Don't be fooled by the HP Stream 11's cute, candy-hued exterior -- it has some serious computing cred inside. The $200 HP Stream 11 delivers long battery life, great audio and strong performance for the price. HP cuts some corners by using a dim display and the laptop's bottom gets uncomfortably warm, but the lightweight Stream 11 is one of the best sub-$200 Windows laptops on the market and a great choice for kids.
You either love or hate the toy-like look of the updated HP Stream 11; there is no middle ground here. It comes in a vibrant aqua blue or purple, where the shade infuses everything from its horizontally grained cover to its touchpad, but not the white keyboard. This laptop could be a great choice for students who just want something fun and small to bring to school.. However, the Stream doesn't look professional enough to bring to a meeting with corporate investors.
The HP laptop's plastic chassis feels quite sturdy, with minimal flexing around its keyboard and palm rest. Unfortunately, the front lip is very sharp and scratched my wrists whenever I tried to type on it.
For ports, you'll find a laptop lock, a USB 2.0 port, and a combination audio and mic jack on the left side. On the right side is the charging port, an LED battery indicator, a microSD card slot, a USB 3.0 port and a full-size HDMI for plugging the laptop into your HDTV.
No matter what you think of the Stream 11's looks, you can't deny that it is easy to tote around town. At just 2.5 pounds and 11.8 x 8.1 x 0.7 inches, the updated Stream 11 is slightly lighter and thinner than its predecessor, the 2014 Stream 11 (12 x 8.1 x 0.78 inches, 2.74 pounds). It's almost the same size as the Samsung Chromebook 3 (11.4 x 8 x 0.7 inches, 2.5 pounds) but much smaller than 14-inch competitors such as the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 (13.3 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches, 3.15 pounds) and the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 (13.58 x 9.59 x 0.84 inches, 3.90 pounds).
What immediately jumps out about the HP Stream 11's 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 screen, is just how washed out the colors look. Throughout the Dunkirk trailer, for example, the sky lacked the yellow "aged film footage" tone that it had on the Samsung Chromebook 3, instead showing a dull blue and white.
The colors produced by the Stream 11's display aren't particularly accurate, but they are on a par with those of other laptops in its price range. It earned a Delta-E rating of 3.69 (lower is better), which is in the same ballpark as the scores from its 14-inch rivals (3.46 for the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 and 3.85 for the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14). The Samsung Chromebook 3, however, is near perfect, with a Delta-E of 0.21.
While the screens on both the Stream 11 and the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 have the same total brightness average (188 nits), I preferred the Ideapad's display because black text actually looked black on the panel, unlike on the Stream 11, where the grayish-looking text forced me to squint while reading. I also had trouble seeing all the details in Vulture's armor in the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer. When I watched the same scene on the Samsung Chromebook 3, its 259-nit screen showed far more details of the villain's gold armor than the Stream 11's display did.
The Stream's screen can reproduce 77.5 percent of the sRGB gamut, as opposed to the measly 63.1 percent that the Samsung Chromebook 3 managed. Both 14-inch laptops' color ranges were much higher than those on these smaller screens, with the Lenovo reproducing 83.5 percent of the gamut and the Dell displaying 81.4 percent.
Vertical viewing angles are also not the Stream 11's strong suit, though side-to-side angles are better. For the best viewing experience, you need to be directly in front of its display to find that elusive sweet spot. Otherwise, you'll encounter dark spots that make it tough to see what's happening on-screen. Unfortunately, the laptop's hinges will let you tilt back the screen only about 25 degrees to adjust the angle.
I wasn't expecting very high audio quality from this little $200 laptop, but the HP Stream 11 blew me away. For one thing, its dual speakers actually sound dynamic and full, even though they're located at the bottom front of the device. These speakers definitely sound more intense than the ones on the Samsung Chromebook 3. The speakers on the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 are quiet but decent, but not quite as good as the ones on those two machines. The Dell Inspiron 14 3000's speakers are a distant fourth.
What really puts HP's audio output above the rest is its inclusion of the DTS Studio Sound dashboard, which lets you customize your audio preferences by sound type. After cycling through the One Love Manchester concert that featured various genres and artists ranging from Black Eyed Peas to Coldplay, I found the Vocal setting to be the most versatile, as it made each track sound as though it were being performed live.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The HP Stream 11 has a solid keyboard with large, well-spaced keys and plenty of snappy feedback. However, the sharp front lip of the laptop really mars the typing experience by painfully scraping your wrists while you attempt to hit the keys. Because I spent a lot of energy trying to avoid getting scratched by the lip, my speed and accuracy were much worse than usual.
On the 10FastFingers.com typing test, I scored 73 words per minute with a whopping 20 percent error rate. That is definitely a step down from my usual speed of 80 words per minute with a 7 percent error rate. When I handed the Stream to a colleague, his error rate quadrupled from 2 to 8 percent, and his speed dropped from 100 wpm to 92 wpm.
Though the Stream 11's keyboard has a shallow 1.2 millimeters of key travel (1.5 to 2 mm is typical), it requires a solid 69 grams of force to register a key press. (We prefer at least 60 grams.) Thanks to this solid feedback, I didn't find myself bottoming out while typing. However, if you want a better keyboard in this price range, consider the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14, which has 1.9 mm of travel and requires 79 grams of force.
