Review: HP Chromebook 14 – On The Go

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Introduction:

Chromebooks are new entrants in the PC market. Not exactly new as the origins are in the year 2011, but still they are fresh. Just like its alliance for Android, Google has got few to back up its ChromeOS and HP is one of them. For years, HP has been doing Windows laptops and sometimes Linux based variants of them, although very rare. This time are around, they are romancing the new partner, which is equally big and maybe that’s the reason they decided to take the odd route. No, HP is not going to stop doing Windows PCs anytime soon, but one must keep experimenting, right?

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Chromebook 14 by HP is one such experiment. Of all the OEMs making Chromebooks, HP is one dominant player. The brand has very good track record which should give these new kind of devices a good start. Chromebook 14 reflects ‘HP’, at least on the exteriors. The question is, will Chrome OS be able complement it? We try to find out.

Design:

The Chromebook 14 looks no different than the other notebook out there except that it’s a very sleek design which is rare in this price segment. Chromebook 14 is easy to hold thanks to the its slimness. Both the display unit and the base are very much slim. The Chromebook 14 weighs just around 1.84kg, making it lighter than its competitors.

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On the exterior of the Chromebook, HP has applied matte finish which while making it look delightful also gives good grip while ‘handling’ it.

On the right side of the Chromebook there is a charger port, a SD card slot and a USB port. A small dual color LED next to charger port indicates charging and flashes when battery is low. Whereas on the left side there is a HDMI port, couple of USB ports, mic cum headphone combo jack and power LED.

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Speakers are on the bottom but since the bottom has tapered edges speakers really don’t get blocked. The CPU fan is also on the bottom whereas the vents are near the display hinges. On most laptops, these heat vents get blocked due to wrong placement, but on the Chromebook 14, its such that they don’t get blocked in any position.

Keyboard and Clickpad
Chromebook has a keyboard to suit the functions in the Chrome OS. If you’ve been using traditional laptops, you’ll find things missing at first go but getting used to it is no big deal. For example, there are no conventional function keys, rather those have been replaced by the function keys for Chrome OS. And ‘Escape’ isn’t going anywhere in near future. Neat huh?

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The alphabetical key layout remains same old QWERTY and a row of number keys above it. Except for the arrow keys, which are very small, others are big enough to work comfortably. Another key that goes missing is ‘Windows’ key, why would one need it on Chromebook anyway. But its replacement is the ‘Finder’ key which brings up app launcher similar to Start menu. It’s the ‘Delete’ key, the lack of which annoyed us especially while typing. Given the interface of the Chrome OS, ‘Delete’ key literally has very small role to play in the OS itself such as deleting files in the File Manager but that shouldn’t be the excuse for its lack. Instead of oversized couple of ‘Shift’ keys, ‘Delete’ could have been included easily on the keyboard. And although there is backspace to erase the words, sometimes delete is all you need. Yeah,okay, you can actually have ‘Delete’ functionality with Alt+Backspace combo, but why reinvent the wheel? Same is the case with the ‘Caps Lock’. It’s also missing. You’ll need to customize the keyboard settings to enable it. Again, a wrong decision.
Clickpad is quite huge and since Chrome OS extensively uses gestures, clickpad is big and comfortable enough to work with. In the browser you can use three finger gesture to swtich between the tabs or two finger horizontal gesture to move forward and backward in the pages. Three finger swipe down brings up task switcher view.
Display
The 14 inch display on HP Chromebook sports 1366×768 HD resolution and has 200 nits brightness. What we liked about the display is it’s not like the typical ones on the consumer laptops. The ones on the consumer laptops tend to be very bright and glare. Whereas the one the Chromebook 14 has perfect balance of the both. It doesn’t strain your eyes while working for long period of time. Sharpness is good as well.

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Right above the display there is 1.3MP camera accompanied by an LED indicator. And to the right of it is the mic. Hinges of the display are able to keep the display in the place very firmly but when {close the base} display falls easily. On the back of the display there’s silver colored prominent HP logo and on the left corner there’s a tiny Chrome OS logo,although not very small.

