Review: HP Stream 11 – A Low Cost Windows Laptop

HP Stream 11
HP Stream 11

(Review edited and updated 2015/04/16.)

I recently purchased the HP Stream 11. I have better Windows computers, but since becoming a fairly serious Chromebook convert, I thought I should try to be balanced.

Please understand, I am NOT a reviewer. Nobody sends me computers or hardware to try out. If I like the look of something, I spend my own, very limited cash on it, and hope I have made a wise (or at least justifiable) decision.

The HP Stream 11 has low but interesting specs.

  • It uses the  Windows 8.1 with Bing Operating System.
  • The processor is an Intel Celeron N2840 running at 2.16GHz with Turbo Boost Technology, up to 2.58GHz.
  • The screen is an 11.6-inch WLED backlit screen with 1366 x 768 resolution
  • Memory is 2GB of 1333MHz DDR3L SDRAM and it has Intel HD graphics.
  • The 32GB eMMC Drive assures a pretty snappy response.
  • And it has an HP TrueVision HD webcam that does a pretty good job.
  • It has an SD card slot on the left and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
  • It has USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, a full sized HDMI port and an audio jack on the right side.

There are speaker ports under the front, but the sound emanates from under the keyboard. The DTS Studio Sound is quite good for a compact device, and is clear at full volume. It is perfectly adequate for personal listening. If you care about audio quality, you will be using headphones anyway.

I like the fact that it is Fan-less. After months with Chromebooks going back to a Windows PC with whining fans can be annoying. I have learned to love silence.

Activating a new Chromebook takes about 90 seconds. Switch on. Select the WiFi access point and type in the password. Enter my Gmail address and password. Thirty seconds later it is working. With my many plugins and large Drive storage, it takes another five minutes to be fully functional, but that happens in the background as I work.

With the HP Stream 11, it took me almost five hours to get it to a stable working point.

I had to register and log in. I had to install multiple updates.

The computer came pre-loaded with a number of apps and pre-installed spyware, scareware and bloatware, that I had to remove. These programs I considered to be “Potentially Unwanted Programs” or PUPS were:

  • Super Optimizer, a system optimizer utility, once installed it claims that several issues were been detected on your computer. However, if you try to fix these issues, Super Optimizer will state that you need to buy its full version before being able to do so.
  • iStartSurf a browser hijacker, it will change your browser homepage to iStartSurf.com and default search engine to search.yahoo.com. It will also append the argument http://iStartSurf.com to random Windows shortcuts on your desktop and your Windows Start Menu.
  • And TV wizard – It is a Windows application. It installs plugins in your browsers. They spy on your internet usage, and display ads. They also assist malicious sites to install adware and spyware via deceptive advertising.

One of these would not uninstall. I had to resort to Systools to stop it booting. It is still installed, cluttering up my drive, but does not run on boot-up.

And of course there was the inevitable anti-virus trial version, not needed if you know a bit about computers, and all the HP special bits and offers.

There was then a multi-step account activation process to begin using Skype and Office 365. This required TURNING OFF SECURITY SETTINGS in IE so it could run ActiveX controls (seriously Microsoft? let’s make the new user expose their PC to attacks from the web by de-activating the security we finally build into IE just so they can activate a Microsoft Office 365 account!!!) Then the various office components downloaded and installed.

All in all, the setup was an exercise in frustration. A basic user will get it going quickly, but redeeming all the vouchers, offers and add-ons took a lot of time. Removing the spyware and setting this machine up properly may well require help.

The Stream is a surprisingly good experience for Windows on limited hardware. The Keyboard is a little clicky, but quite nice, and a good size. The track pad has received well deserved criticism, but I use a mouse.  The case is solid and comes in a striking Matt finish in blue or pink. Predictably the blue I wanted was sold out, but everyone had pink. I waited for blue. The keyboard surround is an anodised aluminium finish with a graduated colour scheme. It actually looks fantastic.

I name ny computers, and since it is running Windows 8.1, NOT my favourite O/S I named it Humphrey after Sir Humphrey, the obstructive bureaucrat in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, the BBC series that is surely a comedic seed for House of Cards.