The HP Stream 11's 3.6 x 2.1-inch touchpad was responsive and pleasant to use. My wrists were particularly happy that I didn't have to push down too hard on the buttonless surface to highlight text or to move files as I did on the Inspiron 14 3000's stiff touchpad.
Performance and Graphics
The HP Stream 11 offers solid performance for the price. Powered by a 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 processor, Intel Graphics 400, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMc flash storage, the Stream 11 is snappy when handling basic computing tasks.
However, the system can quickly become taxed when multitasking, which I saw firsthand when I switched among 10 web browser tabs while streaming a long video from YouTube and editing a couple of Google Docs. The laptop still functioned, but there was some definite lag.
With a score of 2,023, the HP Stream 11 destroyed the competition on Geekbench 4, a synthetic test that measures overall performance. The Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 (1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 CPU) and the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 (1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 CPU) earned 1,880 and 1,824, respectively.
The Stream 11 and its 32GB eMMc storage performed acceptably on the Laptop Mag File Transfer test, where it copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in just 1 minute and 1 second. That's a rate of 50.38 MBps, which is comfortably ahead of the 100S (43.5 MBps) but well behind the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 (69.72 MBps).
In our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, where each system had to match 20,000 names with addresses, the Stream 11 took 13 minutes and 42 seconds to complete the task. That is slightly faster than the Ideapad 100S-14, which took 14 minutes and 33 seconds. The Dell Inspiron 14 3000 crawled to the finish line in 22 minutes and 2 seconds.
The HP Stream 11 has an integrated Intel HD Graphics 400 GPU, which means it's more geared toward Candy Crush Soda Saga than a heavy-duty game such as Overwatch. We put the Stream 11 through its paces on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, where it scored 16,230. That's significantly higher than the score from the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 (13,568).
When the Stream 11 ran our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi ), the laptop lasted 8 hours and 23 minutes, which is respectable but shorter than the runtimes of its competitors. Both the Samsung Chromebook 3 (9:44) and the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 (9:01) lasted longer.
While HP boasts that its Stream devices are "fanless," I would much rather deal with some noise or a couple of air vents in exchange for a better-ventilated system. The bottom-right side of the Stream 11 got uncomfortably hot within just 30 minutes of use -- so much so that I had to move it off my lap right away.
After the laptop streamed a video for 15 minutes, the top-right quadrant of the Stream's underside reached a scorching 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which is significantly hotter than our 95-degree comfort threshold. Thankfully, the area around its touchpad (80 degrees) and keyboard (89 degrees) stayed much cooler.
Like other laptops in this price range, the HP Stream 11 comes with just 32GB of eMMc flash storage, but most of it is taken up by Windows 10, leaving little free space for the user.
Out of the 29.1GB of user-accessible space, Windows takes up 14.4GB, and preloaded apps and games fill up 5.16GB, so you have only 9.54GB left for your applications and files. To put into perspective just how quickly you can gobble up that amount of storage: I had to delete three 1080p movie trailers just to free up enough room to install and run the 3DMark benchmark, which measures graphics performance.
Rather than spending $339 on the HP Stream 11 Pro G3 that includes 64GB of onboard storage, you can just buy a $15, 32GB microSD card for the same capacity -- or, better yet, get used to storing your personal files on a cloud storage service such as Dropbox or OneDrive.
The Stream 11's front-facing VGA webcam is surprisingly good, with realistic colors and relatively sharp images. When I snapped a selfie with this camera, it picked up every strand of hair from my messy bun, and captured the primary colors in the background correctly. The only downside is that you need to sit quite far away from the Stream 11 to be within range of its lens.
Software and Warranty
HP has included some useful utilities, like HP Orbit, which connects your phone to your HP laptop (as Samsung SideSync does) so you can manage both from your laptop. To expand the Stream 11's minuscule amount of internal storage, two cloud services are also preloaded: Dropbox offers a free 12-month subscription for 25GB of cloud storage, while OneDrive includes 1TB of free cloud storage as part of Office 365. Other preloaded apps include Amazon, Netflix and a 30-day free trial of McAfee LiveSafe.
HP provides a one-year limited hardware warranty and 90 days of chat support. See how HP fared in our 2017 Best and Worst Brands report.
It's hard not to be charmed by the little $200 HP Stream 11 and its colorful chassis. After all, it's so small and light that you won't mind bringing it with you everywhere, and with over 8 hours of battery life, you can safely leave your charger at home. What makes the Stream 11 a particularly good bargain is that it has 4GB of RAM, which means it's peppier than similarly priced competitors that have only 2GB. Parents should definitely consider buying this laptop for their children.
However, the dull screen, warm temperatures and razor-sharp front lip are major drawbacks.
The 14-inch Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 has a better keyboard, a more colorful screen and better cooling, but it's larger, and its battery life is far shorter. If you don't mind using Chrome OS, then the similarly sized $180 Samsung Chromebook 3 is a great alternative, as it has a superior screen and 4GB of RAM. But f you're looking for a sub-$200 Windows 10 laptop with solid performance, the Stream 11 is worthy of your hard-earned dollars.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Laptop Mag