Introduction and design
I used to be something of a Chromebook skeptic.
Sure, Chrome OS is a novel idea, I thought – a simple, streamlined operating system focused on getting you online as quickly and easily as possible – but it wasn’t for me. Why would I want to live my digital life entirely in a browser, relying solely on web apps to get work done?
It seemed like the digital equivalent of living out of a suitcase. Sure, you do it when you have to, but it isn’t ideal for everyday use. If you think in the same way, the HP Chromebook 14 ($199 US, about £229, AU$499) may not be your dream machine.
But if you just want a device to check email and surf the web, it’s fast enough for most tasks. Its 14-inch screen is bright and crisp, and its trackpad and keyboard are excellent. The Chromebook isn’t flawless, but it’s a solid all-around machine that might make you forget that you’re leaving anything behind.
HP’s Chromebook isn’t exactly a high-end PC, but it’s a slick, streamlined piece of kit nonetheless. The tapered enclosure measures 0.7 inches (about 18mm) thick at its thickest point. At 3.74 pounds (1.7kg), it’s also reasonably light, though not as much as the 13.3-inch, 2.97-pound Toshiba Chromebook 2. That extra weight gives you a slightly larger screen, though, and the Chromebook 14 doesn’t feel at all heavy in hand.
The case itself is entirely plastic, and it does flex and creak some as you adjust the screen or pick it up one-handed. On the bright side, the case doesn’t have any exposed screws, so you don’t need to worry about a loose screen dropping out randomly.
Oh. And it’s blue. Very blue. Like, swimming-pool blue. The shade of blue, which HP calls Sky Blue, looks cool, but it isn’t for everyone. A white keyboard and lid offsets all the vibrant blue, though it makes our Chromebook 14 review unit the PC equivalent of a Smurf. (Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your taste in 1980s cartoons).
Plenty of ports
You’ll find no shortage of inputs on the Chromebook 14. The left edge features an HDMI-out port, a security lock slot, a USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack, and a MicroSD card slot. Along the right, you’ll find the power connector and two USB 2.0 ports. Ideally, I would have loved if all three USB ports supported USB 3.0, but there’s plenty of connectivity for most users.
Stellar keyboard and trackpad
As a writer, I’m picky when it comes to keyboards, and I was pleasantly surprised by the typing experience on the Chromebook 14. The keyboard feels responsive with clicky keys and plenty of key travel.
The keyboard flexes ever so slightly when I pound heavily on it, but under normal use, it isn’t mushy at all. My gripe is there’s no dedicated Caps Lock key; a Search key takes its place and must be triggered while holding the alt key. It isn’t a big deal, but it makes it more difficult to impulsively tweet in all caps.
The trackpad is equally excellent. It’s big and spacious, with plenty of room to mouse around. The whole trackpad is a button, so you don’t have to fiddle around to find the left- and right-click buttons.
The button itself depresses with a satisfying click, but it’s much stiffer the closer to the keyboard you go. If you’re accustomed to the trackpad on, say, a MacBook Air, you’ll feel right at home on the Chromebook 14.
Specifications and Performance
Let’s ignore the specs for just a moment–we’ll get to them shortly–and let’s instead focus on feel. The HP Chromebook 14 feels fast. It boots absurdly quickly, the built-in Chrome browser opens almost instantly, and with rare exceptions, everything just feels responsive.
Here is the HP Chromebook 14 configuration sent to techradar for review:
- CPU: 1.83GHz Intel Celeron N2940 processor (quad-core, 2MB cache, up to 2.25GHz)
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics
- RAM: 4GB DDR3
- Screen: 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display
- Storage: 16GB eMMC
- Ports: 1 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, HDMI, MicroSD slot, headphone jack
- Connectivity: Intel 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0
- Camera: HP TrueVision HD webcam
- Weight: 3.74 pounds (1696g)
- Size: 13.54 x 9.45 x 0.7 inches (344mm x 240mm x 18mm) (W x D x H)
With a 1080p display and quad-core 1.83GHz Intel Celeron N2940 processor inside, this Chromebook 14 is the higher-end model that HP offers at $279 or £307 (about AU$193). Though it isn’t a technical powerhouse by modern standards, thanks to Chrome OS’s minimal bloat and speedy performance, that almost doesn’t matter. Almost.
