Chrome OS vs. Netbook 2.0

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.

34 Responses to “No, the $229 HP Stream 13 isn’t a Chromebook killer”

  1. Tech_Dad

    This is one of the most biased and useless reviews I have ever had the misfortune of reading. I bought an HP Stream 13 for my 10-year-old son specifically because I wanted him to be able to run actual programs. He wants to develop video games and while I am a Mac guy, I thought it made sense to get him an inexpensive Windows computer. Cloud-based programs offered by big brother Google Chrome are JUNK. Chromebooks have no power and can only run proprietary dummie fodder. They are a weak tablet with a mouse…. Hurrah to HP for offering a decent laptop for under $200. Throw in the one year subscription to Office 365, $25 gift certificate and free storage for a year and the little Chromebook Killer is darn near free. I will be getting another one for my daughter. And yes, you do need to update it before you use it, small one-time price to pay for superior performance and value in the long run. The reviewer is a victim of the immediate gratification plague that is sweeping our country, probably doesn’t even change the oil in his car because it takes too long and should do it by itself (or not need it at all)).

  2. @Adilson
    If English is not your native language, please get with someone that speaks and writes English as their first language.

    If English is your native language, please get with someone that speaks and writes English as their first language.

  3. If English is not your native language, please get with someone that speaks and writes English as their first language.

    If English is your native language, please get with someone that speaks and writes English as their first language.

  4. Will Thomas

    Thank you for a great review and allowing the diversity of readers opinions. This is one of the most focused discussions I’ve read about MS vs Chrome. At the end of the day I think that the comment that just about all of my laptop experience is focused on net connected use in one way or another and since Chrome OS may well be hampered because of this I don’t see the problem. I have an external memory for work and if I want to work offline (which is rare) then I have the best of both worlds with a faster leaner and more economical computing experience. With MS moving towards a rent everything world Google is way in front of Windows gouging their customers at every opportunity and allows way to many companies to become affiliate gougers for aftermarket ‘fixes’ and ‘patches’ after MS stops supporting their customers. Its a google world or buy a Stream 13 and watch your money stream away again and again.

  5. D J Dickie

    I gave up on Windows laptops 2 years ago. Right after I bought my ipad. I had a 2 yr old Windows laptop. Here was my typical experience. Pick up the laptop, fire it up, wait 20 min while the updates updated, rebooted etc. All the while my lap was slowly cooking from the heat. Then read the emails or articles I wanted to read for 10 min. Got my ipad, experience was grab my ipad, instantly read my emails and articles and done. I got my Chromebook for Christmas, and wow, no waiting, no heat, keyboard and screen angles without holding it up. I won’t even go down the MS road again, whiile the Stream may work for the first 6 mths, I have no faith that after that it will be the same ugly experience. MS burned what ever goodwill they had with me year and years ago. Also, I dumped using MS office when they wanted to rob me of $250 every other year to use it with my business. I started using Open Office and didn’t find any problems working in a predominant MS Office utility heavy industry. Since I made my decision to stop using MS products, my daily experience has been way way better.

  6. i Have had so many problems with this device i havent even had it a month and i have had to call HP times and then something new happeneds it just know went black and wont even turn back on and i am beyound pissed about it

  7. Donald William Gillies

    It is so WORTH the -$100 (ea) i paid to get a low-cost, simple, state-of-the-art no-virus computer for my kids. By state-of-the-art, I mean with a high pixel density per inch touch computer that lasts 7-8 hour on battery and is a 3 lbs package with a high-performance celeron 2955U processor (Acer c720p).

    The only people buying windows machines are today likely drug-addicted to windows games, or they don’t know what a huge mistake they are making.

    • There is no “best” computer everyone. It all depends on what you use your computer for: If you do a lot of multitasking, or your work involves applications that require a lot of memory (e.g., you run a lot of virtual machines), play a lot of games, video editors, CAD software would probably need a Windows computer.
      If you do just browsing, email, a few office editing and battery life is crucial for you then a chromebook is a good choice.

      Notice that a Windows machine can have both of two worlds.

