on 19 December 2013
Although I bought My chromebook 14 in the UK, it wasn't available on amazon UK yet, I had to buy it direct from HP about 2 weeks ago. Like the T-mobile version in the US, mine comes with a built in HSPA+ radio that gives me superfast mobile internet in the area of London where I live, on par with wifi speeds pretty much. This is the first product I reviewed that got a 5-star rating although perhaps 4.75 stars would have been more accurate. The tiny flaws that it does have are balanced out by the stupendously low price, basically this is a machine you can easily compare to a macbook or a windows ultrabook that costs 4 times as much and it will still hold its own. Obviously this is a Chrome OS device so one has to do their research if they can live with a cloud-based OS and there is a very small learning curve when switching, but honestly Chrome OS is so easy to learn, almost anyone should be able to do it. I also wrote a detailed and critical review looking at every little aspect of the device, meant for chromies who are already sold on the concept but need comparisons with other chromebooks available on the market. For my money, this particular model is the best chromebook you can get out there, factoring in things like price, battery life, 4g connectivity and screen size. Without further ado here is my full review:
Overall Feel and Quality 5/5
A week in, I am even more impressed by the quality and feel of this device. The rubberized plastic casing feels very premium, rugged and looks incredibly attractive. This machine isn't made out of cheap plastic like the Samsung Series 3 or Acer C720 chromebooks. HP really put time and effort to make this an excellent device to use on a day-to-day basis and what they have achieved with the limited budget they had is impressive. HP made sure that the plastics used do not pick up fingerprints and the whole laptop is glare-free apart from the glossy screen, which is a fair compromise to get a clear view of web content without the grey, muddy sheen that matte screens tend to produce.
Weight and Portability 4/5
The best way to think about this laptop is that it is a portable machine like a Macbook Pro, but not ultraportable like a Macbook Air or HP11. In fact, the weight and size of this 14" machine falls halfway between the 13" and 15" Retina Macbook Pros. It is quite a bit lighter than the older macbook pros with spinning hard drives or any similar windows machine. Coming from any laptop other than the macbook air, you will probably find this to machine to be light and portable. That being said, if you need to carry this in your bag all day, a smaller machine would probably be more suited to your needs. As it is, this size is an ideal compromise between getting a decent-sized screen for home use and being able to carry it around without too much hassle if the need arises. The difference in weight between this machine and the 13" macbook air is half a kilo, equivalent to a small 0.5 litre bottle of water in your bag, not a huge deal.
Fan noise and ambient heat 4/5
Coming from the ARM Samsung the fan noise was initially quite noticeable. Also, unlike the Acer C720 the fan is constantly on, not just under heavy loads. However it is really very quiet if a tad higher-pitched than I would like. If there is any background noise at all you won't hear a thing, in a quiet room however there is definitely a constant, faint whirr. If fan noises bother you, this definitely is among the best in terms of keeping the noise down due to the Haswell microarchitecture. Since the celeron build does not support hyperthreading or turbo boost, the fan does not spin up under heavy loads, and I never noticed the machine heating up or blowing out hot air like a hairdryer as is often the case with older windows laptops. The underside of the machine is the only part that heats up slightly, but even that is cool to the touch, much cooler than the fanless Samsung Chromebook which tends to get a bit warm under heavy use.
Keyboard and Palmrest 5/5
After a week in, I have gotten used to the keyboard and type as fast as on any machine. It is definitely a great keyboard, the white keys make it easier to see in low light situations so that lack of a keyboard backlight isn't as jarring as it would be with black keys. There is good key travel and a satisfying spring to the keys, for a laptop of course. The UK layout is slightly different than what you get in the US, the enter key I find really odd as it is narrower than on other chromebooks and not that easy to hit. The whole keyboard is a hair smaller than the HP11 or Samsung S3 and the keys appear to be slightly smaller but with a bigger spacing between them. The textured feel of the keys will appeal to some, personally I preferred the smooth keys on the ARM chromebooks. The large size of the palmrest makes this a more comfortable machine to type on than the smaller chromebooks out there, if you need to type a lot and need your chromebook for work, it is probably a good idea to get a 14" machine. I also like the material used on the palmrest, it matte grey plastic rather than aluminium but it is really smooth and comfortable for extended period and shows no reflections or fingerprints of any kind.
