The worlds largest PC Maker attempts ChromeOS
With very little fanfare, the HP Pavillion 14(c001tu) Chromebook crept into Harvey Norman and JB Hifi stores in late March, joining the Acer C7 and Samsung Series 3 Chromebooks which were already on-sale. This entry by HP into the Chromebook market brings to three the total number of devices running ChromeOS that you can buy in Australia.
HP is currently at the top of the list when it comes to global market share for PC sales and this dominance includes a long and fairly prestigious pedigree in laptop manufacturing. With their existing market dominance they could be a pretty powerful force when it comes to introducing Chromebooks into both the consumer, education and corporate environments. It remains to be seen whether this dominance can translate into market share in the ChromeOS market, which until now has been dominated by Samsung.
The HP Pavillion 14 is shipped – as all Chromebooks are – on the Stable ChromeOS channel, and for the purpose of the review I have kept it as such. Supplied with a Power Adapter and removable 4-cell Li-Ion Battery, there are no paper manuals included but they can be downloaded from the HP Website, where you can find a User Guide and Service Manual as well as an FAQ entitled ‘Frequently Asked Questions About Your HP Chromebook (Chrome OS)’.
With a recommended retail price of $399 the HP Pavillion 14 C001tu Chromebook is priced at the higher end of the relatively small Australian Chromebook market. While we have only seen a couple of Chromebooks in Australia so far, let’s see how the Pavillion 14 stacks up.
- Large screen
- Full Keyboard
- Left/Right Mouse buttons on Touchpad
- Large Screen doesn’t come with increased resolution
- SATA HDD instead of SSD
- Intel Based CPU means slight heat
From first glance, the HP Chromebook is really no different to pretty much all the 14″ HP Laptops currently on the market. Indeed, you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that HP has simply installed ChromeOS onto one of their existing devices and created another SKU. This is certainly a win for newer ChromeOS users as it gives a feeling of comfort and familiarity with the form factor — something that is missing on the other Chromebook models on the market.
HP has very much departed from the familiar design that other Chromebooks on the market have gone with in building the Pavillion 14. The first, most obvious feature is the 14″ widescreen display that is mounted on the unit. HP have also differentiated the Pavillion 14 in other areas such as the keyboard and trackpad layout.
Made from mostly plastic panels externally, with a heavy emphasis on glossy surfaces, the HP Chromebook looks very good and it also feels great to the touch. The top is made from a gloss plastic, as are the panels surrounding the LCD screen and the keyboard. The base of the unit is a matte plastic which is interrupted only by venting and switches which can be used to lock in or eject the battery from the unit.
Available in black only, the HP Chromebook has very little in the way of advertising material on the front of it; only a simple colour Chrome logo as well as an HP logo adorn the back of the display. It’s only when you open it up that you find a little more, with a few logos placed around the device. A HD Truevision label is next to the webcam, a Pavillion logo reminds you of the devices heritage and a HP logo sits below the LCD display. On the bottom, above the keyboard sits the speaker grill which has an Altec Lansing logo to remind you of the speaker manufacturer and an Intel Inside sticker is present beneath the keyboard. Underneath, the base is awash with FCC certification information as well as Serial and Part Numbers.
Overall, the design is nothing that you’ll think is out of the ordinary. It’s a straight out HP Notebook design, in line with other HP models on the market, but it’s this design that means that it feels familiar and therefore comfortable to both advanced and novice laptop owners.
The Pavillion 14 is supplied with a 14″ HD BrightView LED-backlit display making it the largest screen so far released on a Chromebook. A slightly odd thing about the Pavillion 14 is that even with the larger screen it still retains the same resolution as the other smaller screened Chromebooks on the market, but in actual use the resolution doesn’t actually detract from what is a quite nice and vibrant display and should not worry most users.
The screen is a lovely gloss and works extremely well under normal lighting conditions whilst inside. This however presents a problem when you’re outside, the screen does tend to reflect any and all light off it. The ambient brightness outside also makes the screen appear to be darker than it actually is and even with the brightness turned up to maximum, it can still tend to be dark.
Keyboard and Touchpad
HP has delivered a standard-sized laptop keyboard on the HP Chromebook that makes it very familiar to laptop users. With the larger space afforded by the 14″ screen, HP has opted to change the layout of the keyboard from that of other Chromebooks. For example, the top row of keyboard which are generally kept as ChromeOS ‘Action keys’ have also been labelled as function keys (F1-F13). HP has also opted to retain the ‘Caps Lock’ key in its usual position and place a search button between the CTRL+ALT keys as well as a FN key. On the right hand side of the keyboard are Delete, Home, Page Up/Down and End buttons as well as an Insert key above the back space key.
