Chromebooks are neat devices. I don’t call them laptops because they really aren’t. They can’t do a lot of the things you expect of a real laptop like playing the largest selection of video games out there or serious video production, though wevideo gets close. Of course Linux is always an option but then you might as well just buy a more capable laptop and this is a Chromebook review. Not everything about Chromebooks is bad. Most models do Internet very well and get great battery life which makes them an easy Internet on demand type of device. For many that’s all they need.
I previously owned a Samsung Chromebook 303c which is the cheap, small, ARM based model. The initial neat factor wore off pretty fast as soon as anything “real” had to be done. Open more than 3 tabs and the 2GB of RAM and no swap file makes the device crushingly slow. The size while convenient for transport gets pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly. That means they’re only good for a very shot period of use. What Chromebooks needed was to prove they could really be useful as a serious laptop. What that means is that they needed to strike the balance between more laptop like features and the truly low price point that has made them so popular. I truly feel the HP Chromebook 14 has succeeded at this.
The first thing you notice when you pull the HP Chromebook 14 out of the box is it’s weight and size. It’s significantly larger than the 11″ models but not nearly as large as a 15.6″ laptop. It’s also heavy. Not in an uncomfortable or unwieldy way. It’s got that heft of a well built premium device. Think Apple laptop. The outside is coated in a grippy coating. Not quite rubber but some sort of plastic that looks and feels really good.
This brings us to opening the device and what it has going on inside. The wrist rest is a silver metal or aluminum that helps add to the sturdy and premium feel of the device. The trackpad is quite large. Seems to be nearly the same size as my previous 15″ laptop’s trackpad. No buttons, just a giant click’able pad. The keyboard size seems to be almost identical to the smaller 11″ devices but there’s significantly more room around the keyboard which lends it’s self to a much more comfortable typing experience. They keys are also of note. They have a very subtle texture on them that makes them feel really good on your finger tips.
The screen was probably the biggest failure of the Samsung 303c Chromebook. It was down right terrible. Had terrible viewing angles and messy color. This is definitely not a problem on the Chromebook 14. The display is a standard LCD but it’s sharp and clear and has pretty good viewing angles which makes it very nice to look at for extended periods. I’m sure it’s not quite as good as the IPS display on the 11 inch but it’s clear that the game had to be upped and HP did just that. 1366×768 on a 15+ inch display was uncomfortable in how large everything seems but on the 14″ display this seems like the perfect resolution to size ratio. Certainly one of the better displays I’ve seen in a while and not one you’d expect on a $300 device.
Lets talk performance. The dual core processor and 4GB of ram doesn’t seem like much in the scope of modern computing where quad and even eight core processors and eight to sixteen GB of ram is pretty standard. I currently have eleven tabs open, three running gmail, one running Google Plus, Amazon and various others and the laptop hasn’t missed a beat. It hasn’t heated up, run slow, hitched in performance or showed any sign the system is stressed.
As usual software is the main sticking point. The laptop(see what I did there?) is x86 based so it makes NACL and Linux packages more accessible than the ARM model of Chromebook which is a huge plus. Also advancements in local storage applications and better quality web apps for some of those missing genres of apps like video editing are finally seeing some options. The selection is unfortunately still pretty small for most of these types of things. Your best bet for real computing tasks will of course be the larger selection of software for Linux making Crouton’s Chroot environment or Chrubuntu handy if not necessary to compliment the quick web focus of Chrome OS itself. Also with SeaBIOS you can even choose to just do a full install of Linux and use it as a standard Linux laptop.
Over all the style, build and performance of the laptop has driven me to choose it as my primary mobile computing device aside from my phone. It’s been a pleasure to use every day.
UPDATE: I neglected initially to mention the battery life. I get a true 7-8 hours of battery. That’s including streaming video and other things that tend to blow through battery. Did I mention I love this thing?