  8. It’s like watching a sumo wrestler trying to do ballet. Over-weight and with no concept of being light on one’s feet.

    So many years of Microsoft fighting the naysayers, presented with a Russian Doll of updates and still saying it’s the answer to the Netbook challenge.

    Windows is a DESKTOP operating system and any fule no that until they fork a codebase into this space, it’s not going to fly.

    I’d love to read the author’s review 6 months into update and dependency hell just to see how ‘annoyance’ has moved to rage.

    Of course, I own a HP Pavillion Chromebook and have to suffer none of this :-D

  9. Daniel Levenson

    I bought an HP Stream 13 and haven’t experienced any of the frustration and anguish that you wrote about. Set your expectations appropriately and you will never be disappointed.

    In my case, I turned on the laptop, signed-in with my Live account, told it to update, and left it alone for an hour. When I came back, I had a chrome book killer. End of story.

    • You didn’t experience the same situations or they didn’t bother you because you knew what to expect and just accepted them? There’s a difference. ;) Also, did you have the same Active X tweaks to get the free Office 365 or did you just not do that?

      I get that some folks are used to the Windows out of box experience. And it actually has gotten better. But ignoring it by walking away from a new PC for an hour isn’t the ideal solution for most folks.

  10. Adilson

    Great article.. I do agree with all the things above it.
    I have a windows notebook and kind of recently I did purchase a Samsung Chromebook 2.
    What a difference! No more hassle whit it all the updates things going back and forth to run apps and programs. Being a web user I’m very happy leaving my windows notebooks as a secondary platform. Since I had it a chance to be invited to the pilot program for the Chromebooks, I knew it, they could possibly it’lll be a serious thing on the tech market.
    Now, after all the hard begin and lack of belief the story itself is very different.
    We all are living in a world totally connected to the web, so as where people who needs to be there, connected are seeing the advantages of this little machine.

  11. The argument between Chrome and Windows has become laughably repetitive:
    Windows User: Chrome sucks because it can’t do select things that an even more select group of users use.
    Chrome User: We don’t use those features; we don’t care.
    Windows User: You’re an idiot for not using things that I use.
    Chrome User: ??? (How do you reason with that?”

  12. Dourscot

    These low-cost Windows laptops look like a marketing con to me – why doesn’t MS just work to build a proper cloud computer and compete on an even basis?

    This is just a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

  13. Michael Benami Doyle

    I used my Samsung Chromebook for more than a year and constantly felt hampered by the lack of desktop Office when I needed to bring work home. I brought my HP Stream 11 home last night from Fry’s. Yes, it takes longer to set up a Windows computer. *This is not news.* Not really sure what the point of all that fanboy axe-grinding was.

    After using the Stream 11 for a day of work and play, I can’t believe how harsh the reviews have been. In one day, this machine blew my last year of Chromebook use out of the water. It’s much faster and more capable than legacy Chromebooks, and easily bests my twice-as-expensive Acer work laptop. It’s easily my favorite Windows laptop ever. I would urge folks considering the Stream series to take reviews like this with a grain of salt and go seek out the laptops in person. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

    • Thanks for the comment, Michael. A couple of thoughts:

      1. This isn’t a review — I specifically noted that in the beginning of the post — so “take reviews like this with a grain of salt” makes no sense to say. ;)

      2. Taking a lot longer to set up is only part of the challenge here that Microsoft faces against a lighter, browser-based computer; the experience is frustrating because Windows is still clunky by comparison. That *is* news: If Microsoft wants to truly compete against Chrome OS, it needs to remove this barrier. As I noted several time: simplicity is a feature.

      3. My first impressions for use as a basic Windows laptop computer are pretty positive, mirroring your own longer experiences. For the $200 I paid, I’m generally happy with the device from a value perspective. And for folks like yourself that need Office, I can see why it’s appealing.

      4. If your most recent Chromebook experience is an old Samsung, you might be surprised by the more recent models that are much better. You’d still have your Office gap, of course, but the difference in overall performance is night and day.

    • Oldman60

      My Acer C720 is blazing fast, at least 3 times the old Samsung ARM CB and 2 times faster than the new Samsumg ARM and it costs less than $200. I love it, it’s fast, easy to use, cheap and immune to viruses. Moreover I can do everything I need with it. I have no reason to use Windows.

