New hardware Mini Review: The HP Stream 11

I’m not sure if the netbook is a Phoenix rising from the ashes or a zombie. The very small, low powered system with a *proper* keyboard is pretty handy, and while I won’t go as far as calling tablets a fad, a fancy touch screen is no match for a proper keyboard IMO.

I tend to prefer smaller laptops in general – I’ve used an X220 for the past couple of years and its a great, well built machine (and well, lenovo hasn’t made another thinkpad I’ve had the same amount of desire for since), and I’ve always wanted something small and cheap I could throw into a bag and use on a train or on a bus.

The HP Stream is probably one of the first of a new breed of fairly cheap, plastic laptops with tablet cores, soldered in everything, and surprisingly low pricetags. Chromebooks are probably the same class, but the wintel netbooks seem to be a lot cheaper.

So.. what does 310 dollars get me? What’s essentially a copy of office 365 personal (so.. ~100 dollars in value), 25 dollars in windows store credits (which I can’t really find anything to spend on), and a slightly flawed, but very charming piece of hardware.

I’ll start with the two main annoyances – the screen isn’t that great, and once you have installed that copy of office 365, you only have 6gb left. If you’re a display snob (and in my line of work I see some *lovely* screens), you’ll likely get annoyed. It leaks light into black areas on the screen in the dark, its kinda uneven, but most of the time, unless you’ve got a completely black screen and are using the laptop in the dark, its not too bad. I guess it was a compromise to keep costs down. As for the storage, its an emmc, its reasonably fast, but its *tiny*. I’d note it *could* be worse – HP’s used a little trick meant for low cost tablets that puts many system files in a WIM disk image to save space. Nonetheless, I use the SD card for secondary storage, and for apps I don’t need running all the time. If only office 365 could install there… but apparently MS dosen’t think people need to install office on secondary drives. I’ll likely remove it once office 365 expires, or see if I can move the subscription to a more powerful system in future. The onboard webcam also seems a bit junk, but that’s not really a major issue for me.

Build quality is great. While its cheap, it doesn’t *feel* cheap. Its almost as if HP’s proud of thing thing – There’s almost no flex in it I can feel, and its a really *good looking* machine. The keyboard is *fantastic* despite being an island keyboard – Maybe its the spacing, and the nice, very reassuring light clickiness. There’s a few nice touches – a power/charging light on the left that’s orange when its charging, and white when its full, an orange mute light on the mute button and a power light on the side (which is nice if your system is on when your lid is closed). function keys do ‘additional’ functions such as volume or brightness control by default, which mostly works great (other than me fat-fingering f4 for switching monitors when I wanted to f5 for refreshing. The horror!). The onboard storage is *reasonably* fast, and considering that these things are lightweight, probably the best compromise they could pull between price and weight. Battery life seems insanely good, with only 20% usage after 2 hours or so (granted on fairly light duties, wifi, IRC and a few chat sites – basically what I normally do with my netbook).

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The base system build is fairly sparse, you get a copy of mcafee (TOSS!), an installer that pulls in office 365 if you want it, some HP software for making rescue disks and such, and a few metro/modern UI apps. There’s a traveladvisor link in IE, but other than that its pretty clean.

While video is slightly dodgy, sound quality is good. The onboard speakers are surprisingly good for the size, and the headphone out is excellent once you turn off the dts equalizer.

While there’s reports that the touchpad is a bit insensitive, it works well for me, both with basic gestures and tapping. I might have actually preferred it if they hadn’t made it a clicky touchpad.

I’d also add, its a pretty good looking machine.

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It looks almost 70sish, with the bright blue basic colour, the *really* polished chrome HP badge, and the fairly obvious branding on the back.

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The right panel. One USB 3.0, one USB 2.0. I do believe the platform supports one more USB 2.0 interface, and that’s being used for the SD card reader. Yes, cheap laptops have HDMI now. The 3.5mm port is a combo port and a smartphone headset should probably work there. And you only get these two ports – with almost any system on this platform I suspect

left panel

 

 

 

 

And the left side. One light (which tells turns amber when its charging). The SD card reader is USB attached as I mentioned and a realtek so don’t bother getting a really fast SD card if you want to use it for more space. I just grabbed a spare and popped it in.

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And the keyboard .  The caps lock light dosen’t bleed *as* badly in real life, and f6 is a lovely orange. I probably should not have used my moto G for this. It really is a lovely keyboard.

On the whole, the HP Stream is a *slightly* flawed machine, but the things I love about it (size, cool running and keyboard) kinda outweigh the cons (More hard disk space, and a better screen). Its probably a perfect second, or third machine, the sort of thing you’d toss into a bag on a whim and forget about. I was literally wrapping it in a reusable shopping bag, dumping it in my backpack and bringing it on my way to work for about 2 weeks with little issues.

I’d also add this entire review, other than photos was typed out on this, so clearly, I do consider it a very usable machine.  Its not a powerhouse by any measure but its *good enough*, and the price – which I suspect is partially due to both MS and Intel trying to gain market share is pretty hard to argue with. Its an awesome, surprisingly practical geek toy. I’ll need to see if I can get linux on a USB boot (Well, I could try installing it over the MMC since I have a backup but one at a time), which should expand the possibilities for fun.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, the cover is a pencil case from daiso. The cloth bag seemed a bit undignified.

 

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