HP Chromebook 13 G1 Review
A great ChromeOS experience comes at a price.
Chrome OS is no longer the butt of jokes around the tech industry. Especially in managed computing environments like schools, Chromebooks have overtaken other platforms as a flexible option that can cost way, way less than Windows PCs or Macs.
Which is why HP's Chromebook 13 G1 (MSRP $499, $819 as tested) is such a baffling machine. Sure, it performs smoothly thanks to Intel's Core m processors, and you get a precision keyboard and crisp display out of the deal. Those are things we'd love to see on any other ultrabook, but in a Chromebook that's this costly, it's much harder to justify.
Especially until this Intel-based Chromebook can run Android apps on it, we'd recommend that average users stick to the ~$200 options that are most common. Otherwise, there are far better deals on traditional ultrabooks that will give you way more functionality for your dollar.
About the HP Chromebook 13 G1
These premium Chromebooks from HP share many attributes, but the $499 Pentium-based model will give you much different performance compared to the version we tested. Our $819 Chromebook 13 featured the following specs:
•Intel Core m5 6Y57 dual-core processor
•8 GB RAM
•32 GB eMMC flash storage
•QHD+ (3200 x 1800) IPS LCD display
•Intel HD Graphics 515
•WiFi AC/Bluetooth 4.0
What We Like
Thin, well-built laptop with USB-C ports
If you were hoping that this premium Chromebook feels good, then you'll be pleased with the attention to detail at work here. Featuring a metal lid and top keyboard deck, the Chromebook 13 feels really nice to hold. It has a subtle Chrome logo on the top that's been made monochrome instead of colorful, so it's not going to stand out in any splashy way.
Even though HP put a full-sized USB 3.0 port onto this Chromebook, it also added two USB-C ports that can be used charging the laptop. Both ports also double as regular USB ports with adapters which means you have a total of three USB ports at your disposal.
If HP was aiming at business users with the Chromebook 13, then they hit the nail on the head. Between its sophisticated brushed metal look, black backlit keyboard, and generally subdued design mean you won't feel embarrassed pulling this Chromebook out for use in the boardroom or in the frequent flyer lounge at the airport.
Fanless, zippy performance
Unlike some competing ultrabooks, this Chromebook goes without a fan. That means that it's impossibly quiet, even when you have a ton of tabs open. All versions of this thin-and-light notebook lack a fan, whether you spring for a Core m7-equipped version, or even in the entry-level Pentium 4405Y model.
That's great if you've been burned by noisy, whirring notebooks making embarrassing noises at inopportune times. This HP is stealthy without ever feeling sluggish.
Battery life that's great for productivity
Even though we didn't run our normal, rigorous battery test on the Chromebook 13, we did use it for a few days to get a feel for its general runtime. Even with a bunch of tabs open, I was able to make it through most of an ordinary work day before reaching for a charger.
Granted, until this device can run Android apps, there just aren't super demanding apps out on ChromeOS. If it could run Lightroom mobile or maybe dabble in some games, I'd assume that you could drain the battery a whole lot faster. As it stands, the limited nature of ChromeOS keeps you from really tapping into the full power of the hardware at work here.
What We Don't Like
Tiny sliver of storage
So, ChromeOS devices tend to not need nearly as much space, but we'd certainly expect more than 32 GB of space on a notebook like this that starts at over $500.
There's a microSD card slot, so that's something, but it's still disappointing that HP could just throw users a bone and put a 128 GB SSD inside this computer instead. Especially once users can start installing and using Android apps from the Google Play store, the tiny drive inside this Chromebook is just going to feel more and more cramped to those who buy one.
Expensive compared to competition
OK, so it's really hard to look at this thing and not think of its direct competition. If you're paying top-dollar for a super thin notebook, there are comparably priced options out there that are just about as good as this HP is, running a full computer OS. Options like the MacBook Air might be a little more expensive on average, but If you're cross-shopping against Windows notebooks, comparable models can be had for similar prices.
This HP is pretty nice, but I'd have a really hard time recommending its limited operating system over Windows or macOS for most people. Unless you're ready to commit to Chrome full-time, with the promise of Android app compatibility later, this just isn't going to be a workable choice for most.
For the money, you get an annoying trackpad
Even though I really appreciated the comfortable backlit keyboard when writing my review, the trackpad, paired with ChromeOS's approach to scrolling, just kept tripping me up. This trackpad just doesn't scroll around as smoothly as many competing ultrabooks from Apple and Dell. For its high price, I expected a near-flawless trackpad experience, and that's not what I got at all.
Should You Buy It?
No, unless you always wanted a Chromebook Pixel.
There's no two ways around it—ChromeOS is pretty awesome for a lot of things, but it's still too limited for many to use full-time when compared to Windows and the Mac. If that's the case then there are great options from Asus, Apple, Dell, and even HP itself at this price, all with more power, storage, and features than the HP Chromebook 13.
If you've got around $800 to spend on a nice computer, we'd be more than happy to recommend Dell's excellent XPS 13, which starts at only $799 for a much more capable system.
If you absolutely have to pick up a Chromebook, then your premium models are rare as hens' teeth. The closest competition was Google's own $1,300 Chromebook Pixel. The recently discontinued Pixel was even more overpriced than this HP, but since you can't get one, the Chromebook 13 G1 is your only real option. We'll be more bullish on this segment once Android app support is live and stable, but until then your money is probably better spent elsewhere.
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