The $200 HP Stream 11 is an intriguing laptop — it comes with full Windows, has 32 GB of eMMC memory and houses an attractive design (though that’s subjective) — all for $200. You also get Office 365 and 1 TB of OneDrive storage for one year; and just for kicks, HP is throwing in a $25 Windows Store coupon.
That’s incredible value. If you are in the market for Office 365 and want to spend money on the app store, this laptop effectively costs $105.
Reviews around the web are positive. Performance is fine for low computing tasks and the laptop can even manage bigger Windows programs, albeit slowly. It boots from sleep quickly. You don’t want to overload it with too many tabs on your browser however. The keyboard is great while the touch pad is finicky. The display isn’t the greatest but average for the price. Battery life is excellent. You’ll want to buy the Signature Edition direct from Microsoft; otherwise the laptop is weighed down by bloatware.
Those extras wouldn’t be worth it if they were dragged down by sluggish performance. But this little machine is zippy enough as long as you stay within your lane. Office apps snap open quickly, and casual games perform perfectly well. But don’t even think of installing Photoshop or Visual Studio, and steer clear of any game that puts even modest demands on the GPU.
The HP Stream 11 is the cheapest laptop I’ve ever actually been able to get any work done on because it can run AIM clients (which are how many of us chat at Gizmodo). Spotify’s dedicated streaming music app also works swimmingly. Same with the dedicated TweetDeck app and other little creature-comfort type applications. Being able to use Pidgin for chat instead of loading up some Chrome tab goes a long way towards making you feel like you’re using a real computer.
The big work-draw for most people is going to be Office. Not only can the HP Stream 11 run classics like Word and Excel (and run them damn well—surprisingly silky smooth performance here) it also comes with Office 365 Personal for a year. That includes must-haves Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook among others, and includes 1TB of OneDrive storage. Those full, robust applications beat the hell out of being stuck with Google Docs like you are on a Chromebook. I found that the Stream can run every member of the suite admirably (though not at the same time), which makes it the best out-of-the-box productivity machine you can get for the price.
On the web-browsing side, the HP Stream 11 is a little more competent than your average Chromebook, which is to say it can handle its fair share of tabs. While I was testing it, I found I could noodle around in a window with some 9 or 10 tabs—even a few really heavy ones like Tweetdeck and Chartbeat—before the lag started really kicking in. Even then, I could still eke out choppy but usable performance with as many as a dozen tabs going at once. That’s far from unlimited, but it’s damn good for 200-dollar fare, and better performance that I’ve seen on any Chromebook packing anything less than a Core i3 processor.
Part of the reason the Stream 11 was so slow was that H-P preloads it with TripAdvisor, Vudu and other junkware apps and website shortcuts. Cleaning those off helped, but I strongly suggest getting Microsoft’s Signature Edition of the Stream, which costs the same but has no third-party promotional preloads.
I meant it when I said the Stream 11 looks like a netbook: It’s a small, fanless machine, weighing 2.74 pounds, with a plain plastic shell. But damn if it isn’t one of the more stylish netbooks I’ve seen. Available in either magenta or the cobalt blue you see in the above photos, the Stream has a neat fade-out effect, with the colors on the keyboard deck getting lighter and lighter as you get toward the touchpad. The keyboard deck also has a subtle dot pattern throughout, creating the illusion of texture on an otherwise smooth machine (it also looks cool, if you ask me). I also like the way the white keyboard contrasts with the colorful interior. Anyway! You’re probably sick of hearing me opine about design, but I assume you get the idea: Love or hate the aesthetic here, I think we can all agree this has a more interesting look than most of the other gray boxes you’re gonna find at this price.
The white keyboard on the Stream 11 offers more travel than other Chromebooks we’ve recently tested, and it shows. I averaged the same 68 words per minute on HP’s layout as I did on my 13-inch, albeit with four errors instead of one on the Apple. Still, that’s pretty good news for those who want to type longer emails or book reports.
On the plus side, the Stream 11’s touchpad is plenty wide at 3.75 x 2.5 inches. I found it easy to navigate the desktop with the cursor, and the pad smoothly executed Windows 8 gestures like switching apps (swiping in from the left). Unfortunately, the touchpad sometimes misinterpreted a left click for a right click. Other times I had to click the touchpad twice for it to register. Two-finger scrolling on websites like NYTimes.com also proved choppy. It was as if the machine was fighting me.
The laptop impressed us in our battery rundown test, where it lasted 9 hours 23 minutes. While this isn’t the best we’ve seen—the Asus C200 (11:14) leads the Chromebooks, while the Asus Transformer Book T100TA (11:20) heads up the comparable Windows devices—it should last you through a full day of work or school. It is also significantly longer than either the HP Pavilion 10z (6:38) or the Acer Chromebook C720P-2600 (7:20).
With very low expectations going in, the HP Stream 11 ended up being a very pleasant surprise. It’s a rare system that under-promises and over-delivers, although over-delivering for a $199 laptop still isn’t setting the bar too high.
Having tried dozens of budget 10-inch and 11-inch PCs over the years, from older netbooks to newer hybrids, the combination of long battery life and a decent keyboard makes the Stream 11 not only one of the least expensive, but also among the most usable.