These specs generally compare to the Acer Chromebook 15, which features a 1.5GHz dual-core Intel Celeron 3205U processor and 2GB of memory. It’s also over a pound lighter than Acer’s offering, though the Acer has a 15.6-inch screen. The Acer also includes 32GB of onboard storage, compared to the 16GB on the HP Chromebook 14.
Since Chrome is designed with cloud storage in mind, the relative lack of storage isn’t as big an issue as it would otherwise be.
Toshiba’s 13.3-inch Chromebook 2 is lighter (2.97 pounds) and more powerful (a 2.1GHz Core i3-5015U). But at $429 (about £299, AU$612), it’s also much pricier than HP’s offering -and that’s even considering the cheaper $329 (about £230, AU$469) Celeron-powered model
The Chromebook 14 is more than fast enough for day-to-day tasks, but I noticed that it stuttered occasionally under heavy use. Videos would drop frames, for instance, or scrolling would stutter a bit. With more casual web browsing usage, such stuttering was rare, so you shouldn’t run into problems too often.
Here’s how the Chromebook 14 performed in our battery of web browser benchmarks:
- Kraken 1.1: 4.135ms
- Sunspider 1.0.2: 703.2ms
- techradar battery test: 5 hours, 38 minutes
Since Chrome OS doesn’t run traditional applications, I had to rely primarily on the web-based Kraken and Sunspider benchmarks, but you can see some patterns here.
The Kraken score of 4,135 milliseconds is nearly three times slower than that put up by the Core i3-based Toshiba Chromebook 2. That makes sense given the Chromebook 14’s weaker Celeron processor (and lower base price). But as I noted earlier, you should be able to happily chug along on the Chromebook 14 without much problem.
Battery life is good, not great
HP claims the Chromebook 14’s 3-cell, 37-watt-hour battery can last over 8 hours on a single charge. We didn’t quite get that long of run time, though. The Chromebook 14 managed 5 hours, 38 minutes on a single charge when playing an HD video file in VLC on loop (50% screen brightness, 50% volume with headphones plugged in).
This lagged behind both the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (which achieved slightly over six hours on the same test). I was able to squeeze in nearly seven hours of usage while browsing the web, viewing YouTube videos, streaming music, and otherwise going about my business. This fell a little short of the Acer Chromebook 15, which managed close to 8 hours under similar usage.
Bright, vivid screen
The 14-inch, 1920 x 1080 screen is bright, crisp, and evenly backlit, with appealing color saturation and contrast. Photos and text appear sharp and crisp on-screen, and its viewing angle is generally good. My one gripe is that Chrome OS lacks an interface scaling feature that lets you increase the size of text and onscreen elements across the system, but that’s hardly the screen’s fault.
Good enough sound
You wouldn’t expect booming audio from a laptop, and the Chromebook 14 is no exception to this rule. The built-in stereo speakers are tinny and hollow-sounding, but they’re serviceable. On the plus side, audio is loud and clear.If you’re an audiophile, you’ll want a good pair of earbuds or headphones.
Admittedly, my exposure to Chromebooks and Chrome OS is limited, but despite that, my experience with the HP Chromebook 14 was a good one. By the end of my time with it, I found myself reaching for the Chromebook over my trusty MacBook Air.
It isn’t the smallest, lightest Chromebook out there, but its 14-inch screen represents a good balance between ample screen space and portability. A top-notch keyboard and trackpad, coupled with a great screen, makes the Chromebook 14 a joy to write and browse the web on.
Battery life is merely average compared to other, comparable Chromebooks from other manufacturers. Also, some stuttering and sluggishness under heavy loads detracted from my otherwise enjoyable experience.
A Chromebook isn’t going to be quite as flexible as a full-on WIndows PC or a Mac. No matter how Google dresses things up, you’re still relying heavily on web apps to get work done, and ultimately such restrictions aren’t for everyone.
Still, with a base price of about $200, the HP Chromebook 14 is a great value for those looking for a basic web browsing machine. It’s more affordable than the Toshiba Chromebook 2 while offering a bigger screen. The Acer Chromebook 15 serves up some much stiffer competition with newer components, more memory and a larger screen, but the HP 14-incher is a bit more compact and better looking to boot if aesthetics are crucial.
For a reasonably modest investment, you’ll get a responsive, friendly notebook that’s actually fun to use despite its shortcomings.