The HP Chromebook 14 might just be the best Chromebook to date, so long as you don’t mind the weight.
Last year’s Chromebook Pixel proved that Chrome OS is an operating system to be taken seriously, but the low end of the Chromebook market is still awash with cheap plastic and appalling displays.
With a new generation of Chromebooks starting to appear can manufacturers like HP produce a Chromebook that can compete directly with Windows laptop?
We review the HP Chromebook 14, which may be the first serious Chromebook with a price comfortable for sensitive schools budgets.
Pink is the new black
If you like your laptop colourful you’ll immediately be at home with HP Chromebook 14. Available in three colours: white, coral, and aqua — or for the non-marketing folk: white, pink, and turquoise — this is a laptop made for the consumer market.
The HP Chromebook 14 is bright, bold, and colourful, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have a place in your classroom. Forget about the black and grey business laptops that are churned out by Dell and others, HP has firmly placed their Chromebook in the sights of students.
The HP Chromebook 14 isn’t going to give a Macbook any worries in the build quality department, but at the same time it doesn’t feel cheap like last year’s Samsung. The laptop has a rubberised exterior, which not only feels great to the touch but also stops the laptop slipping on a flat surface or from your knee. The overall feel is still plasticy, as is the tradition for Chromebooks, but the HP feels solid and doesn’t bend and creak like last year’s models.
But this Chromebook sits in a category of its own. The expansive widescreen and broad track-pad make the HP Chromebook 14 feel more of a productivity machine than any of the smaller Chromebooks.
Screen size: 14 inches
Screen resolution: 1366 x 768 display
CPU: Intel Haswell Celeron 2955U
Storage: 16GB Flash SSD
Operating System: Chrome OS
Width: 13.6 inches
Depth: 9.4 inches
Thickness: .81 inches
Colours: White, Coral, Aqua
2 x USB 3.0 and 1 x USB 2.0
The HP Chromebook 14 takes cues from the best Apple design — the minimalist chiclet keyboard, the huge track-pad, and the tapering body — but the execution has understandably been compromised to fit the price bracket. This laptop’s body is entirely plastic, but despite this the HP Chromebook 14 feels solid and can easily compare to any mid-range Windows laptop.
Unfortunately the HP’s display is something of a let down. While the resolution has been increased from last year’s model, the 14″ screen has a low PPI which results blurry text and images. The screen also suffers from a washed out or dirty appearance and the surface is extremely glossy, so if your classroom gets a lot of sunlight expect a lot of reflections. Even with these issues the laptop is still perfectly usable in most circumstances, but you may want to see it for yourself before making a purchase.
The keyboard is the standard Chromebook design, swapping out the caps lock key for search. Key presses feel firm and accurate, and each key has a slight texture to prevent fingers from slipping.
While the track-pad may be visually similar to that of a Macbook, here the glass is replaced with plastic. But that doesn’t take away from the experience of using it. With the slick performance of the Chromebook internals, multi-touch gestures are fluid and responsive, and you never feel that this is a sub-$300 machine. In fact the HP Chromebook 14 track-pad is significantly better than many more expensive laptops I’ve used.
But the thing that separates the HP Chromebook 14 from last year’s models is the boost in performance provided by the Intel processor and additional RAM. The extra processing power, along the a more accurate track-pad, make scrolling through web pages smooth and responsive. Nothing ever slows down. Browsing on a Chromebook, for the first time, feels as reliable and quick as using a desktop.
As is the standard for Chromebooks, boot-up takes seconds, and lifting the screen gets you back to where you were working instantly. Likewise, YouTube videos start quickly and play smoothly even at high resolutions, a significant improvement on the stuttery Samsung Series 3. The only time I experienced lag was when viewing a large number of high-res photos from the local storage — strangely enough those same photos loaded perfectly when accessed through Google Drive.
HP claims the Chromebook 14’s battery will last 10 hours with general use, and this was borne out by our tests. Students will easily get a full day of use out of this laptop, and probably a lot more. My only wish is that HP had carried over the micro-USB charging socket from the HP Chromebook 11, but the size of the battery may have been an issue here.
Chrome OS versus Windows
And so the Chromebook dichotomy kicks in. At which price point is a customer forced to begin considering Windows laptops with a “real OS” over Chromebooks? Luckily HP justified the Chromebook 14’s existence by pricing it perfectly against cheap Windows laptops. At $299 (£230) the HP Chromebook 14 sits comfortably below even the cheapest Windows laptops while outperforming them by miles.
In the Classroom
The HP Chromebook 14 is a machine made for productivity. While the smaller Chromebooks feel like toys, the HP is a proper laptop to be used for serious work.
The Google suite of applications look great on the widescreen and, dare I say it, even Office 365 web apps run beautifully. If you found the Samsung line of Chromebooks too cramped but want to stick with Chrome OS, this is the laptop for you. Navigating spreadsheets with the large track-pad feels elegant, even close to a Macbook.
But make no mistake, this is a big, heavy laptop, so younger students may find the HP Chromebook 14 cumbersome. Likewise, this isn’t a laptop you can just throw in a bag, like the smaller Samsung from last year. The selling point here is the increased screen size, and the compromise is weight.
There three things that make a Chromebook: great battery life, low price, and good performance — The HP Chromebook 14 manages to bring those three qualities together perfectly, and for the first time make Chrome OS feel like a legitimate OS. The HP Chromebook 14 is a great machine that feels more like a standard laptop that any Chromebook I’ve previously tried.
The extra processing power and RAM make using the HP Chromebook 14 closer desktop experience than any Chromebook before. Web pages rarely jitter and scrolling is smooth and seamless. This laptop is fast.
But as expected with a sub-$300 laptop there are some trade offs, and the screen is easily the worst offender. A low PPI and poor viewing angles result in blurred text and washed out colours. It’s not the end of the world, the HP Chromebook 14 is still perfectly usable, but it would have been nice to see an improvement in this area.
The price point of the HP Chromebook 14 is exceptionally keen, but I can’t help but feel that the company could have added an extra $50-100 to the price, added an improved screen, and still come out extremely competitively against Windows alternatives.
What is clear, however, is that Chromebooks are no longer just netbook alternatives. The HP Chromebook 14 is a proper thoroughbred laptop and Microsoft has a lot to worry about.