HP CHROMEBOOK 14  Review: Good but shy of multitasking

Good but shy of multitasking

HP launched the Chromebook x360 in India a few months ago at a starting price of Rs 44,990. You can read our review of it here. While I was thrilled to see HP launch a Chromebook in the country after a long period, I was admittedly more excited about the product it launched next. Just a few days after the launch of the Chromebook x360, HP launched the Chromebook 14 in India for a much more accessible price of Rs 23,990 (updated price: Rs 22,990). And that is exactly the laptop on which I am writing this review.

I was excited about the Chromebook 14 because I felt it had an important role to play in the Indian entry-level laptop market. You see, unlike typical Windows 10 laptops in the same price range, the Chromebook 14 doesn’t crash due to heavy software or slow hard drives. It may come with a ridiculous 4GB of RAM, but it won’t be burdened by a heavy operating system. It also has a slightly faster storage unit in the form of a 64 GB eMMC drive. This, I thought, should at least result in faster web-only computing than Chrome on a typical Windows 10 laptop. Was I right? Let’s find out.

Performance

Our review unit came in the only configuration the Chromebook 14 is currently available in: Intel Celeron N3350 Dual-core CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC flash storage. After a week or two with the review unit, I was mostly satisfied with the performance of the Chromebook 14, although I wanted more speed from time to time. With no more than a dozen tabs in all on all virtual desktops, the review unit loaded every page in less than five seconds. Some heavier pages (including Gmail) took a few seconds longer to fully load, but that delay can be attributed to the cheap Celeron chip inside. Playing videos on YouTube one at a time was no problem, but multitasking with a video in the background often resulted in choppy audio.

Intel Celeron inside

Accessing common websites like Google Docs, Sheets, Keep, Gmail, Netflix, YouTube, and OneNote Online wasn’t a big deal unless multiple sites were loaded at the same time. The review unit was best suited for static work on a single window, such as composing a long document on Google Docs. Moving quickly from one tab/window to another or clicking multiple links at once often resulted in a short freeze or a series of stutters. A cold boot to the lock screen took about 11.46 seconds, and going from there to the first Chrome tab took another 12.46 seconds, so that’s a total of 23.93 seconds.

This level of response, in my experience, is still better than that seen on other Windows 10-powered budget laptops on the market, including the new Lenovo IdeaPad S145 (read our review of it here). I bet the Chromebook 14 will outperform any mid-budget Windows 10 laptop with the following (or similar) specs: Intel Core i3 CPU, 4GB RAM, 1TB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm. In other words, if you just want to lightly browse Chrome and maybe watch a few videos without spending more than Rs 23,000, the HP Chromebook 14 is your best bet. It’s a device where you can check your email every now and then, watch a few videos at once, and video call your loved ones, but that’s about it.

Battery

This is a separate department where the Chromebook 14 excels without a doubt. During our daily testing, with the screen set to 70 percent brightness, Wi-Fi + Bluetooth turned on, and a USB mouse plugged in, the test device lost about 7-10 percent every hour. During one such test, more than twenty tabs were open, one of which was playing Internet radio in the background through USB headphones. After about three hours, the charge dropped from 100 to 74 percent. A full charge happened in about an hour and a half. In short, the Chromebook 14 is great for anyone who wants to work uninterrupted for about 8 or 9 hours off the wall.

Count on 8 to 10 hours of battery power

Screen, audio and IO

The screen on the Chromebook 14 is, as you can imagine, a 14-inch LCD touchscreen with WLED backlight and a pitifully low resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. Colors on the screen appear faded and viewing angles are severely limited. In general, the text will look grainy on the panel, regardless of the font size you choose. The capacitive touch works well, but there’s no palm rejection in case you decide to annotate. Fortunately, the panel does not suffer too much from glare because it does not use a glass surface. If anything, I wish the Chromebook 14 came with the option of a Full HD display.

