on models in a certain price range and configurations, Microsoft bundles in some attractive extras. The Stream 14 comes with a free one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 2016, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. The Stream 14 also comes with 25GB of cloud storage via Dropbox and a 30-day free trial of McAfee LiveSafe.
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HP preinstalls a few helpful utilities and apps, like HP Orbit, which lets you share files between your laptop and your smartphone. Unfortunately, it also comes with a lot of bloatware that you'll likely want to remove right away, like a collection of game trials from WildTangent and apps from Amazon and Priceline.com.
When every penny matters, the HP Stream 14 is a colorful option with a budget-friendly price. It offers a 14-inch display, all the basic ports you'll need and good-enough performance that will get you browsing the web and typing up papers in no time. However, the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 has a much better keyboard and superior build quality, though it has shorter battery life and less RAM. If you're willing to spend just a bit more, consider the $350 Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-575-33BM), which remains our top pick for budget laptops.
But it's also worth repeating that this is a bare-bones, budget laptop that was designed to compete with Chromebooks, and a system such as the Samsung Chromebook 3 could be a better answer for budget-minded shoppers. However, if you want an inexpensive 14-inch laptop with decent battery life, capable performance and a touch of color, the HP Stream 14 is a solid option.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Laptop Mag