No, the $229 HP Stream 13 isn’t a Chromebook killer

Over the holiday week, I received the HP Stream 13 laptop that I ordered on Christmas Eve. The normal price of this Windows 8.1 with Bing notebook is $229, but I saved $30. I’ll be reviewing the device in the near future, but I already have impressions from the setup and configuration, particularly since this laptop — and others like it in the same price range — are meant to compete against similarly priced Chromebooks.

hp stream 13 front

For all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what the [company]HP[/company] Stream 13 is: Hardware first used for a [company]Google[/company] Chromebook and then reworked with [company]Microsoft[/company] Windows. The price and components are the only things that make this Chromebook-like, however. There’s still a massive difference in the user experience and capabilities as I noted in November of 2013.

Hardware differences are few and far between

First, let’s take a closer look at the device. It’s nearly identical to the Asus Chromebook 13, which retails for $249, although I recently saw it on sale for $204 at Amazon. Both devices use a 13-inch display with 1366 x 768 resolution and have USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, a webcam, and 2 GB of memory.

The HP Stream 13 has a newer dual-core [company]Intel[/company] Celeron processor that provides a slightly faster turbo processing clock speed: 2.58 GHz vs 2.41 GHz. I’d say any speed increases would be offset in the Asus Chromebook 13, though, because that model uses 1600 MHz DDR3 memory compared to the 1333 MHz RAM module in the HP. You do get 32 GB of flash storage in the HP Stream, which is double that of the base Asus Chromebook 13 model. Both have Wi-Fi but the Acer includes support for faster 802.11ac networks. All in all, most of these differences are a wash.

Out-of-box experience isn’t even close

Setting up a Chromebook and getting to work with the most up-to-date software takes about three minutes, maybe five if you’re slow. That’s not the case with the HP Stream 13, although it’s much improved over computers from just a few years ago.

It took me about 10 minutes before I could use the Windows laptop since it was going though various setup processes. Ah, but the updates.

Virus updates HP Stream 13

I counted 46 individual updates for Windows, many of them virus definition files for Windows Defender. I think it’s great that Microsoft includes this virus protection at no extra cost, but you don’t even need such software with a Chromebook. That means fewer resources on a Chrome OS device are wasted on such a service.

Windows 8.1 is actually great about downloading and installing updates in the background, so I could have started working. But I wanted to simulate a Chromebook experience where everything is always up to date — and going online with virus definition files that were 164 days old wasn’t appealing. The updates took just over an hour on the HP Stream 13 — 58 minutes to get them and then a few minutes to restart and apply them.

HP Stream 13 updates

Of course, this is a one-time process, so it’s not going to be a constant issue. Getting the free goodies that come with the HP Stream is also a one-time process, but what a painful process it was. The device comes with a free one-year subscription to Office 365, for example. I’d expect most buyers of this device to see that as a huge benefit. It’s a primary reason this laptop should appeal for the cost.

Getting the subscription activated requires you to validate the PC, and to do that, you’re faced with this mess.

PC validation HP Stream 13

How exactly is this simple or adding to the user experience? It isn’t. Instead, it’s a frustrating, convoluted process that belongs in 1999. Compare that to the free bits included with a Chromebook, which you get by being signed in to a Google account and clicking a link.

I finally did get the PC validated and was able to activate my Office 365 subscription. Then I decided to play some music while using some of the included Microsoft apps — I’m a big fan of the Sports, News and Finance apps. Unfortunately, Music wouldn’t do anything because it was out of date. So after spending an hour updating Windows, there’s more time required to update the apps that run on Windows. In my case, 19 apps needed a refresh.

Windows app updates HP Stream 13

With no other recourse, I updated the apps, of course. But I experienced high frustration levels that I don’t see with Chromebooks.

Maybe these devices really don’t compete, after all

The more I ran though the HP Stream 13 setup process, the more I realized Chromebooks really don’t compete with inexpensive Windows laptops. Or, more accurately, they compete much the way a sports car and SUV do: There’s really no competition between the two if you live in a very rural area with poor roads or lots of snow. In that case, the sports car isn’t even an option.

The same applies to low-cost Windows laptops and similarly priced notebooks. If you need or want to run Windows apps, get a Windows laptop. You’ll have your apps along with everything that comes with Windows. If you don’t need to run Windows apps and do most everything in a browser, check out the simplicity of a Chromebook. Aside from cost and hardware components, not much else here is similar; the HP Stream 13 is more like an improved netbook than a Chromebook competitor.

HP Chromebooks IFA

Know that I firmly believe that choosing the right computer for your tasks is the most important, so the intent here isn’t to suggest Chromebooks are better for everyone. They’re not.

Instead, the point is that while a low-cost Windows laptop can do more with apps, you have to take the good with the bad. Simplicity can be a feature. It’s what you don’t get with Chromebooks — lengthy convoluted setup processes and resource-wasting virus-scanning software, for example — that can make them appealing, provided you don’t need to run Windows apps.