HP Chromebook 11 hands on: Distraction-free writing with vivid display

Summary:HP's newest low cost Chromebook offers an improved display over the Samsung model with bold primary color accents, microUSB charging port, and a keyboard that supports effective writing.

HP Chromebook 11 hands on: Distraction-free writing with vivid display

I am blessed to have a couple of jobs, one as an engineer and the other as writer here at ZDNet. My Surface Pro lets me perform engineering on the go and is my favorite portable computer. After talking with Kevin on MoTR #307 I placed an order for a new HP Chromebook 11 and spent several hours with it yesterday.

The Chromebook Pixel is an amazing piece of hardware and if writing was my only job then I would have already purchased one. Since writing is my 2nd job, I couldn't justify the high price of the Pixel. The new HP Chromebook 11 is available now for just $279 and comes with special offers (60 days of Google Play All Access, 100 GB of Google Drive and 12 GoGo in-flight WiFi passes) that have a total value of about $290.

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Google Drive is my primary storage service and I fly Alaska Airlines where I use GoGo on every flight I can so these offers do have real value for me. I am already a Google Play All Access subscriber so don't get to redeem the two free months of service. I could actually just purchase these services to use with my Surface Pro, but I effectively get a free HP Chromebook 11 and honestly it is a wonderful writing platform.

I still read ebooks on a Kindle Paperwhite for longer periods of time because it offers me a distraction-free experience. With the Chromebook 11 running the Chrome browser, miscellaneous notifications and distractions are easier to manage than they are on a Mac or Windows PC. I thus get a similar distraction-free work environment on a Chromebook and find I can definitely knock out posts more efficiently on the device.

Last year I tested a Samsung Chromebook and found I was able to stay focused and write faster than on most other computers and devices. I didn't like the Samsung display, having to carry a Samsung charger when I traveled, or the other limitations with Chrome at the time (lack of ability to view Netflix content). Thankfully, these have all been fixed in the Chromebook 11.

Hardware thoughts

HP provides an improved display on the Chromebook 11. It has the same resolution, 1376 x 768 pixels, but it has an IPS panel with 16:9 aspect ratio, 300 nit rating, 176 degree wide viewing angle with a glossy finish. When I view both the HP and Samsung Chromebooks side-by-side I can easily tell a difference between the two and I much prefer the HP model.

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You charge up the Chromebook 11 with a microUSB charger so I can use that same charger to top off my Android and Windows Phone devices. Honestly, the ability to charge up a "laptop" device via standard microUSB is quite compelling to me as a person who tries to travel as light as possible when I can.

The HP Chromebook 11 reminds me of an old plastic Macbook with glossy white plastic that attracts fingerprints. I purchased a white one with green highlights so there is green padded pieces on the bottom to prevent slipping on a table and a thin green border around the keyboard. You can also buy white with blue, red, or yellow highlights or a completely black model.

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There is a thin white LED light on the top with a blue, red, yellow, and green cover that shows up when you have the Chromebook open and in use. It looks cool and I enjoy this design touch.

You will find the microUSB charging port, two USB ports, and the 3.5 mm headset jack on the left side. There is nothing on the right, front, or back. A VGA front facing camera is present above the display.

Unlike the glossy white finish over most of the Chromebook, the keyboard has a matte finish. The keys are quite large, well spaced, have excellent feedback, and so far the keyboard is a joy to use. The only thing I would like is to have a backlit keyboard because I sometimes write in areas with minimal lighting.

The trackpad works well and scrolls nicely with two fingers. I still haven't found a Windows PC that scrolls as nice as a Mac, but the Chromebook does quite well and beats the Dell laptop I have at work.

Like the Chromebook Pixel, the speakers on the Chromebook 11 are mounted under the keyboard. The Pixel speakers were very impressive and I am happy to say they are on the Chromebook 11 as well. I enjoyed Google Music while writing this post and look forward to more testing of the speakers.

It is loaded with 2GB of RAM, Samsung Exynos 5 dual-core processor, and 16GB SSD. It has 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. The LTE model is not yet available. There is no SD card slot. Dimensions are 297 x 192 x 17.6 mm and 1.4 kilograms (2.3 pounds). It feels rock solid and is quite a portable device.

Software thoughts

The HP Chromebook 11 runs version 30.0.1599.101 of the Google Chrome OS. Startup was quick and easy with an immediate software update taking place after I charged it up and turned it on. Previous apps I selected on the Chromebook Pixel appeared after launch. The thing I love about the Chrome browser is that I am able to login on multiple devices and have my browsing history and bookmarks appear right away.

There isn't a ton to say about the software at this point since everything is done in the Chrome browser so if you have tried it on your PC or Mac then it offers a similar experience.

To be tested

Given the microUSB charging option, I plan to test out various phone chargers and high capacity portable battery packs with the Chromebook 11.

Offline app support has improved so I plan to test those out on my daily commute as well.

I am a bit worried about performance, given the mobile phone processor and limited amount of RAM. As James Kendrick, ZDNet Mobile News, just posted this morning , there are Haswell processor Chromebooks now appearing that may offer better battery life and performance. I plan to try watching video content, holding Google Hangout video sessions, and playing a few games to push the device a bit and see how it does.

Additional ZDNet Chromebook coverage

Topics: Mobility, Google, Laptops

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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