  14. Joshua Herzig-Marx

    I hope you try using Windows 8 mode for Chrome on it and report back on how it does as an actual Chromebook! (e.g., performance, battery life, etc.)

  15. Think about it a laptop that can run any browser like Chrome , Firefox or IE and with Bluestacks you can run all your Android apps. Why would you want a Chromebook.

    • I think you’ve completely missed the point of the post: The more functionality you add, the more complexity and resource usage comes along for the ride, making a fast, simple system slower and requiring more maintenance.

      If you want a laptop that can run any browser and Bluestacks, then Windows *is* the right choice. But it’s not the only one, nor is it best for most people so asking “Why would you want a Chromebook?” is just silly. I might as well ask you why you’d want a car when a pickup truck can carry so much more.

    • iluvatar

      Why would you want anything else than a browser, or think about laptop that can run only what you need, which is a browser? Why would you ever want anything more, including keep up, and updates?

  16. Bob White

    The Stream series Is junk.
    the product has issues with the touchpad- To make it work required a paid service fee.

    the audio is distorted as digital slurs (MAX HEADROOM) and pops and crackles.

    Did I mention the touchpad has no updated drivers but for a fee HP will make it work? Nothing like trying to set a curser or grab a slider or scrollbar and get nothing like it is the last call in a long line of interrupts. I spent days on this, not hours–what is your time worth?

    Good Wifi receiver but the wifi drops, what fun is that, Apples were rock solid in a cafe, i get dumped.

    Very attractive but why pay extortion fees to make it work. Some at HP overseas said it was a Windows problem. The tech help is worth a coronary in itself. they did ask for personal information when the chat window warned me not to do it. Chat people want to remote you for some reason and did force that switch without permission, Chat is a long half hour of BS until they tell you to pay for the fix–they get paid by the time they waste.

    I used to think Win 8.n was a productivity killer but this thing killed my 12 Days before Christmas. It was like dealing with Packard Bell in the 90’s,; bad proprietary software on perfectly good hardware–they cannot code or this is the way HP makes up for a low price by getting you buy the fix. Once your return date is passed, you are a trapped animal for them to fleece.

    if you have a HP product like this (Stream tablets have audio problems as well), take it back. Do not fall for the ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ mentality.

    the reviews for the product that are all sunshine are HP stock shills. Share holders that are along with those who hold Synaptics are taking it in the shorts. They are trying to mitigate the real news but in a month it will be a different story: HP is only a name being abused by marketeering sharks.

    • PRETHOUGHT

      @Stripes You can disable the certificate checking in the BIOS but because it’s a BayTrail processor you will need to load the 32bit EFI.

      You will want to run Linux on this thing because once you get some Windows Updates installed you won’t have anymore space for the device to be usable. Microsoft has streamlined 8.1 so that it can fit on 16GB disk the problem with that is the OS is run out of a compressed recovery image. So when those updates are applied they sit outside of the recovery image that can’t be removed because you are effectively running sizable chunk of the OS out if it. So if you ever have to do a recovery because you caught a virus guess what you have to load all those updates all over again. The more you use the device the slower it becomes as it churns that NVRAM flash it’s not a pretty site. This is Microsoft’s attempt to compete at the low end and I believe it’s an utter failure.

  17. Erin Addam Jackson©

    Any windows pc needs updates when you first turn it on for the first time. Chrome does not run programs. It runs apps. Windows does both.

    • Any PC or any ChromeOS device will both periodically need updates. The process is markedly different between the two though. ChromeOS has a far superior user experience in this regard.
      As to the apps and programs thing – that’s just semantics nonsense. There is no difference. Each is a platform which third parties can write software for and which the respecitve makers themselves also write optional software for.
      Windows has a long history of third party software support and this widespread software availability is one of its core strengths. ChromeOS software generally confines itself to augmenting web platform software in one way or another. The web is the centerpiece no doubt. That’s not much of a handicap for most people as their usage of modern computers is typically 100% web based anyway, or easily can be so.