HP Stream 11 review
HP's sub-£200 laptop combines practicality with amazing value for money
Even were there nothing else to recommend the HP Stream 11, its eye-catching design would win it plenty of fans. HP’s 11.6in, Windows 8.1 with Bing budget laptop comes in a choice of vibrant blue or magenta finishes, with a slimline chassis that measures just under 20mm thick and weighs only 1.29kg.
That doesn't make it the slimmest or lightest laptop around, but the plastics have been treated with a powdered matte finish that makes it feel more expensive than it is, and it feels more solid and robust.
The design is stable and well balanced, both on the desk and on the lap. While we’re not completely sure about the graduated colours on the keyboard surround, there’s an irresistible sense of fun about the styling.
The good news continues when you power it up. The 11.6in screen has the usual 1,366 x 768 resolution, but it’s one of the best displays on test, with decent viewing angles, a maximum brightness of 261cd/m2 and reasonably accurate colours. It’s bested by the Toshiba Chromebook 2’s budget-baffling Full HD screen, but it's as good as it gets at this lower price. On a £400 laptop, we might complain about crushed blacks, and the contrast is nothing to write home about, but we’re prepared to cut this sub-£180 laptop some slack.
There’s Dolby DTS branding on the HP’s speakers, but we were a little disappointed with audio quality. While there’s a bit more low-range power and depth of tone than with many small laptops, it’s still tinny and heavy on the mid-range, with a tendency to distort if you push up the volume.
HP Stream 11 review: ergonomics and connectivity
The Stream 11 fares surprisingly well on the ergonomic front. The touchpad is 96mm wide with integral buttons, and while it feels a bit slow and stodgy to react at its default settings, move the pointer speed up a notch and it works perfectly well. We particularly like its silky smooth surface. The keyboard is better still. Nicely-spaced, with good-sized flat Scrabble-tile keys, it’s crisper and easier to work with than the keyboards on most rivals, and there isn't much bounce in the base as you type, either.
The price might be low, but HP hasn’t cut corners on connectivity. With one USB 2 and one USB 3 ports, plus an HDMI output, a headphone socket and a full-sized SD card slot, the Stream 11 comes as well equipped as most Ultrabooks – something that can’t be said about the similarly priced EeeBook.
Storage could be a problem, with only 17.3GB of space available of the 32GB eMMC flash drive, but these machines are designed to work with lightweight apps and cloud services, not heavyweight graphics suites. HP bundles in Office 365 Personal with 1TB of OneDrive storage for a year, although it will cost you £60 a year to keep that going once the initial period ends.
Not all the extras are so welcome. The Stream is stuffed with apps, and shortcuts to online services abound, many of which seem to do little more than act as a portal to third-party services; if we want to use Deezer, we’ll download the Deezer app, thanks. While the laptop comes with a year’s free use of HP Connected Music's radio playlists, it's no match for Spotify.
HP Stream 11 review: core hardware
In terms of specifications, the Stream 11 is standard Bing laptop fare, with an Intel Celeron N2840 processor and 2GB of RAM. The dual-core Bay Trail-M CPU is fine for mainstream applications and will even make a good fist of more demanding apps, although video-editing, high-end graphics apps and the latest games are still firmly off the menu.
The HP scored 0.4 in our Real World Benchmarks, which is slightly faster than the Toshiba Satellite CL10-B, however, and came closest to the Toshiba Chromebook 2 in the Peacekeeper browser-based test. It feels very snappy in everyday use.
Battery life sees the HP edge ahead of the CL10-B, with nearly ten hours in our light-use test and nearly six hours in our heavy-use benchmark - enough juice to get most people through a working day. Basically, what we have here is a good-looking, well-built laptop with a decent screen and reasonable battery life at a price that shouldn’t be feasible.
HP Stream 11 review: verdict
What’s more, it’s a bit more versatile than a Chromebook, working brilliantly with online apps, but still able to run more conventional Windows software if you’re sensible about your requirements or pair it with an external USB 3 hard disk. As a result, while the Toshiba Chromebook 2 offers better hardware and a nicer screen, the Stream 11 outmatches it for sheer value for money. It’s the best sub-£200 laptop money can buy.