When we first saw the HP Chromebook 11 ($279.00 at HP.com) late last year, there was plenty to love, from the sleek, well-built design to the gorgeous In-Plane Switching (IPS) display. It put Google’s Chrome OS into an inexpensive laptop with a premium feel. But now HP has enhanced the Chromebook 11 with 4G LTE, freeing the Web-centric laptop from the limitations of Wi-Fi coverage. It’s the killer feature we’ve been waiting for, and makes the HP Chromebook 11 (Verizon LTE) ($299.99, device only) the Editors’ Choice for Chromebooks.
Design and Features
For the most part, the LTE-equipped HP Chromebook 11 ($299.00 at Best Buy) is identical to the model we reviewed back in October of 2013. HP’s small Chromebook now boasts two of the distinctive features seen on the high-priced proof-of-concept Google Chromebook Pixel (64GB, LTE)$1,649.00 at Amazon. The first is the subtle Google-colored light bar set into the lid, which glows to indicate the device is powered on. The second, new to this specific model, is the 4G LTE modem, which lets you take the Internet-dependent Chromebook beyond the boundaries of your Wi-Fi coverage.
The display, an 11-inch IPS panel with a 1,366-by-768 resolution, is still the best we’ve seen on any Chromebook this side of Google’s premium Chromebook Pixel. The display offers wider viewing angles, deeper blacks, and a wider color gamut than those on other Chromebooks. It’s not a touch screen, like the one offered on the Acer Chromebook C720P-2600 ($299.00 at Amazon), but touch is far from a necessity in Chrome’s current incarnation. The impressive screen is joined by a surprisingly good set of internal speakers, which play the sound up through the keyboard. The sound quality isn’t going to please any audiophiles, but it’s of far better quality than anything else I’ve heard on a $300 system.
The design and construction of the laptop also looks good, with a magnesium alloy frame clad in glossy white plastic. The glossy exterior and light (yet stable) interior frame result in a chassis that’s reminiscent of high-quality enamelware rather than the cheap plastic seen in netbooks. The white exterior is accented with a stripe of color around the keyboard and matching rubber feet on the bottom of the system. Our review unit came with blue accents, but you can get the Chromebook 11 in all the colors of the Google rainbow: blue, red, yellow, and green.
The keyboard is slightly smaller than full size, but not so much as to feel cramped or crowded when typing, and the chiclet-style keys provide a reasonable amount of tactile feedback and key travel. The keyboard itself has been given a Chrome makeover, with Chrome-specific function keys along the top of the keyboard, a dedicated search key where Caps Lock normally resides, and (obviously) no Windows key. The multitouch trackpad offers support for familiar moves like pinch to zoom, along with unique Chrome OS gestures like two-finger tapping instead of right clicking, two-finger scrolling, and three-finger swiping to see multiple windows.
The other unique feature of the Chromebook 11 is the power charger, which uses a microUSB connector, much like your smartphone or tablet. It’s worth mentioning that the initial run of the Chromebook 11 did have faulty chargers, but the problem there has been fixed, and any HP Chromebook 11 purchased after December of 2013 (including all LTE-equipped models) should have nothing to worry about.
In addition to the charging port, the Chromebook 11 is equipped with two USB 2.0 ports and a combination headphone and microphone jack. There’s no HDMI output, but the microUSB port—the same one used for charging the laptop—also supports SlimPort, which can output video to HDMI through a SlimPort adapter. The Chromebook 11 is also equipped with dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connectivity. As with most Chrome devices, the Chromebook 11 doesn’t offer much local storage—only 16GB—but it does also come with 100GB of free space in Google’s G-Drive cloud storage.
Unlike all of the past Chromebook models we’ve seen, this variation on the Chromebook 11 features Verizon 4G mobile broadband, thanks to an integrated LTE chip made by Israel-based chip maker Altair. The mobile connectivity eliminates one of the biggest obstacles to widespread Chromebook use, the need to stay in the vicinity of available Wi-Fi. Thanks to 4G LTE, you can take this Web-connected laptop almost anywhere; but, while you’ll be free to take your Chromebook around town, it does require a data contract.
