This HP laptop will stand out in a dorm room – USA TODAY
These days so much of what we do on a laptop can be done almost entirely within your browser. With freely available services like Gmail, Dropbox, and Google Docs you can accomplish tasks online that once required both a powerful laptop and expensive software.
It’s no surprise then, to see a raft of low-cost laptops that take advantage of this, asking you to pay for the bare minimum and letting these free services take care of the rest. The new HP Stream 11 (MSRP: $199.99) isn’t the first, of course, but it’s a rare bird in that it runs the full version of Windows 8.1, providing a tantalizing alternative to the similar—but more limited—Chromebooks on the market.
While you can do more with Windows 8.1 than you can with Chrome OS, the Stream is still limited by its small form factor. Its size—and HP’s need to keep the price low—mean it won’t be able to handle more intensive tasks beyond web browsing, document editing, or watching some Netflix.
But for $200, how much more do you need? For many people editing documents, sifting through spreadsheets, answering e-mail, and keeping up with the web and social media is more than enough. With the Stream 11 you can do all of that, and it comes in plenty of eye-catching colors such as electric blue, magenta, and hot pink.
Of course, there are still plenty of limits. The main drawback is the severely limited internal storage, with just 32GB of flash memory by default. Luckily, there’s an SD card slot, so you can add a microSDHC card with a low-profile adapter to double or triple that amount for under $50.
On the outside, there’s just no confusing this for anything but a cheap laptop. The display is about what you’d expect given the price, measuring 11.6 inches with a resolution of 1366×768. The plastic case has a little too much flex, too, though it feels on par with most of the better Chromebooks out there.
But by far my biggest frustrations with the Stream stemmed from its trackpad. It consistently struggled to match my fingers’ movements and getting a click to register often took a few tries. It’s the kind of thing that can improve with driver updates over time, but as it stands it’s a source of constant headaches.
The keyboard, on the other hand, is surprisingly workable. Despite being billed as an ultraportable laptop, the Stream has a full keyboard with generous spacing and the comfortable key travel of more expensive notebook computers.
As soon as you boot up the Stream 11 for the first time, you’re greeted by the usual Windows experience. It’s running full Windows 8.1 and—unfortunately—comes bundled with an array of mostly useless pre-installed apps when purchased from HP.
Though you may find a couple of apps useful, you can also buy the “Signature Edition” of the Stream 11 direct from the Microsoft Store, which comes bloatware-free.
No matter which version you get, HP and Microsoft include a full year of Office 365 Personal, giving you access to Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for that time. You also get 1TB of online storage through Microsoft’s SkyDrive, the company’s cloud storage service.
The processor is a dual-core Intel Celeron N2840, which is clocked at 2.16 GHz with burst to 2.58GHz. Backing that up is a measly 2GB of RAM, so we’d caution against trying to run multiple programs at the same time. As far as graphics go, the Stream uses an Intel HD Graphics GPU, which isn’t really meant for any kind of gaming beyond the latest version of Farmville.
By far, however, the Stream’s best feature is its battery life. Using our intensive battery rundown test—which simulates a range of typical, battery-draining tasks—the Stream was able to last just shy of 5.5 hours. With more powerful laptops we’re happy to see even half that, so this is truly remarkable.
Ultimately, the Stream 11 is the definition of cheap and cheerful. No, it’s not a particularly powerful machine, but it gets the job done. It has a stellar battery life that can easily get you through a whole day, runs full Windows 8.1, and has an upbeat, colorful design.
You’ll have to live with its occasionally maddening trackpad and limited storage, but the HP Stream 11 is absolutely worth the price of admission.
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