This is an excellent trackpad, one of the best I have ever used. It is smooth and fairly large with probably the best accuracy of any chromebook out there bar the pixel. Two and Three finger gestures work really well and it doesn't register accidental touches with your palm like a lot of windows laptops tend to do. My twice as expensive windows laptop is a nightmare to type on, the cursor keeps jumping as I keep brushing my palms against the trackpad and I usually realize only after a few sentences that I have been typing in the middle of the text by mistake rather than at the end. No such issues here, this is pretty much a perfect trackpad, except for one slight issue. Others on Google+ have also reported that the trackpad is a bit loose and rattley. Basically when you tap to click the trackpad isn't firmly in place it has a slight bit of travel, but this has gotten better with use and I don't even notice it any more.
Much has been said about the screen on the HP14, some reviewers thought it decent, others have declared it to be terrible and low-res. I believe the only way to review this fairly is to look at each aspect of the screen separately.
Size: 14 inches is pretty much the perfect screen size in my opinion, it makes a huge difference in day-to-day use. I no longer have to lean forward and squint to see what I'm typing.
Resolution: 1366X768 is the standard resolution for budget and mid-range laptops for screen sizes ranging from 11 to 16 inches, I challenge anyone to find a better resolution screen on a device that costs less than $1000 / £800. Reviewers that complain about the supposed low resolution are comparing this screen to that found on high-end laptops which is meaningless. Yes, a higher resolution screen would be nice, but as long as this is the standard for even mid-range laptops this is just wishful thinking.
Clarity and Brightness: I really like the clarity of the glossy screen, compared to the matte screen on my Samsung everything looks crisper, clearer and brighter. While this is a 200-nit screen, it does appear to be slightly brighter than either the Samsung Series 3 or Acer C720. For general browsing and typing I can get away with using 50 percent brightness which extends the battery life considerably. For watching movies and videos I tend to crank up the brightness to 80-90 percent. Overall I think the screen is bright enough unless you live in a place like California or Spain where sunshine can be an issue. Which brings me to:
Reflections and Outdoor use: A glossy screen combined with only 200 nits of brightness does not make this an ideal outdoor machine. In a really bright room, the screen definitely struggles to cancel out reflections. It gets by, but if you want to use this outdoors in the blazing sun, I think something is wrong with you, honestly.
Contrast and Colour Reproduction: Oh boy, this is bad. This is my only real issue with the screen, I hope Anandtech will get to review this device and give us some numbers, but contrast ratios are definitely poor. Black letters on a white background struggle a bit, so I have to push the screen back to get deeper blacks but that also gives me greyer whites. Also, a photo of a light-skinned person on a white background looks awful. I suspect HP decided to make a tradeoff with a strong LED backlight that gives you a brilliant screen at the cost of lower contrast ratios and blacks that are more like dark grey. Colour reproduction is also a bit off, as with other chromebooks the whole colour spectrum is skewed towards blue. As a result blue and green landscapes look gorgeous, a tropical beach scene on either a photo or a movie looks simply amazing but a sunset isn't as orange as it should be. When watching movies, bright scenes look really good, but dark scenes struggle a bit due to the low contrast. Overall it is still a better experience than the Samsung Series 3 or the Acer C720. For this price you get a cheap TN panel and HP had to make compromises to get to that sub $300 price point with the 2 GB model. This wouldn't be the machine to get if you work with photos or videos and need accurate colour reproduction, but then nobody in their right mind would get a budget chromebook for that.
Materials and Build quality 5/5
As I mentioned previously this is the area where HP has a definite edge over its chromebook rivals with both the HP11 and HP14. A lot of thought has gone into selecting the right sort of plastics for each particular part of the machine to give users the best experience possible without going for an expensive metal alloy chassis. I think the extra weight and thickness is worth it to get a really sturdy, durable machine that does not creak or bend and feels like it will hold up well to any abuse you can throw at it. The machine is also well put together and the only part that feels slightly cheap on initial inspection is the clickety trackpad, but that improves with use. Touching and handling this machine is a real joy, well done HP!
Ports and Slots 5/5
I do not use these a lot since I'm mostly cloud-based, but you do get the usual selection of USB port, SD card slot and Hdmi outlet. Where the HP14 stands out is that you can permanently keep an SD card in your machine to locally store music, videos and photos, as the card goes all the way in and doesn't stick out. Also worth mentioning is the SIM card slot which is very user-friendly, you can swap SIM cards in a few seconds and it isn't locked. This is very handy when travelling as a lot of countries sell pre-paid cellular data SIM cards for tourists so if you know you're going to spend a few days or weeks in one country you can easily have cheap mobile internet wherever you go.