The Chromebook 11 (Verizon LTE) is sold alone for $299.99, but without a contract it will functionally be identical to the less expensive Wi-Fi only model. Through Best Buy, the HP Chromebook 11 can be purchased for $249.99 with a new Verizon month-to-month contract, plus a $35 activation fee and $50 per month, which gives you 5GB of download data per month. If adding the device to an existing Verizon contract, the monthly data price drops to $10 per month (on Verizon’s Share Everything Plan) or $30-$40 per month (on a Family Plan).
Crunching the numbers for each data option (at 24 months of service), the total price of the Chromebook 11 does jump up considerably. Whether purchasing it with a new contract or adding it to an existing plan, there’s an additional $35 activation fee for the Chromebook 11, making the base price for the device about $285, with the true cost over two years (device + 24 months service) varying significantly from one plan to the next.
Adding the Chromebook 11 to an existing Everything Plan costs only $10 per month, making the true cost $525. Adding the Chromebook 11 to a Verizon Family Plan ($30-$40 per month, for 24 months) would then cost $1,005-$1,245. And a new contract charging $50 per month for 5GB of mobile data would thus cost you $1,485. Whether or not the price of the new Chromebook 11 is a good deal depends largely upon which Verizon plan you choose, and how much value you place on the freedom afforded by 4G LTE.
Testing the actual LTE performance with Speedtest.net, exposes the weaknesses of the mobile capability—you’re at the mercy of signal strength and quality, and your connection won’t have the same consistency you’ll see with Wi-Fi. For comparison purposes we also tested with the Samsung Galaxy S4, using the Ookla Speedtest.net app. Running side by side in several tests, in multiple locations around New York, the Chromebook 11 consistently offered slower overall performance that the Samsung phone. In areas with strong signal, I saw average download speeds of 7 Mbps, and occasionally saw as high as 15 Mbps using the Chromebook, while the Samsung phone averaged 14 Mbps and peaks of nearly 20Mbps. In areas with poor signal strength, the difference in performance was more dramatic; where the Chromebook would struggle to pull down 0.5 Mbps, the Samsung would regularly show 6 Mbps down.
The HP Chromebook 11 is outfitted with a Samsung Exynos 5250 processor—the same 1.7GHz dual-core ARM processor found in both the standard HP Chromebook 11 and the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 (XE303C12) (Best Price at Amazon). Paired with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of local flash storage, the processor is well suited to the lightweight Chrome OS. The small ARM processor doesn’t require any cooling fans, so the design is a little sleeker without any vents on the side or bottom, and the battery is sealed inside the chassis, allowing for a slightly thinner design. When tested in BrowserMark 2.0, the original HP Chromebook 11 did fairly well, but when tested using the Verizon 4G LTE connection—when a strong connection was available—performance actually improved.
For Chromebooks, we test battery life with a 10-hour-long streaming video, played continuously (on mute) until the unit shuts down. The original version of the HP Chromebook 11 lasted 5 hours 31 minutes when streaming over Wi-Fi. The LTE-equipped model only deviated by a few minutes (5:27) when put through this same test. When streaming over 4G LTE, however, the battery life is significantly shorter, lasting only 4:03, due entirely to the extra energy requirements of the LTE hardware.
The HP Chromebook 11 (Verizon LTE) takes everything we love about the Chrome-OS family—low priced, Web-connected, extremely simple devices—and adds the freedom that only 4G LTE can provide. It’s not a perfect solution, of course, but any mobility offered by LTE is a significant improvement over past Chromebooks. Pair this with great features like a bright IPS display, a unique microUSB charger, and a magnesium-reinforced design, and the HP Chromebook 11 (Verizon LTE) is the clear choice for Editors’ Choice Chromebook, replacing the touch-capable Acer Chromebook C720P-2600. Even taking into account the Acer’s touch-capable display, the addition of LTE is a far more compelling addition to the Chromebook, and makes the HP Chromebook 11 (Verizon LTE) the best inexpensive Chromebook yet.