Specifications

Much like other Chrome OS based notebooks, Chromebook 14 uses latest, 4th gen Celeron Dual Core CPU clocked at 1.4 GHz. There is 4GB onboard to go with it. Intel HD graphics takes care of graphics related stuff, there isn’t anything CPU intensive part of Chrome OS. Except for watching high-def movies, GPU wouldn’t be involved anyway. As far as the connectivity features are concerned there are three USB ports and a HDMI port and WiFi (a/b/g/n) too. Bluetooth 4.0 is also present and 3G modem is optional on some models, although the one reviewed didn’t have it. HP’s official site also lists RJ-45 (LAN) port as one of the connectivity feature but the one listed on Google’s site doesn’t have that either.
If there’s anything that disappoints us the lack of adequate space on Chromebook 14. It features only 16GB SSD, which by any standard is too little. Inclusion of SSD can have many reasons, such as lesser power consumption and faster performance but at the same time SSDs are costly too. So fitting a bigger sized SSD at this price wouldn’t’ be possible. And this doesn’t seem to be the case with only HP’ Chromebook, rather all other Chrome OS based laptops, irrespective of the OEM, have this much amount of storage only. Specifications of the Chromebook and other similar laptops are dictated by Google only and OEMs have to follow. One of the reason behind this could be encouraging the use of online storage. That’s good where internet is easily accessible and simultaneously fast too. But accessing files from internet eats up bandwidth (and thus increases network traffic). Online storage wouldn’t work if you plan to store even moderately sized videos. Generally, people store their photos, videos and HD movies on their laptops itself and that stuff is quickly accessible too. For such people (99% are those such people), this would be disappointing. So if you plan to watch movies or make backups of your phone’s content, you better get yourself a portable HDD.

Performance

Read our full review of Chrome OS. Since it’s same on all Chromebooks, we’re not going to repeat the story.

As far as Chromebook 14’s performance is concerned it was snappy throughout the period of review. The CPU itself isn’t anything great to write home about, much of the credit of its snappiness goes to lightweight ChromeOS. From turned off state, it takes only 6-7 seconds to boot and get you online. Pretty fast. Although every app is practically is just another tab, having many tabs loaded didn’t seem to affect the performance. There is plenty amount of RAM as well. We didn’t perform any specific tests, but as far our usage were concerned, which included playing HD movies offline or online, it didn’t have any problem doing everything for us. No lag, no stuttering at all.
All this leads to fantastic battery life. If you are a frequent flier or on the move constantly (both would rarely use OS with so less functions), you’d be happy with its battery performance. For us it would last around 6-7 hours before putting it back on the charging.
The weird thing we noticed with Chrome OS is that it would not detect our phones as MTP or mass storage devices. We tried with Android and Windows Phone too and it didn’t work. Although, these connectivity features are standard, Chrome OS refusing to work with Windows Phone is understandable but Android? That could be a deal breaker for some. All you can do is hope Google to implement it in future updates of Chrome OS.

Conclusion

The whole ecosystem of the Chrome OS itself is in very mature stage, be it the OS itself or the apps or the devices. HP Chromebook 14 is technically held back by the Google and its ChromeOS. First, it’s the hardware restrictions Google put on OEMs and second the OS which is limited in terms of what it can do. They both cripple the Chromebook 14 very badly. Hardware except for the small SSD isn’t really that bad. The product is designed very well and very thoughtfully. Plus, there’s a kind of confidence that comes with the name ‘HP’. The price HP or Google is asking for Chromebook 14 is more than its worth.
For much lesser price than Chromebook 14, one can get a conventional laptop with a decent configuration. Most of them would include 3rd gen Celeron Dual Core and some would come with 3rd gen Pentium Dual Core. Although not 4th gen, Pentium Dual Core would perform better than Celeron Dual Core. There are many options available from OEMs like Asus, Acer, Toshiba and HP itself. These laptops would also have at least 500GB of HDD as standard, RAM could be lower though, around 2GB but you can always expand it to your wish. Around the same price as HP Chromebook 14, Asus is offering VivoBook which offers quite exciting config. It has 3rd gen Core i3, 4GB of RAM and 500GB HDD but the screen could be a deciding factor as it’s only 11.6 inch on VivoBook compared to 14 inch on Chromebook. There are AMD’s APU Quad Core processor based laptops too, which fit the bill by offering same RAM and HDD as VivoBook but 15.6 inch screen. But keep in mind, these ones would be quite bulky, no less than 2 Kg. Also, keep in mind that most of the laptops in this range would either come without any OS or DOS or Linux. You always have the option to install the OS you wish, including Windows, provided you’ve a valid license.
If you ask us, Google has fumbled a bit with Chromebook range. They are essentially trying to do what they did in smartphones with Nexus brand but the Chromebook experiment is miles away from that. It needs to understand laptops aren’t merely meant for content consumption. They do lot more stuff than that. It’s the same Google that keeps hailing “Openness” all the time while telling us about Android but on ChromeOS it’s very different. It’s closed than ‘Windows’. So if Google is eyeing for share of laptop market they better up the game. And for HP, it’d be wise to wait until Google does that.