The screen resolution is often criticized, but in my opinion an 11.6” screen does not benefit from higher screen resolution, 1366 x 768 is perfectly adequate. The viewing angle is poor, and would be less of a problem if the screen tilted back a few more degrees. It is simply not bright enough. It is the one true let-down with this laptop.

It works perfectly for web browsing, email, writing and general purpose use. Just don’t try to watch to much video on it. One episode of House of Cards has convinced me I cannot do the 30 day challenge I was contemplating. The screen is just not up to long term use or quality video watching.

The computer works fine as long as you do not try to do too much at once. Office will exercise it, too many applications open at once will slow it down badly. I would not want to keep Outlook open all day, it will cripple everything else. For basic Windows users, It is fine. If you spend most of your time in a web browser, it will be perfect.

HP Stream 11 Pink
HP Stream 11 Pink

My Stream, after a basic installation of my usual suite of Windows apps including Evernote and Chrome has 2Gb of disk space left.

Much of that is taken up in my case by Chrome storing my Google Drive contents offline, Dropbox, and Evernote. Desktop Evernote downloads my entire database. You probably do not use all these services.

If you are using the Microsoft OneDrive storage that comes free with the HP Stream 11 for the first year, this is not a problem. If the Stream runs out of storage, you can move it elsewhere. Perhaps the ideal would be a 32 or 64 Gb SD card tucked into the SD slot on the left side of the machine. Moving the OneDrive storage is easy, and there is a tutorial on how to do it here on CNet.  I can do something similar with Dropbox, if I desire.

I cannot use the HP Stream alone as a daily driver, the screen and performance fail it. I use a computer many hours a day, and this is just not good enough to be my only computer.

For me, it becomes the thing you toss in the backpack before going to the library or to type with for an hour or so.  It is cheap, connected, and adequate. Not suitable for continued use.

But, don’t give up on it just yet… It does have a place, and potentially a large one.

Microsoft sells Windows computers as superior to Chromebooks by talking about all those crucial applications that people need like Photoshop, Quicken and Call of Duty. None of these will run at all, let alone well on this computer ( well maybe Quicken). Audio and video editing apps like Audacity and Openshot will run, but with no disk space left, editing audio and video becomes a balancing act with the available disk space and constantly inadequate (and non-upgradeable) RAM. Adobe Premier will require 4 times the RAM, more disk space than is available, an external monitor, and a better CPU, rule it out here.

The Verdict:

If you are a digital nomad, flitting from country to country, living out of a 7 Kg carry-on bag and working online for a living, this computer is NOT for you.

If you are a digital grey nomad, living out of a van or motorhome, or house sitting with the 22 Kg  lifestyle (7 Kg carryon plus 15 Kg checked bag) this may be for you. It is rugged, reasonably compact and capable. It is quite suitable for an hour or two a day of use on its own. It can handle video, windows programs and works happily offline. If your van or house has a TV with an HDMI Port, a cable will give you a big screen, and it can drive it well.

For the price, it is an excellent computer.

Keep in mind that it is reliant on a Microsoft Office 365 account for most of its features, including OneDrive storage. These cannot be transferred. If you buy it, you own it for the first year. Resale is pretty difficult, since the new owner will need to immediately purchase and Office 365 licence at around $99 per year to use the Office apps, Office 365 cloud applications, OneDrive storage or free Skype minutes.

I can pass a Chromebook to anybody and they can be online in minutes, at no cost. Most of my Chromebooks have three accounts, and can switch between users instantly, or allow free guest access. This is not possible with Office 365.

It is not for me, I prefer the simplicity and speed of a Chromebook or the Performance of a high end Windows Ultrabook, but it does definitely have a place with many digital grey nomads.

I cannot sell it, since it is now locked to a new “outlook.com” email address and account. If I sell it, it will be useless to the next user as I outlined above. It weighs more than my 13″ HD ASUS Ultrabook, and almost twice as much as my Chromebook (with power supply included, when I travel, that has to go as well) so for me, is is not a viable option. It may be perfect for you.

LATER: I have bitten the bullet and installed the Ubuntu 14.10 operating system on the HP Stream 11, and I am very pleased with the results. It is still too heavy to be a prime travelling machine, but for the price, I will find uses for a full featured laptop with Audio and Video editing software and, now, quite a bit of free disk space. For those who know Linux, it was pretty much a default install. I will write about it later… PAS.