Microsoft’s reply to Chromebooks and other low-cost non-Windows PCs is the HP Stream 11.
The computer’s features are not as important as the headline price. You can buy an HP Stream 11 laptop for under NZ$400.
Allowing for taxes and conversion that’s a lot more than the US$200 it sells for in the United States.
Even so, it is still competitive with local Chromebook prices. If you prefer Microsoft Windows and Office to Chrome and Google Docs it is a much better deal.
You get a lot for NZ$400: A likeable computer, Windows 8.1, a year’s personal subscription to Microsoft Office 365 and 1TB of OneDrive storage. Given a personal Office 365 subscription sells for around NZ$120, you are in effect paying less than NZ$300 for the hardware.
Windows 8.1 with Bing
As you’d expect at this price there are compromises. Top of the list: Stream 11 comes with a version of Windows 8.1 known as Windows 8.1 with Bing.
In truth that’s not much of a compromise. It means is the computer maker, HP, has to agree with Microsoft not to install Google Chrome or any other browser on the computer.
That’s not likely to bother anyone… except, perhaps, Google. If you prefer Chrome, Firefox or any other browser, you can still download and install it yourself.
In effect you save getting on for NZ$200 off the usual price of a laptop in return for doing five minutes work. Who would complain about that compromise?
As usual HP has loaded its own apps on the machine along with crapware versions of third party apps.
A likeable computer
The review HP Stream 11 is bright blue. There’s an even brighter magenta version if screaming colours are your thing. The plastic body is unadorned apart from logos and stickers. It feels reasonably robust. I’d be happy sending it off to school in a backpack.
You get a full size keyboard. There are a couple of weird things: half-size arrow keys and small keys along the top row including del and esc. In practice it works fine, you can touch type without any problems. It’s not as nice as a fully backlit keyboard on, say, an Apple MacBook, but given the low price the keyboard is better than you might expect.
If there’s one weak spot, it is the 11 inch 1,366-by-768 screen. The image quality isn’t great. I found I needed to crank the brightness up to maximum, that doesn’t bode well for the devices longevity. On the other hand, at NZ$400 a pop, buying a new Stream every couple of years isn’t going to break the bank.
On a similar note, the sound isn’t a top-notch experience. It’s fine for Skype calls and audio prompts, but digital music is disappointing.
If anything the screen is not as good as the one on HP’s Chromebook 14, the keyboard is a tad better. I’m not sure about the touchpad, it often did things that surprised me. This could just be unfamiliarity, but even after a week or two I still found I was unexpectedly switching apps. I’m not sure if this is a hardware problem or just old fashioned user error.
Not for power users
Geeks will tell you the Stream 11 is underpowered with its dual core Intel Celeron processor. In practice the performance is decent enough for everyday use. You wouldn’t want to do heavy-duty Photoshop or video editing, but then you wouldn’t anyway with this laptop’s screen. There were times when it felt a little sluggish scrolling on a big, busy web page. For most users this will be the biggest compromise you’ll make if you choose a Stream 11.
Battery life is good for a low-cost PC. There’s enough juice to keep going all day. I could get nine hours use from the Stream 11 on a single charge, that’s plenty for someone using it for school or university. On the downside, the battery isn’t great at keeping power when it’s switched off. I found if I put the Stream 11 aside for a few days there’d be nothing in the tank when I came back to it.
HP Stream 11 — verdict
The HP Stream 11 is all about the trade-off between price and functionality. You won’t get the best PC experience, but you wouldn’t expect to at this price.
HP has come up with a nice balanced low-budget laptop that’s idea for school students or even tertiary students on courses that don’t need a lot of computing power. It’s an OK system to give workers in a small business, especially those who, let’s just say, chew through a lot of equipment. At less than $400 you can afford to buy one a year.
If I was stuck in a city away from home and my laptop failed, I’d run out, charge one of these to the credit card and carry on working.