Google's HP-built Chromebook 11 is a cut-price laptop running Chrome OS, and is available online for just £230.
- 11.6-inch IPS display
- 176-degree viewing angle
- "Chrome Keyboard"
- 2 x USB 2.0 ports
- Magnesium-reinforced plastic body
- 6 hour battery
- 100 GB of Google Drive Storage for 2 years
- 60-day Google Music All Access Trial
"Meet the new Chromebook, with the best of Google built in. Clever touches like an extra bright screen and a charger that also works with your Android phone are designed to keep up with the things you do every day."
There are many people to whom the Google/HP Chromebook 11 won't even feel like a real computer. Because, and let's get this out of the way immediately, Google's Chrome OS doesn't do virtually anything that you might expect a "real" computer to do. It doesn't run Word. It doesn't have iTunes. It can't really manage files very well, play most games, connect easily to your printer or manage your smartphone. what it can do - virtually all it can do - is run Google's Chrome browser.
It's just - if you think about it - that's almost 90% of what you need a computer for.
Which is Google's end game, of course. By building these increasingly cheap, high-quality Internet-only laptops, it aims to transition the world (or a small part of it) to a place where everything you need is in the cloud. Where your music, files, software and contacts reside not in files on your computer, or even software apps installed on your tablet, but somewhere in the ether to be called down whenever you temporarily need them - alongside Google's ubiquitous ads.
Once you've made your peace with that idea, and reconciled yourself to the fact that a Chromebook will not become your main machine but just a neat entry window into that weird world we call the web, it's quite likely that you'll start to fall in love with it. It's an elegant, simplified OS. You can't break it, you can't fail to backup your files, and you're instead forced to focus on what you're actually doing. Obviously it helps if you're already embedded in Google's services ecosystem, and with 100GB of free Google Drive storage included with the HP 11 there's more reason than ever to switch. But even if you're not you should be able to find something to love, within limited, defined parameters, with Google's OS.
These days that's easier than ever, thanks to neat evolutions of Chrome OS which make it a more realistic choice for day-to-day computing. More and more elements of Chrome OS work offline - meaning you can get work done on Google Docs when you aren't connected. There are more true offline and desktop 'apps', like image editors and games, and the design of the OS is increasingly tight and sensible.
There's one snag, though - which is that until now Chrome OS hardware hasn't quite found the right balance between cost and design to make the effort of breaking Chrome OS to your will (or the other way around) worthwhile. The idea of course is to sell Chrome OS devices at low cost, making the value proposition more acceptable compared to full Windows machines, or even the cheapest Macbook Airs. But the older machines were too clunky and had terrible screens, while the Pixel was beautiful but insanely expensive.
Which is why the HP Chromebook 11 is such a joy. Because this is a beautiful, well-designed and high-quality little machine. It's made of shiny white plastic (on the outside, matte on the inside) which is almost retro in recalling the early Apple iBooks, but is stronger than it looks thanks to a reinforced magnesium frame. It has a surprisingly excellent screen and a phenomenally good keyboard for the price, which feels as good as you'd hope for from a £1000+ laptop. The trackpad isn't great, but it's usable, and it's fast enough to do virtually everything you'll want to do in Chrome OS. Conveniently it also charges from a standard smartphone USB plug, and not a laptop powerbrick.
And it costs £230.
That's not a typo. It's roughly half the price of an iPad. And far, far less than a decent normal laptop.
The result is that the HP 11 is the first Chromebook we've tried in which the whole experience - from opening the machine, turning it on (it boots in six seconds or less) and actually using it for day to day tasks has all been a pleasant surprise. It's light enough to carry around on a whim, cheap enough that you won't feel guilty for not using it, powerful enough that it won't slow down with five tabs open (like some of the older Chromebooks) and pretty enough that you'll be proud, not embarrassed, to take it out in Starbucks.
If you're sold on Chrome OS as a way to augment your digital life, there really aren't any downsides (other than the middling battery). But you do have to be sure you're on board first. Make no mistake - you can do far more on an iPad or even a Nexus 7 than you can on a Chromebook. Compared to Google's Nexus devices, the missing features are endless - there's no Google Now integration, no voice search, and no useful widgets. It's a specific device for a specific user, and not an easy solution to all your computing needs. But if you're doing a lot of typing on the go, need a cheap decent laptop for travelling or just don't want to get bogged down in Mac OS X or Windows, we recommend giving it a go. You might just find a refreshing, clean and simplified computing life is waiting around the corner.