As in most laptops, the speakers face down, however they are placed on the sides where the bottom tapers upwards so they never get muffled. The sound is crisp and clear even at high volumes and the speakers are quite powerful, you can actually feel them resonate as you type. There is little bass, but then you can't expect that from a laptop. Using quality headphones, the sound is excellent.
Initially I saw little difference between the performance of the ARM chromebook and the Intel Haswell powered HP14. However I have since realized this was because I have gotten used to the limitations of the ARM chip in the Samsung and have adjusted my usage patterns accordingly. After a week of using the HP14 I would be reluctant to go back to an ARM-powered machine. The ARM architecture is constantly being optimized for Chrome OS and even as we speak the Beta and Dev channels of Chrome OS provide marked improvements in performance for ARM-powered devices. That being said, the HP14 feels like a breath of fresh air after the low-powered samsung. Where the S3 feels asthmatic, lethargic and chokes on heavy web pages or full page HD videos in youtube, the HP not only flies, it can tackle several demanding tasks at the same time without choking. You can easily leave dozens of tabs open, play an HD youtube video in the background for music and play a demanding game at the same time without getting any jerkiness, frame rate drops or jerkiness. That is very impressive and gives you confidence that the machine will handle anything you throw at it for years to come.
Wifi performance is excellent on the HP14, better than any laptop I've used so far. The router in my house is a bit further away from my room than is ideal and my other machines, including the S3 tend to drop the signal from time to time, no such problems with the HP. This model comes with mobile internet included. In the UK, as in the US it is an HSPA+ wireless radio. In the US this is marketed as 4G, in the UK this is considered 3G or 3G+ according to some marketing materials. It is faster than normal 3G, but it won't be up to LTE speeds. The network provider is Fogg Mobile, a Swedish telecom company who have effectively outsourced the service to Three. I already have a mobile phone contract with Three and mobile internet speeds in my area are relatively fast (Wapping in East London), actually they are usually better than what I get from my BT wired broadband over wifi. Fogg mobile gives you 250 MB data per month free for 2 years, which is only enough to use in an emergency when nothing else is available. I will generally stick to wifi and tethering, but it is a good option to have and the sim is swappable, so you can easily get an unlimited mobile data SIM card from Three for around £15 per month which should give you constant internet coverage without having to use wifi or tethering. The only problem I have with Three is that they don't always have their own masts, so when you head to central london you have to make do with the very low bandwidth that they manage to rent from other providers and at peak times that is nonexistent in places like the city. Still, you can insert a sim from any provider if they have better service in your area.
I tested HSPA+ vs BT broadband speed in Wapping at 5.30 PM with no one else connected to the wifi network. Streaming speeds were 6537 kbps on three's mobile network, almost twice of what is minimally recommended for HD video streaming. ON BT wifi I got 9837 kbps, which is around 50 percent higher but in real world use both connection speeds are fine.
Battery Life and Charging 4/5
It is worth noting that the 9.5 hours battery life claimed by HP has been achieved at 40 nits brightness, which is a ridiculous 20 percent and with wifi switched off (you can find this in the fine print on their website). Nobody would ever use a laptop like that, so that figure is clearly misleading and disingenuous from HP. In real life usage you can get up to 8 hours on a single charge, this will drop to about 5-6 hours if you stream HD videos at 80 percent brightness. Certainly not bad, but far from HP's claims. A full charge while the machine is in use will take 2 hours, less if the machine is switched off. The charger is a standard HP brick but at least it doesn't overheat
Chrome OS 4/5
Most people who buy this machine are already familiar with Chrome OS, the Google operating system on the HP14. However for those that aren't, here is a quick summary of what chrome OS is and what it can and can't do.