Typing on the keyboard is not a bad experience, but it is far from great. Whilst it’s not in the same category as the Chromebook Pixel, key presses can sometimes be missed as the keyboard is not as sensitive as you would like. It’s by no means a hard keyboard to type on, it just takes a little more care to ensure that keypresses are effective.
With the touchpad, HP has again opted to go a slightly different route, opting to go with a standard laptop setup – touchpad with a left and right mouse button beneath. Again, this breeds that sense of familiarity in design for laptop users that is present throughout the whole device.
The touchpad is textured which is not something that actually felt ‘right’ in extended use. The touchpad tended to be a little less sensitive than I would have liked and this less than pleasurable experience of using it meant that I found I preferred to plug in an external mouse. The left/right mouse buttons help though; they are quite comfortable to use.
With an unfortunate lack of options to configure the hardware like the touchpad in ChromeOS it seems like this may just be something that HP will have to work on. Overall the touchpad is usable, just not exceptional and leaves room for HP to improve on their next Chromebook release.
Altec Lansing speakers – wow. The HP Chromebook includes dual Altec Lansing Speakers located beneath a grill above the top of the keyboard and they can pump out a great deal of good quality sound with very little distortion. Even at full volume the sound was good quality and achieved good clarity. If you’re in need of something to deliver great quality sound the HP Chromebook can really deliver.
A 3.5mm headphone jack is also included on the right hand side. Whilst by itself it won’t deliver the higher quality sound of the Altec Lansing speakers, it will deliver very high quality sound if you use the right headphones. The 3.5mm jack is a serviceable connection and it works.
A HP TrueVision HD webcam is included and whilst Skype isn’t natively available on ChromeOS, Google’s new messaging app ‘Hangouts’ works exceptionally well for video chat. The spec sheet does list the camera as ‘Webcam with Integrated Digital Microphone (VGA)’ indicating that it has VGA(640×480) resolution only, but with a decent connection the people I video-called commented on the clarity of the camera.
There are a number of webcam capture apps available in the Chrome Webstore but if you use the webcam on your Chromebook to take ‘quality’ photos there might be something seriously wrong with you. It’s good for video conferencing and setting up your profile image for your Chromebook, but that’s about it.
The HP Chromebook comes with all manner of connections, including both wired (RJ-45 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet) and wireless (Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n) networking options. The wireless on the Pavillion connected to both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz connections on my Netgear router. I found it supports a strong signal throughout the 2 storey house I live in which also continued when I went out to the backyard – the furthest point I can get from the router on my property.
The wired connection is, as with most of these connections a serviceable one. Ethernet connections have been around for the better part of 20 years and at this stage they work well. I would like to have seen a Gigabit Ethernet port included, as most corporate environments support gigabit ethernet in their switches now. HP are a high volume corporate supplier, and gigabit ethernet would be a good selling point for larger-scale rollouts.
Bluetooth is also included on the Pavillion and it works; I connected a mouse and keyboard combo to the unit but sadly A2DP stereo Bluetooth connections are only supported thus far on the Developer Channel so we haven’t tested this out in this review.
Video output on the Pavillion comes by way of a HDMI Connection, and this just works too. There is no fussing about with outputting to screens. There are options to either extend your desktop or use mirroring and you can also set the output display as the primary monitor. Apart from that there is very little in the way of options. My Sony Bravia screen did only detect the output as 720P rather than the reported 1080P output the software was advising, however.
There are two USB 3.0 ports included as well as a single USB 2.0 port. I unfortunately could not test the USB 3.0 connection as I have no devices that support it, but connecting hard drives worked fine. The HP FAQ advises that in terms of USB devices the Chromebook also supports keyboards, mice, headphones and audio devices, webcams, USB-to-Ethernet adapters, USB drives and external storage as well as USB hubs. Pretty comprehensive.
There is an SD Card reader included as is the case with most Chromebooks and in testing the device works fairly solidly. I tested using a Sandisk Class 10 card and transfer speeds — whilst not great — were fairly quick.
The Pavillion 14 runs a Dual-Core 1.1 GHz Intel® Celeron® 847 CPU paired with Intel HD Graphics and 4GB of RAM, so it is a powerful machine for the price.
