HP Chromebook 11a review: Great for students, not so for professionals
The HP Chromebook 11a is among the most affordable laptops you can buy in 2021 but the use case is best limited to student requirements. Here’s our review.
A new world order is implemented post the COVID-19 pandemic and digital is now the only way forward. With more COVID waves incoming, it is likely to stay the same. This translates to horror for burdened middle-class parents but a victory for tech brands; the latter now able to sell horrendous cheap Android tablets at higher prices than before. HP thinks it can play the saviour hero here with its Chromebook 11a laptop.
Instead of spending Rs 15,000-Rs 17,000 on an underpowered and obsolete tablet, HP wants you to pay Rs 21,990 for its "laptop" aimed at the student class. The Chromebook 11a looks and feels like a proper laptop, complete with a well-laid keyboard and a "big enough" display. The only catch here is Chrome OS instead of Windows 10, which changes the way you compute daily.
To find out if it is suitable for your kids or your writing needs, I took a journey with the HP Chromebook 11a for 10 days as my main laptop and the outcomes are nothing short of surprising.
When a laptop screams "budget" throughout its promotional materials, it's better to prepare yourself for compromises in dollops. I did the same with the Chromebook 11a owing to its dated design but not beyond that. While HP may have picked a design straight from the old days of "netbooks", it has ensured that the laptop survives the carefree hands of children.
Despite an all-plastic shell, the Chromebook 11a is sturdy and dust resistant. The blue colour across the deck and lid livens up the mood in comparison to the dull black cheap Windows laptops. The lid picks up dirt and grime but is easy to clean with a moist wipe. The hinge is firm and does not exhibit squeaks. The build quality is up there with some midrange Windows laptops, which is high praise for one that costs Rs 22,000.
The fat bezels around the 11.6-inch display are an eyesore initially but HP deserves to be credited for using a good quality display panel (more on that later). The port selection is as spartan as a cave, with just a single USB-A port, a microSD card port, a 3.5mm audio/mic jack, and a USB-C port. Not great for a "laptop" but the lowly price tag doesn't let us ask for more.
At 1 Kg, the weight is well contained to not probably hurt young shoulders. Also, the design has no rough edges to hurt young users. Kudos to HP for using a matured design, even if it looks dated.
Despite the 11.6-inch display surrounded by thick bezels, kudos to HP for using a good quality display. With a 45 percent colour gamut and up to 220 nits of brightness, the display here is better than ones of some entry-level Windows laptops from Dell and HP itself. Moreover, this is a touchscreen display that's as responsive as similarly priced Android tablets.
My use case involved editing photos for news stories, watching YouTube videos, and browsing a lot of websites; all of which seemed to not stress the Chromebook 11a's display. The touchscreen helps a lot until you get adapted to Chrome OS's inverse touchpad gestures. All in all, I don't have any complaints from the display and I assume it would be same for most users.
This is where you start to see why the Chromebook 11a is that cheap. Running underneath that blue plastic shell is a MediaTek MT8183 SoC similar to what you find in Android tablets. This is paired with 4GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. The microSD card slot allows for expansion up to 256GB.
Chrome OS is famous for its efficient utilization of resources and on meagre firepower like this, it can theoretically match a base Windows 10 laptop in terms of performance. Practically, the situation is different. With the HP Chromebook 11a, there's some waiting involved before you embark on your task. That waiting period ranges from half a second to a couple of them at times.
For basic "student" tasks, the Chromebook 11a has enough power to keep up. Opening and browsing Gmail, dealing with Google Docs, shuffling between a few websites, and taking video calls is completely fine for the laptop. However, there are moments of hesitation before you open an app, or load up a website.
The situation is magnified for non-student tasks. As a journalist, I usually deal with 8-9 Chrome tabs at a time along with MS Teams open in the background. This is as basic as my workflow can get and yet, the Chromebook 11a huffed and puffed like a lazy kid evading PT classes. It takes time to load up a page, or just switch to another tab. The speeds slow further when I opened Google Play Store, or another app. App versions of MS Teams, Gmail, and Outlook are slow to react, and their web versions aren't much faster in comparison.
