HP Stream preview and first look

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The “netbook” market, or whatever you want to call it, got a bit of a boost when Google launched its Chromebooks . Offering users little more power than they needed to perform such simple but important tasks as browsing the internet and working with documents, they were a popular solution for the low-demand budget-conscious. Google’s stripped-down operating system may not be to everyone’s tastes however, or at least that’s what HP decided when it came up with the HP Stream, a Windows 8.1 touting 14” device that’s also competitively priced and is aimed at the same audience.

As you’d expect you’re not going to get cutting-edge specifications – count yourself lucky if there’s enough here to do a smooth job. The 14” WLED-backlight display offers 1366×768 resolution, there’s a full size keyboard, 1.6GHz AMD A4 chip, 2GB of on board memory and up to 6 and a half hours of battery life. There’s 32GB of storage for your stuff or an alternative model that upgrades this to 64GB, but with 100GB of OneDrive cloud storage for two years as standard this should be plenty if you’re efficient with your data. If you’re a fan of music on the move you’ll also be pleased to hear that it features Beats Audio alongside quad speakers, so should offer far more on this front than your typical Chromebook – this could, in fact, be the last hurrah for the synergy that was Beat and HP.

It sounds fairly appealing so far, but CNET is quick to point out its limitations: “While probably the least expensive Windows 8 clamshell you’re likely to find, the system includes specs that might make even a very casual computer user cringe, at least if you were planning to use it as you would a standard laptop.”

PCWorld calls it a “Chromebook killer”, and starts by highlighting the fact that Microsoft drove out Linux in the netbook market and could be looking to do the same with Chromebooks. The big question, it seems, will be “how well it runs Windows. Low-end PCs are notorious for being deathly slow, although the onboard storage should help the Stream 14 run faster than hard drive-encumbered netbooks from five years ago.” This seems like it could be a deal breaker – after all, Chrome OS was designed to boot quickly and work smoothly on such meagrely specced machines. It also points out that “Chromebook also have an advantage over Windows in terms of security thanks to process sandboxing, verified boot checks, and the Web security features built into Chrome itself” so this is another area in which Microsoft might have to offer some reassurance.

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MobileGeeks has gone hands-on so can offer us a few more specifics. The display seems adequate if uninspiring: “Compared to today’s IPS screens the viewing angles, color and brightness levels are not fantastic, but considering the price point it is in fact totally acceptable and decent TN panel.”  When it comes to performance, the demo model that was tested seemed pretty nippy and capable enough of making it around the OS without unnecessary lag. The SSD undoubtedly helps here, which combined with cloud-oriented storage and a fast enough connection should give you quick enough access to your data. The keyboard also gets a mention, which is nicely sized and doesn’t flex too much under pressure. The lack of a touchscreen is a shame, though understandable at the price point, which we’d better get around to mentioning.

It’s $299, which is a bit of a shame as it was touted at being $100 less when rumours were doing the rounds a few months ago, but it’s still a tidy price and depending on how this gets translated outside the US, we can see the Stream being a popular alternative for Windows users.