The Chromebook 14, like its more expensive Pavilion and Specter cousins, confidently features a Bang & Olufsen logo next to the single top-firing speaker strip on the keyboard island. But the noise coming from the riders just doesn’t do justice to that long-standing Danish name. Popular titles, like The Weeknd’s Starboy, sound absolutely flat across all frequencies. Especially low tones sound muffled at maximum volume. Quite a bit of distortion can be heard even in videos with only vocals in them, making the speaker strip best used for message alerts.

B&O badging is lost on this flat audio device

The Chromebook 14 doesn’t come with a very wide variety of ports, but it has the right stuff for USB mice and headphones. On the left side of the body we see a USB-A 3.1 port and a USB-C 3.1 port along with a Kensington lock. On the right we see another USB-A 3.1 port, a second USB-C 3.1 port, a microSD card slot and a 3.5mm audio jack for headsets. Equipped with HP’s Sleep and Charge technology, you can use the USB-A ports to charge a smaller device, such as a smartphone, even when the laptop is turned off. Needless to say, the laptop skips the fingerprint scanner.

Two USBs on the left…

…and two more on the right

Keyboard and touchpad

The keys on the Chromebook 14 are flat and totally unlit, but offer plenty of comfort and feedback when composing lengthy emails and documents. They have decent travel but could have used a little more distance. Most annoying are the blank clicks you hear from the concave surface below as you type hard on the keys. Yes, the entire keyboard island suffers from quite a bit of panel flex, even under normal typing pressure. Unlike the more expensive Chromebook x360, the Chromebook 14 doesn’t get a dedicated lock key on the top row of its keyboard. Instead, it gets a power button, which you have to hold for the Chromebook to work. In summary, the keyboard on the Chromebook 14 is good for everyday typing on a laptop of its price.

Decent keyboard + touchpad setup

The touchpad on the Chromebook 14 is just as good as the laptop’s keyboard. It is functional and sufficiently comfortable, but nothing to write home about. The accuracy of the pointer movements is somewhere between that of a Windows 10 recognized precision unit (seen on, for example, the Asus VivoBook X403) and a non-precision unit (seen on, for example, the Lenovo IdeaPad S145). What doesn’t help improve feedback is the rough, plastic-like surface of the touchpad. That said, it’s still a decent touchpad for everyday use. In addition, the two click buttons below the touchpad surface are quite easy to press.

Build and design

The outer cover of the Chromebook 14 is made of hard plastic, which gives the device a sturdy and wear-resistant appearance, but also gives a noticeable hollow feeling. This feeling of hollowness becomes apparent when you press hard on the panels. The top cover has a rough matte finish, which greatly aids the user’s grip on it. Opening the lid on one side reveals a good amount of panel flex, which is common with laptops in this price range. The Chromebook 14 certainly looks like it can take a beating every now and then, but we recommend that you handle it with the necessary care.

Hard-wearing matte look on the gray top cover boven

Opening the rather tight lid reveals a 14-inch touchscreen panel with a semi-gloss finish. The edges around the screen are quite thick on all four sides, which gives the device a somewhat dated appearance. The display hinge folds all the way back to 180 degrees, a convenience rarely found on laptops in this price range. At 1.54 kilograms, the device is quite easy to carry and does not take up too much space in a typical laptop backpack. All things considered, the Chromebook 14 is quite well built and designed for its price.

Bottom Line

The HP Chromebook 14 is truly a breakthrough in the entry-level laptop market, as it gives the average user the freedom to browse and perform only web tasks with a decent degree of responsiveness compared to other Windows 10 powered models in its price range. Plus, it offers nearly ten hours of battery life over Wi-Fi. But there are some obvious drawbacks: it’s not very fast and it’s shy to multitask, something that becomes apparent once the number of tabs exceeds eight or ten.

So who should buy the new HP Chromebook 14? Well, the ideal buyer is someone who needs a responsive budget laptop only for web-based activities such as checking email, drafting documents online, watching a YouTube video now and then, etc. They have a stable broadband connection at home and it makes them if they miss out on access to Microsoft Word, Visual Studio, Edge, Paint, and more. They’re pleased that their budget laptop doesn’t take an entire decade to open just one new browser tab.

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