Google's Chrome OS -- and, by extension, its Chromebooks -- sure have come a long way.
When Chrome OS first came into the world three short years ago, it was a bare-bones platform that could hardly qualify as a real operating system. The first Chrome OS computer, the beta-tester Cr-48 notebook, was a clunky utilitarian machine. The first commercial Chromebook -- the Samsung Series 5 -- was better, but still a far cry from anything you'd describe as a refined piece of technology.
Fast-forward to today: Chrome OS itself has grown into a polished and mature cloud-centric OS that offers a unique set of benefits compared to a more traditional computing setup. And this week, Google announced the HP Chromebook 11, a sleek-looking $279 laptop that appears to be the company's new flagship entry-level system.
So is the HP Chromebook 11 the right computer for you? I've been spending some time getting to know the new laptop this week. Here are some thoughts on what it's like to use.
Body and design
While it's clearly not a high-end computer, the HP Chromebook 11 works hard to bring design and style into the Chrome OS universe. The laptop has a clean and modern look, with a glossy white plastic finish complemented by your choice of blue, green, yellow or red accents, which appear around the keyboard and in two pads on the bottom of the device.
The glossy white look isn't going to appeal to everyone's tastes -- it doesn't exactly give off a premium vibe. But then again, the Chromebook 11 isn't meant to be a premium product. The look does bring to mind the appearance of Apple's classic white MacBook, however, and the accents, clean lines and lack of in-your-face branding -- or any visible screws or vents -- creates an attractive all-around computer most folks would be proud to pull out of a bag.
(The Chromebook 11 is also available in an accent-free black design, if that's your cup of tea.)
Taking a cue from the high-end Chromebook Pixel -- the $1,300 luxury Chrome OS laptop that Google released earlier this year -- the Chromebook 11 has a four-color Googley-looking light bar on its top that glows with different colors based on the laptop's status and activity. That's the only marking on the computer's upper cover -- no logos, no HP name, nothing else. Google's influence on the design is apparent in that regard; as with the Nexus Android devices, the computer feels more like a Google device built by HP than a regular HP product.
The minimalist approach continues around the Chromebook's sides: The right and front are smooth and barren, while the left houses a 3.5mm headphone jack, two USB 2.0 (not 3.0) ports and a micro-USB charging port. The last item there is particularly significant, as that's the same type of port used on nearly all Android phones and tablets; as you can imagine, having that standard in place on a laptop could save you a lot of hassle when it comes to keeping your gadgets juiced up at home or on the road.
I tested the included Chromebook micro-USB charger with a few different phones and tablets, and it worked A-OK for charging those. The reverse works, too, with a caveat: If you plug a regular phone charger into the Chromebook 11 while the computer's off, it'll charge it slowly. If you plug it in while the Chromebook's running, though, you'll get a warning that a low-power charger may not be able to keep up with the computer's consumption. Given the low output capacity of a typical phone charger, that's not surprising.