HP Chromebook 11 review: Affordable style for life in the cloud

Google's latest Chromebook brings a fresh look to the Chrome OS universe -- and for $279, the laptop has some interesting things to offer.

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Like some recent Android devices, the Chromebook 11's micro-USB charger doubles as an HDMI out-port; you'll need a SlimPort adapter, available at Amazon and most electronics retailers for around $15, in order to make that type of connection.

HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11's micro-USB charging port is the same type of port used on nearly all Android phones and tablets.

Conspicuously missing from the setup is any sort of memory card slot; if you want to use an SD card with this computer, you'll need to get a USB-based card reader -- many of which are available for under 10 bucks -- to get the job done.

The HP Chromebook 11 is quite light -- just 2.3 lb. -- making it easy to carry around and comfortable to have sitting on your lap. It's svelte, too, measuring 11.7 x 7.6 in. and 0.69 in. thick. Even with its slim form and plastic casing, the Chromebook 11 feels solid and sturdy, thanks presumably to the metal reinforcements built into its body.

Display and keyboard

The display on the Chromebook 11 is a massive leap forward from the screens on past entry-level Chrome OS devices. The resolution itself is a modest-sounding 1366 x 768 -- the same as on last year's $249 Samsung Chromebook -- but the Chromebook 11 packs a new IPS LCD panel instead of the lower-quality TN panels used in the past.

As a result, the 11.6-in. glossy screen is bright and crisp, with rich colors and deep blacks. Factor in its 176-degree viewing angle, and you're really looking at an immeasurable improvement over previous entry-level models.

The screen pales in comparison to the best-in-class 2560 x 1700 touch-enabled display of the Chromebook Pixel, of course -- but we're talking about a $279 laptop compared to a $1,300 laptop. A luxury like the Pixel's 239-pixel-per-inch centerpiece comes at a price, but in and of itself, the Chromebook 11's display looks quite good.

HP's Chromebook uses the standard full-sized chiclet-style Chrome OS keyboard, which replaces the top row of function keys with Chrome OS-specific keys and the Caps Lock key with a universal search button. (If you really miss having Caps Lock, you can remap the button back to that function in the system settings.)

I've found the keyboard to be very pleasant to type on; keys are well-spaced and responsive, and have just the right amount of give. The keyboard feels noticeably improved from the Samsung Chromebook, with higher quality keys and better resistance. It's not at the same level of the Pixel -- nor is it backlit like the Pixel's keyboard -- but again, it's all relative.

The surface area around the keyboard is smooth and free from any sharp edges, so it's perfectly comfortable for wrists. A matte plastic trackpad sits immediately beneath the keys; it's highly accurate and supports a variety of one-, two- and three-finger gestures for moving the cursor, scrolling and so forth. Like on other Chromebooks, the trackpad itself is one giant button: You press it with one finger for a left-click and two fingers for a right-click.

The border around the laptop's screen holds an understated plain-text Chrome logo on the bottom and a VGA camera on the top. The camera's nothing special, but it's good enough for casual video chatting (or even the occasional selfie, if that's your thing).

So what's missing from this picture? Speakers -- and there's a reason: You can't see 'em. Following the lead of the Pixel, the Chromebook 11's speakers live beneath the keyboard, so sound actually seems to come from everywhere rather than from any single grille.

The Chromebook's audio quality is impressive: Music played from the device is loud and clear, so much that you could easily use the device to listen to tunes in your house or outdoors without the need for an external speaker. Things aren't quite as full-sounding as what you'd hear with a dedicated speaker (or what you'd get on the Pixel), but for casual rockin' out and chillaxin', it should more than satisfy your aural desires.

Performance, storage and networking

Under its hood, the Chromebook 11 is strikingly similar to last year's Samsung Chromebook: The computer runs on an ARM-based dual-core Samsung Exynos 5250 processor along with 2GB of RAM.

Not surprisingly, then, its performance is pretty much in line with its previous-generation counterpart -- which is to say the system does respectably well, up to a certain point. This isn't going to be the fastest computer you've ever used, and if you're a hardcore power user, it probably won't have enough horsepower to keep up with your needs.

For light to moderate usage, though, the Chromebook 11 performs admirably. It powers up in a mere 10 seconds and, once you've signed in, has you online and ready to roll a few seconds later. Even with several tabs and windows open, it hums along effortlessly and does what you need it to do.

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