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Monday, 14 October 2013

HP Chromebook 14 review: Affordable and portable but not for everyone

  • Monday, 14 October 2013
  • Harmeet Saini
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  • NEW DELHI: Two years after Google launched Chromebooks in the US, these sleek and affordable laptops are officially available in India.

    What is a Chromebook? It looks similar to other laptops. But don't let the looks fool you. Chromebooks are powered by Google's Chrome OS. They work differently compared to Windows-powered laptops.

    Today we are reviewing HP Chromebook 14. But before we talk about it, let us explain the Chrome OS. Google believes that Windows is an operating system created for a world which lacked widely available internet. Chrome OS, on the other hand, is built to connect a user to the web and services that are available online.
    If you have used Google's web browser you will feel at home with Chromebook in terms of user interface. It is simple to use. You don't have to install any drivers or patches. You don't have to partition internal storage. You don't have to set up the desktop. You open the Chromebook, connect it to a Wi-Fi link or a 3G dongle, log in with your Google/Gmail account and you are good to go. The basic applications are all pre-installed. You can add more apps from Chrome store.

    The OS is updated automatically. The security issues that plague a Windows laptop don't exist on Chromebooks, at least for now. A Chromebook works out of the box.

    Chromebook 14 design, keyboard and touchpad
    Chromebook 14 is a sleek and lightweight machine considering that it packs a 14-inch screen. It has a minimalist and clean design. The physical shape is inspired by MacBook Air.

    The major difference between MacBook Air and Chromebook 14 in terms of designs is the build quality. While the MacBook is an all-aluminum machine, Chromebook 14 is made of matte plastic. Though, it doesn't look cheap and feels much better than a budget Windows laptop.

    The machine has an island-style keyboard and an expansive touchpad. In terms of quality, both are superior to what is available in budget Windows laptops. But they don't match what you can get on premium laptops. The keys feel a bit soft and there is some flex in the keyboard. The touchpad is responsive but doesn't offer the kind of smooth glide that glass touchpads on premium laptops do.

    The palm-rest is made of plastic with faux aluminum finish. It doesn't get hot during use.

    Touchpad supports multi-finger gestures. It has a clickable button but a tap with single finger has same functionality. Double-finger tap brings up the right click menu while gliding two fingers on the touchpad allow a user to scroll on the screen. Pinch-to-zoom gesture doesn't work on Chromebook 14.

    The 14-inch screen on Chromebook 14 has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. The screen is better than what you get in a mainstream Windows laptop but we were expecting more from it. Brightness of the screen is decent and it shows nice colours. The horizontal viewing angles are above average. However, the vertical viewing angles are poor and that affects the experience.

    HP claims ChromeBook 14 offers battery life of over 9 hours. When used with a 3G dongle and offline mode, the device lasts for over 7 hours of use. This is much better than what a similarly-priced Windows laptop offers.

    What it can do
    Chromebook 14 can do a lot of things that Windows laptops do. Unlike Windows laptops, Chromebook 14 started within 10 seconds after we pressed the power button. When we logged into the machine, we were presented with a minimalist user interface. On the bottom left of the screen are the application, including Chrome web browser which is at the heart of the machine. On the right is the control centre, somewhat similar to what found on Android tablets, which gives access to settings.

    You can set up Wi-Fi connection through the control centre. If you use a 3G dongle, you can simply plug it into it to the laptop. It will automatically set up the connection.

    Majority of apps in Chrome OS are web apps. This means when you click on them, they open as a web page and connect to a web service. For example, clicking on Gmail app opens Gmail in Chrome. Similarly, clicking on YouTube app opens YouTube website in Chrome.

    Given how simple Chrome OS is, Chromebook 14 is a very good machine to access web services and web browsing. If you spend most of your time on the web on a laptop, Chromebook 14 will work very well for you.

    But what if you want a laptop for more than just web browsing, social media use and checking emails? Chromebook 14 also has an excellent integration with Google hangouts, which makes it a good device for video chats.

    For office related work, the machine offers Google web-based productivity suit. We opened and created word documents, presentation slides, expenditure sheets and project reports using Google's productivity suit.

    Applications like Gmail and Google Docs are available in offline mode. This means you can compose and send an email when the Chromebook is not connected to the web. The mail will be stored in outbox and will be sent when the connection is available. Similarly, you can create or edit a project report in offline mode. It will be synced to your online Google Docs when the connection is available.

    You can connect your phone or camera to Chromebook 14 and import photos to it through Google+ Photo app. The app uploads photos to Google+ network. These uploaded photos are marked private. But you can edit them using web editor at Google+ and share them if you want.