Being an Intel based system there are vents on-board – underneath – to allow for fans to move hot air away from the CPU. There is a bit of heat generated at the bottom of the device due to these vents, but it’s not excessive and is just something to take into account when thinking of purchasing. What I failed to notice in the entire time that I used the Pavillion 14 though was any fan noise. I’m sure there is fan noise, it’s just not as noticeable as I have come to expect from other Intel based laptops on the market.
Boot times for the Pavillion 14 are around the 24 second mark, with an additional 5 seconds to authenticate to the wireless network. Whilst not bad when comparing to other operating systems, if you start comparing it to systems like the Chromebook Pixel – which routinely boots in around 8 seconds – factors such as the decision to include a SATA Hard drive as opposed to an SSD have to come into question. Like any system it’s a tradeoff, with an SSD the boot times would be quicker, however a 320GB hard drive offers a lot of capacity as opposed to a 32 or 64GB SSD and doesn’t overly affect the day to day running of the Chromebook.
In terms of running the OS, it’s quite zippy. What I have found in every day use, is that while older devices such as the CR48 are beginning to struggle, current generation devices run ChromeOS and any and all extensions or packaged apps with ease and the Pavillion 14 is no different. When loading up an excessive amount of tabs (30+) the system does start to struggle.
Where the HP Pavillion shines is with the option to expand the memory from 4GB to 8GB in the future. A single DIMM slot is still open to receive a future upgrade which will offer a definite extension to the life of your Chromebook.
The 4-Cell Li-Ion battery included will definitely not blow your mind but it is reliable. I consistently got around 4.5 hours of use doing anything from writing, to web browsing and watching video. Screen brightness does affect the battery life so it’s something to watch if you are trying to squeeze every last drop out of it.
The included 65W power adapter connects in quite well and stays connected, unlike other devices (Chromebook Pixel, I’m looking at you). Re-charging from dead flat is a pretty quick affair, taking only a couple of hours to power up.
As HP are kings of additions to their hardware, I am a little surprised that there has been no additional 6 or even 8-cell battery upgrade on offer for their initial Chromebook, but it’s something that I’m sure could be offered in the future if customer demand dictated as much.
HP Pavillion 14 C001tu Specs :
- 14″ HD BrightView LED-backlit 1366×768
- 1.1GHz Dual Core Intel® Celeron® 847 CPU
- Intel UMA Shared Graphics
- 4 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 (Upgradeable to 8GB)
- 320GB 5400rpm SATA HDD with SD Card reader
- Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth
- In-built HP TrueVision Webcam(VGA) with Integrated Digital Microphone
- Altec Lansing Dual Speakers
- Ports : 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, 1x HDMI, 1x RJ-45/Ethernet, 1x External Headphone-out and 1x External Microphone input
- Sparkling black
- 4-cell Li-Ion Battery
- 23.8×34.7×2.1cm @ 1.8kg
The HP Chromebook is at the top of the range of Chromebooks on offer in Australia when it comes to price and it does show in terms of what is on offer. The Pavillion 14 is a fairly well made device with a lot of options that you won’t find on other Chromebooks, due in part to the fact that HP appears to have merely re-engineered an existing Laptop body for ChromeOS but this is not a bad thing if you’re trying ChromeOS for the first time. The familiarity that the form factor takes means that it’s an extremely comfortable machine to both look at and use.
Performance wise I feel an SSD would offer a slightly faster boot time and seek time when accessing files but the underlying speed and reliability of ChromeOS manages to negate this to a large extent. One also needs to bear in mind that, besides the OS, most of the time you won’t really be using the hard drive for anything, so it shouldn’t be too much of a performance hit for the average user.
The ability to expand the RAM installed is a wonderful option and one to consider when deciding which device to purchase. As well, the larger screen of the Pavillion 14 is extremely attractive with the additional screen real estate it affords, although retaining the same resolution as other models is a small disappointment and one I would prefer to see rectified on any future models.
Bottom line, I loved the HP Pavillion 14, the large screen, great speakers, expandability and excellent amount of storage along with the familiar laptop design felt natural to me personally makes for a really great device as well as a great transition device for someone wanting to try out ChromeOS. At $399 RRP it’s not the cheapest option however I have seen this particular device on-sale through both of Google’s Chromebook partners – Harvey Norman and JB Hifi – for around the $350 mark and if you can get the Pavillion 14 at that price it’s a pretty good option.