To simplify it, the Chromebook 11a is not as eager as an affordable Windows 10 laptop. I figure this is mostly due to the weak MediaTek chip and the slow eMMC storage. Additionally, 4GB of RAM is no good on a smartphone for multitasking, let alone on a laptop designed for work. In fact, this MediaTek chip offers performance capable to a Snapdragon 660 chip, which itself is no powerhouse by today's means even for a midrange Android phone.
In essence, every time I had to get some work done urgently, I had to turn to my Windows 10 PC. The Chromebook 11a just cannot keep up with the rushed workload that my profession expects from a laptop.
While the performance suffers from the lackluster hardware, Chrome OS plays its part beautifully to keep up with the rest of the package. There's a slight learning curve for those coming from Windows PCs but kids can surely learn the entire settings page in a day or two (kids are far more tech-savvy than us lot writing on tech). If you have an Android phone, the integration is superb as you can share device notifications on your laptop and even fetch its data connection when Wi-Fi isn't available.
The Play Store opens up a portal to lakhs of Android apps that can do your regular PC stuff well. But then again, the weak hardware struggles to host those apps comfortably. The compromise also comes to the audio division as HP is using two teeny tiny speakers. The audio quality is fine if you are willing to use it for video calls. The volume levels are painfully low and I often had to use earphones or wireless speakers to hear out my teammates on Zoom.
The saving grace comes in the form of a brilliant keyboard as well as a responsive trackpad. I was able to type 1000 words long documents without any issue. The keys have sufficient travel with minimized ghosting. There's no backlighting but I assume most users would be working in well-lit surroundings. The trackpad reads multi-finger gestures accurately.
The webcam quality is decent too and kids looking to attend online classes will be satisfied with the output.
The entire appeal of ARM-based laptops is enhanced battery life and the same is visible on the Chromebook 11a. Despite having a small 37Wh capacity battery, the Chromebook 11a can easily last an entire day of work. For those who love numbers, the Chromebook 11a on average lasts 12-13 hours of usage. Do note that this usage includes some stressed use patterns like dealing with 8-9 Chrome tabs, writing on Google Docs, staying connected to Wi-Fi and an Android phone via Bluetooth, and keeping the device mostly on standby when not in use. Compared to an entry-level Windows laptop, that's substantially more.
The 45W USB-C charging adapter is termed fast but it takes over an hour and a half to fill up the battery. HP using a USB-C port for charging as well as data transfer is a welcome change in this part of the laptop world.
Tailoring a laptop to fit a price of under Rs 30,000 is a great feat in 2021 and HP selling the Chromebook 11a for Rs 21,990 is an effort that deserves applause. As more households struggle to get a grip on our suddenly modernized education system, the Chromebook 11a is a blessing for the financially challenged ones who want to offer a wholesome education experience to their kids.
The Chromebook 11a is a durable yet lightweight laptop for kids to mess around with. It offers the familiarity of a Windows laptop while delivering on the modern era of touch-based computing. Chrome OS as a platform is more capable than cheap Android-based tablets and offers just the right amount of everything to get some serious computing done. The splendid battery life is a cherry on the cake.
Sadly, the restricted performance limits its usage to kids and students. Professionals looking for a basic laptop to write, create reports or messing around with Excel sheets, and do light photo editing will still be better off with a pricier-in-comparison yet affordable Windows 10 laptop. You will be happy with this HP as long as your work revolves around Google services on the web.
Hence, the HP Chromebook 11a fits the bill better as your child's first laptop experience without paying a laptop-kind of money. It may not be among the fast laptops we all crave for but at Rs 21,990, there's hardly anything to complain about. The compact design with a playful colour, nice display, laptop-like functionality, and great battery life are reasons to consider this over anything else in its category, and above.
Published:Mon, June 21, 2021 6:22pm