    You can connect pen drives or external hard disks to Chromebook 14 and import or export files, including media files. Videos in popular formats like MP4 and MOV can be played with ease. In our tests, Chromebook 14 even handled MP4 videos in 4K resolution! But we could not play videos in FLV and AVI formats. Music in all popular formats can be played. If you have imported pictures through the pen drive, you can edit them with offline apps like Pixlr Touch Up.

    * Video chats are handled though Google Hangout app and it works very well.

    * You can download files from the web using Chromebook. You can play casual web-based games.

    * Some of them like Angry Birds are available in offline mode.

    What it cannot do
    A Chromebook cannot run Windows applications that we take for granted on a regular laptop. It can only run apps available in Chrome store and they are not as feature rich as the native desktop apps available on Windows laptops. This means, you cannot run Photoshop or Microsoft Office on Chromebook. Also, you cannot run Firefox. Or VLC Player. Or KM Player. Or any other Windows app.

    You cannot play demanding 3D games like Call of Duty on Chromebook. Chromebook has a simple file system. You don't have to worry about how a file will open and what programs you need to install. Also, you don't have to worry about cleaning your hard drive or deleting junk files. But at the same time, if you are someone who is used to organizing files meticulously, you will have tough time with Chromebook because it doesn't follow the folder-inside-folder approach of Windows.

    You can change wallpaper of Chromebook desktop but you cannot keep the shortcuts to files or programs there. (Though you can pin apps to the taskbar at the bottom of the screen). You can access files only through the File app. It is simple to use but limiting. You can charge your smartphone with Chromebook but if the mass storage mode is not available in your device, you can import files only through Google+ Photo app, which has a rather unintuitive user interface.

    Chromebook 14 has just 16GB of internal storage. If you are someone who likes to store a lot of movies on his laptop, Chromebook 14 is not for you, unless you pair it with an external storage drive. A user gets 100GB free storage with Chromebook 14 on Google Drive, an online storage service, for two years. But it doesn't work, especially for large files in a country like India where internet connectivity is poor.

    Other than the quality of internet, there is also the matter of security. In the wake of NSA revelations we are not sure if everyone is comfortable putting all the data in servers managed by companies like Google and Microsoft, which are based in the US and can be forced by the US government to handover data of any user.

    Who should buy it
    If 90% of what you do on a laptop happens on the web, pick Chromebook 14. For your use, it is better than a Windows laptop. It is easy to use, fast compared to a similarly-priced Windows laptop and offers excellent battery life.

    If you use Google services a lot, Chromebook 14 is a very good choice for you.

    If you find using Windows laptops cumbersome and want something where you don't have to install four drivers and three applications just to do a video chat with someone, Chromebook 14 will appeal to you.

    If you are comfortable with web-based productivity suits like Google Docs and use online storage services like DropBox, ChromeBook is a good choice for you.

    If you are a school or college student who wants a laptop mostly for web browsing, Facebook and Twitter, Youtube, emails and writing simple project reports, Chromebook 14 is a very good option for you.

    And who should not buy it
    Chromebook 14 is not for power users. This is not a machine to pick if you are an application programmer or a computer engineering student.
    * If you are a sales manager who has to work a lot with programs like Microsoft Office, Chromebook 14 is not for you.
    * If you create or edit multimedia content using rich applications like Photoshop, Chromebook 14 is not for you.
    * If you are video gamer who likes to play the latest 3D games like GTA V, Chromebook 14 is not for you.
    * If you store a lot of movies and photos on your laptop, Chromebook 14 is a bad choice for you.
    * If you mostly work offline on your laptop, create content or make use of a large number of native desktop apps, Chromebook 14 is not a good choice for you.

    Bottomline
    At its MRP of Rs 26,990, ChromeBook 14 is a portable, well-built, good-looking and simple to use laptop that offers good performance and excellent battery life. But it works best when connected to the web and when used for web browsing and accessing web-based services. As we said earlier, it is nice for its price but it is not for everyone.

    Specs
    *14-inch screen with 1366 x 768 pixels resolution
    *1.4GHz Intel Celeron 2955U 4th generation (Haswell) processor
    *16GB SSD along with 100GB cloud storage in Google Drive for two years
    *2GB RAM
    *Wi-Fi
    *support for 3G dongle
    *Bluetooth
    *720P webcam
    *2 USB 3.0
    *One USB 2.0
    *3-in-1 card reader
    *4-cell battery
    *HDMI
    *audio in/out combo jack
    *1.85kg
    *Chrome OS

    Punjabi Mania

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