HP Chromebook 14 (with 4G) review: Solid performance in a plus-sized package

The HP Chromebook 14 combines great performance with a spacious display. So is it the right Chromebook for you?

Low-cost Chromebooks tend to require compromise. On one end of the spectrum, you've got the HP Chromebook 11, which boasts beautiful design and build quality but has significant performance limitations. On the other end, there's the Acer C720 Chromebook, which packs plenty of horsepower but has a lackluster display and exterior.

So where's the middle ground? Enter the HP Chromebook 14 (4G). The laptop, available now for $349 via Walmart, aims to provide a mix of performance and style while sticking within entry-level parameters.

HP Chromebook 14
HP Chromebook 14

I've been spending some time getting to know the HP Chromebook 14 (4G) this week. Here's a detailed look at what it's like to use and how it compares to the rest of the Chromebook family.

(Note that the system being reviewed here is the 4G model of the Chromebook 14. HP has also announced a Wi-Fi-only model of the Chromebook 14 that'll launch for $299 later this fall, but that model has half the RAM of this one; its performance will likely vary accordingly.)

Size and display

By now, you probably know all about Google's Chrome OS platform and its cloud-centric approach (if you don't, see my previous coverage for a quick primer). Since the software is identical from one Chromebook to the next, I'm going to skip over that discussion and focus this review on hardware.

First things first: The Chromebook 14 is one big boy. At 13.56 x 9.44 x 0.81 in. and 4.1 lb., the laptop looks and feels like a giant next to other Chromebooks. The HP Chromebook 11, in comparison, is 11.69 x 7.56 x 0.69 in. and 2.3 lb. The difference is extremely noticeable; whereas the Chromebook 11 is sleek and light, the Chromebook 14 is bulky and relatively heavy. I'm most aware of the heft when holding the computer in my lap or carrying it around, both of which are less pleasant to do with this device than with the more compact alternatives.

Bulk has its benefits, though: As with any laptop, what you lose in svelteness you gain in screen size. At 14 inches, the Chromebook 14's display feels like riding in a limo compared to the Chromebook 11's sedan: The extra three inches in diagonal amount to more than an inch and a half of added space lengthwise and about an inch in height. That expanded desktop can make a meaningful difference, especially if you like to view multiple apps or browser windows at the same time.

As for the quality of the display, it's a mixed bag: The Chromebook 14's glossy 1366 x 768 TN screen is a big leap forward from the matte TN panel on Acer's C720 Chromebook, especially in terms of clarity. As you'd expect, though, it's no match for the IPS LCD display on the Chromebook 11. The Chromebook 14's contrast, color brilliance, color accuracy and sharpness are all a significant step down from what the Chromebook 11 delivers; the disparity is striking when you view the laptops side by side.

(Note: This review originally stated that the Chromebook 14's display was an IPS panel based on information provided by HP press representatives. HP has since informed me that the information it initially provided was inaccurate and the display is, in fact, TN-based -- which is far more consistent with the level of quality I observed. The review has been updated accordingly.)

Body and design

The differences between the Chromebook 14 and Chromebook 11 don't end with the display; in fact, despite the fact that both laptops are made by HP, they have little in common when it comes to physical form. The reason is that the Chromebook 11 was designed with close involvement by Google -- the same team responsible for the high-end Chromebook Pixel -- while the Chromebook 14 is an HP product through and through.

Generally speaking, the comparison doesn't reflect favorably on the Chromebook 14. From the visible vents between the top and bottom halves to the prominent screws on its casing, the Chromebook 14 is considerably less elegant and thoughtfully designed than its Google-influenced cousin.

It's all relative, though. By itself, the Chromebook 14 is actually pretty nice for an entry-level system. The laptop comes in your choice of white, soft red or teal (also known as "Snow White," "Peach Choral" and "Turquoise"). The pastel colors won't be everyone's cup of tea, but they work well in this context; I suspect a lot of folks will find them to be an enticing and refreshing change from the drab blacks and grays we're used to seeing on computers.

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Low-cost Chromebooks compared

HP Chromebook 14 (4G) HP Chromebook 11 Acer C720 Chromebook Samsung Chromebook
Processor Intel Celeron 2955U Samsung Exynos 5250 Intel Celeron 2955U Samsung Exynos 5 Dual
Display 14-in. 1366 x 768 TN 11.6-in. 1366 x 768 IPS LCD 11.6-in. 1366 x 768 TN 11.6-in. 1366 x 768 TN
On-board storage 16GB SSD 16GB SSD 16GB SSD 16GB SSD
SD card slot Yes No Yes Yes
Cloud storage 100GB Google Drive/2 yr. 100GB Google Drive/2 yr. 100GB Google Drive/2 yr. 100GBGoogle Drive/2 yr.
Battery life Up to 9.5 hours Up to 6 hours Up to 8.5 hours Over 6.5 hours
Camera HD front-facing VGA front-facing 720p front-facing 0.3MP front-facing
Data connectivity Wi-Fi, HSPA+ via T-Mobile Wi-Fi only Wi-Fi only Wi-Fi only
USB ports 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0
HDMI Native HDMI-out port Via micro-USB with SlimPort adapter Native HDMI-out port Native HDMI-out port
Charging Proprietary DC port Standard micro-USB port Proprietary DC port Proprietary DC port
Dimensions 13.56 x 9.44 x 0.81 in. 11.69 x 7.56 x 0.69 in. 11.34 x 8.03 x 0.75 in. 11.4 x 8.1 x 0.7 in.
Weight 4.10 lb. 2.30 lb. 2.76 lb. 2.43 lb.
Price $349 $279 $249 $249
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