Chrome OS is linux-based operating system that has been stripped down and modified beyond recognition. It shares some similarities with Android, Google's other operating system, but while android is open-source and can be heavily modified by manufacturers or tinkerers, Chrome OS is strictly locked down. Chrome OS on a chromebook is the most secure operating system known to man, apart from a proprietary OS used by the US armed forces. It features security measures like sandboxing and OS verification that makes it pretty much impervious to cyber attacks and viruses. The OS is constructed in such a way that a regular user cannot mess it up. Rogue browser extensions are pretty much the only weakness from a defensive computing standpoint, but those are unlikely to cause too much trouble. Some really knowledgeable security experts recommend using a chromebook for financial transactions as the most secure option. You can still be vulnerable to phishing attacks so you need to pay attention whenever a suspicious email asks for your bank date, but as far as OS-side security it doesn't get better than Chrome. Chrome OS is a fine operating system for the casual user, but it is quite limited when it comes to running more feature-rich applications like photo or video editors or games. Instead of installing local apps, the chromebook depends on cloud apps, some of which will work offline. Google's office suite is a fine replacement for MS Office for the casual user, if you must use MS Office, you can do so by downloading the skydrive app from the web store. You can also use Apple's Iwork suite if you prefer that one, but these only work with a web connection. Google docs works offline as well and you can keep your most important documents set to offline access, if you use gmail you can utilize the same feature. It is also worth noting, that if there is a local app that you absolutely must have and you can't install it on Chrome OS (skype, google earth, minecraft, steam games) it is very easy to install Linux Ubuntu to run alongside chrome os, where you can switch between the two environments with a key combination.
Storage and RAM 5/5
Although the 16 GB SSD seems quite small, Chrome OS doesn't need a lot of space and even if you install Linux via Crouton you still have a few gigabytes left to install local apps and games. If you do plan to use Linux it is probably worth holding out for 32 GB SSD version which is already available in the US and should eventually come to the UK as well. However the 100 GB extra cloud storage pretty much negates the need for more than 16 GB if you stick to Chrome OS and the SSD makes the machine blazingly fast. The 4GB RAM is plenty and the machine never seems to run out of memory. No complaints here
Boot and Wake up times 5/5
The combination of an SSD drive, the lightweight Chrome OS and the latest Haswell class Intel processor makes measuring boot up and wake up times meaningless. Wake up is instantaneous, faster than you can lift the lid, and boot up is so fast you will miss it if you look away for a second. A major reason for getting a chromebook over any other device.
Value for Money 5/5
There is little to be said about the value for money proposition here, it is self-evident really, particularly by UK standards. While the 3G model of the far inferior Samsung series 3 is currently priced at £299 at Currys Pcworld, this 3G+ model of the HP14 is sold for £279 on HP's website, but discounts can be had. I bought this with a 10 percent discount using a special voucher code, so I ended up paying £251. There is nothing currently available in the UK for under £500 (and I looked hard, believe me) that can come even close to the awesomeness that is the HP 14. This device would be good value even at £499 so the current price is nothing sort of astonishing. It is also worth noting that the ACER C720 2GB version has a US/UK list price of $199 / £199, whilst the 3G HP 14's list price is comparatively lower in the UK at $349/£279 (not counting any special offers and discounts on either)
I left this for last, but it was a very important consideration in my purchase decision and the main reason I immediately excluded the Acer C720 as a possibility. In my humble opinion, the snow white HP14 is currently one the most attractive looking laptops out there. I think it looks better than the HP11 which has a slightly fisher price look to it and the shiny, glossy white plastic is far from ideal in terms of attracting fingerprints. To be honest I actually prefer the colour scheme of this model to the Chromebook Pixel and the Macbook Pro, mostly because of the white keyboard that matches the colour of the machine and the screen bezel combined with the matte grey palmrest. It broadcasts a very neat and professional image. From a distance this looks like a high-end machine with a great screen, although closer-up it becomes obvious that it isn't retina quality.
Overall I couldn't be happier with my purchase, the HP Chromebook 14 is a significant step up from the Samsung series 3. What you gain in screen size, performance, quality and looks you lose in portability and weight, so you have to examine your usage scenarios to see if this is the right machine for you. My feeling is that for the time being this is the Macbook Pro of budget chromebooks. It is heavier and more expensive than the Acer C720 or or the Samsung, but it will serve you better as a desktop replacement and it is more suitable as a workspace. Built in mobile internet is also a huge plus in my eyes as unlimited data plans are becoming more common in the UK. You could conceivably use this machine without ever needing to connect to wifi, therefore saving yourself a bunch on a wired broadband subscription. When it comes to price comparisons with chromebooks, the ACER C720 costs £179 at PC World if you factor in the £20 cashback offer, but it has only 2 GB of ram, no 4 GB model is currently available. For the added quality, RAM and screen size, I think £100 is a reasonable price to pay if portability and weight isn't paramount.