When we tested it in October 2013, we called the original HP Chromebook 11 our favorite Chromebook, praising its fit and finish and impressive IPS screen—but noting that, like other Chromebooks, it was a lot less useful when there was no Wi-Fi hotspot around. On that score, the newer HP Chromebook 11 LTE is a revelation: Thanks to a Verizon LTE chip from Altair Semiconductor, it’s not only an inexpensive Web, e-mail, and word processing machine—although the “inexpensive” part is considerably more complicated thanks to the need for a Verizon service plan—but one that’s more often able to replace your regular laptop. If there’s either Wi-Fi or a cellular signal available, you can get on, and get on with it. Call it the Chromebook that solves the problem with Chromebooks.
Even since our review of the non-LTE model six months ago, Chromebooks have gained more momentum. For starters, they look like they’re here to stay, with a handful of education-focused models from Dell and Lenovo (a sign of the burgeoning interest in these lean laptops for schools), plus new models from Samsung and a first-timer from Toshiba (the eponymously named Toshiba Chromebook). We’re also seeing a resurgence in the idea of lean Chrome OS desktops, in the form of the just-released Asus Chromebox, with the model we tested starting at a shockingly low $179.
That said, a laptop of whatever stripe, whether Mac OS, Windows, or Chrome OS, is still a clamshell device that you type and do stuff on, so the physical characteristics—screen, keyboard, connectivity—are largely universal considerations. And that’s where HP’s Chromebook 11 distinguished itself among the then-current crop of Chromebooks: in how it’s built. The LTE version uses the same chassis, so we have no complaints.
We’ve tested a few Chromebooks over the last year or so, among them the luxeGoogle Chromebook Pixel (and its jaw-droppingly high-res screen), the $249Acer C720 Chromebook that debuted in parallel with the non-LTE HP Chromebook 11, and the cheapest we’ve tested to date, the $199 Acer C7 Chromebook (C710). In comparison to those and others, the non-LTE HP Chromebook 11 surprised us with a surprisingly solid design and a glorious screen, given its $279 price.
The LTE version’s pricing is more complicated. It’s sold through Best Buy in the United States, and the price at the time wrote this in early April 2014 was $299 for the notebook bare, without a carrier plan. The LTE service offered with the machine was supplied by Verizon, and plan pricing varied according to whether you would be signing up for a new data plan, or adding it to an existing Verizon plan. With a new two-year data plan, a Verizon subsidy would cut the cost of the Chromebook 11 LTE to $199. (We’ve got much more on the plan options in the last section of this review.)
You’ll want to examine the ongoing cost of keeping this Chromebook connected, because price is a key consideration with Chromebooks. Relative to the cost of the plan, the cost of the hardware is trivial. How can Chromebooks be so cheap? Well, for starters, because they don’t run Windows, you can subtract the “Microsoft tax”—the cost of the Windows license baked into the price of a typical Windows laptop. Also, HP’s machine was cryptically “made with Google,” according to labeling on the machine’s bottom, so whether the hardware manufacturing is being subsidized in some way beyond the inclusion of the Chrome OS is anyone’s guess. Other factors possibly driving the price down, at least in this specific machine: the use of an ARM-based processor (a Samsung Exynos chip, as opposed to Intel silicon), and the mere modicum of local storage (16GB).
On the whole, we found HP’s physical build of the Chromebook 11 and 11 LTE to be the tops among budget Chromebooks we’ve tested to date, though previews we’ve seen of a few Chromebooks forthcoming in mid-2014 suggest that the bar is about to be raised. As for performance, while formal benchmarks for Chromebooks are still thin on the ground, we found the Chromebook 11 to be a tad sluggish in our hands-on tests when under heavy stress, most notably when dealing with loads of programs open in multiple tabs—and by loads, we do mean quite a few, more than a dozen. The LTE version acted the same way.
Still, as a basic machine for Web browsing, e-mailing, and online or offline word processing, the Chromebook 11 in either flavor—LTE or not—should suffice, and it’s slim and cheap enough to buy as a secondary machine to throw in your bag wherever you go or leave on the nightstand. If you opt for the LTE model, though, you might find, as we did, that you end up leaving your ordinary laptop behind more often than not. The ease of instant-on booting, paired with built-in cellular access, means no more fumbling with separate, sometimes-flaky hotspots and a laptop for on-the-go Net access away from Wi-Fi.
That’s especially key for a Chromebook, because anyone who has used one knows that working offline—that is, away from Wi-Fi—is these machines’ Achilles’ heel. Because of that, the budget-priced HP Chromebook 11 LTE is a winner, if you can stomach the ongoing cost of keeping up the data plan. More on that in a bit.