The low cost Windows laptop world has been a rather frustrating experience over the last several years. Manufacturers created big, bulky designs packed with low resolution TN displays and some of the slowest components they could dig up. We are still at a point where the average consumer thinks more is better, so low cost laptops would always have low performance mechanical hard drives. If you wanted a traditional clamshell laptop running Windows, it was just accepted that it would be large, heavy, have poor battery life, and generally have an unattractive design.

Google’s Chrome OS has redefined the price point for an inexpensive laptop. With low system requirements and a (mostly) constant connection to the internet, processor requirements were low, and storage requirements could shift to 16GB or so of flash storage; due to the random access nature of flash, this allowed good performance with less than amazing specifications. The fact that Chrome OS was free also allowed the manufacturers to keep the price down and move the low cost definition even lower.

This is not the first time Microsoft’s Windows operating system has felt pressure from beneath. The original netbook design moved the price down by using the free and open source Linux operating system as the basis. To combat this, Microsoft released a lower cost version of Windows XP, and eventually Windows 7, and took back the market for netbooks; however, while many netbooks were purchased between 2009 and 2012, the overall experience was often lacking and tablets eventually killed off most netbook designs. Now the world has shifted, and Chrome OS has advantages beyond price. It is simple and quick, and with the rise of Android on smartphones, many people are already using the Google ecosystem to do their daily tasks.

Microsoft earlier this year announced “Windows 8.1 with Bing” which is a low cost (as low as $0) version of Windows that has the specific requirement that Bing must be left as the default search engine in Internet Explorer. Manufacturers who go this route will not be able to get paid by Google or Yahoo to set their search engine as the default; end users however can set it to whatever they prefer. Some devices, such as the HP Stream 11, also come with a free year of Office 365 personal (one copy of Office for a single PC, one tablet, and one phone, plus unlimited OneDrive storage) which normally retails for $70.

Microsoft also announced at their Build conference that the system requirements for Windows 8.1 Update would be lower too. Minimum RAM is now 1GB, and the minimum storage requirements are now 16GB due to a new method of storing system files called WIMBoot. These changes will allow PC makers to offer Chromebook-like PCs but with a full operating system installed.

HP has taken advantage of these changes to produce their Stream series. There are currently three laptops and two tablets in the Stream product line, and all offer a very low starting price. The model we will be reviewing today is the HP Stream 11, which has an 11.6” display and some low priced components to allow HP to offer the Stream 11 for only $199.

HP Stream 11 Specifications
Processor Intel Celeron N2840 (Bay Trail-M)
2C/2T, 2.16 GHz Base (2.58 GHz Burst)
1 MB L2 Cache
7.5 W TDP
4.5 W SDP
Chipset Intel Bay Trail Host Bridge
Memory 2GB DDR3L-1333
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
4 EUs at 311-792 MHz
Display 11.6" Matte TN 16:9 1366x768
CMN 1136 LED Backlit non-sRGB
Storage 32GB eMMC with WIMBoot
Hynix HBG4e
Optical Drive N/A
Networking 802.11n WiFi Realtek RTL8723BE
1x1:1 72 Mbps capable 2.4GHz w/20 MHz Channels
Miracast enabled
Realtek Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Realtek HD
Stereo Speakers (bottom)
DTS Studio Sound
Headset jack
Battery/Power 3 cell 37 Wh
45W Max AC Adapter
Left Side SDHC Slot
Kensington Security Slot
AC Power Connection
Right Side Power LED
HDMI Connection
1 x USB 2.0
1 x USB 3.0
Headset Jack
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 8.1 with Bing 64-bit
Dimensions 11.81" x 8.10" x 0.78" (WxDxH)
299.97 mm x 205.74 mm x 19.81 mm
Weight 2.72 lbs / 1.23 kg
Extras 720p HD Webcam
Office 365 Personal (1 year)
HP Connected Apps
Colors Horizon Blue
Orchid Magenta
Pricing $199 MSRP

It's interesting to note that sales of the Stream 11 have apparently been so good that HP currently lists it as being out of stock. You can find other resellers online, but the price is currently up 33% or more over MSRP depending on the reseller and their inventory. That's unusual, but it's a combination of the holiday shopping spree with a low cost laptop. We should see pricing return to MSRP in the future, but it could take a few weeks or more. Checking around, the device appears to be in stock at the Microsoft Store for the MSRP of $199.

To hit this kind of a price point, some sacrifices were clearly made, but the overall product is a nice looking, reasonably performing laptop. We cannot excuse all of the choices made, but when you are looking at a laptop with a $199 price point, expectations need to be moved down. The 1366x768 TN panel is no surprise, even though we would of course much prefer something with IPS. Touch is also not available at all on the Stream 11, though its bigger brother the Stream 13 has optional touch. Having eMMC storage rather than a "real" SSD is also expected, but the performance of the eMMC in the Stream 11 is actually pretty good. One thing that HP really did well though is the design.

Design
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  • Bobs_Your_Uncle - Thursday, December 18, 2014 - link

    This must be where the line forms for frugal hipsters waiting patiently for Apple to usher in that really big, long rumored price cut!

    Fortunately, here in the good ole' U.S. of A. we are ALL One-Percenters. It would simply be so gauche were we forced to consider that, just maybe, not everyone gets to lounge about in entitled largesse.

    While we're waiting, please pass the derivatives, won't you.
    Reply
  • dunce - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    We purchased four of these for our older family members early Christmas presents. Actually the 13in version, to help their old eyes. They LOVE them!! Good battery and small size but they are coming from ancient laptops, my grandfathers was a PII Toshiba Portege.

    We went with these over the Chromebooks for two reasons, first and most important Online Poker, there is no online poker games on Chromebooks (real people, real money). Second was the free office 365 for a year, our grandparents are die hard Excel users and do everything including grocery list in xls.
    Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    So what happens in a years time and they still want to use Excel? Switch them over to Libre Office? Reply
  • steven75 - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    As jabber says, I bet they'll learn to love any of the MANY MANY other ways you can make grocery lists instead of paying $100 a year. Heck, they may even realize just why the other ways are far superior if they actually tried them out. Reply
  • Zizy - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    Eh if they purchased 4 of those they could get that 5-pack Office 365. 25/year with one extra license he can keep for himself. Full office + tons of online storage. Ends up about the same per person as 100GB google drive storage :)

    As for other ways - sometimes people hate to learn new ways. I believe I don't need to give you examples :) Also, grocery list seems to be an example of how trivial tasks they perform in excel, not that this is the reason excel is needed.
    Reply
  • schizoide - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    It's not only the free "Windows with Bing" that's bringing real x86 windows tablets/netbooks price/performance competitive with Chromebooks. One aspect that most outlets miss is that Intel is subsidizing bay trail chips. They're losing money on every single one sold. That's why EVERYTHING is usual bay trail atoms these days, and why you don't see any more experimentation with ARM or AMD. Reply
  • Brett Howse - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    I don't know if that's really fair in this version of Bay Trail, but we don't know what they are paying either. HP has the HP Stream 14 which I mentioned has a AMD A4 in it. Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    o_O That close up of the pixels, what's that gunky gel covering them? I havn't seen that in other close ups. Is it noticeable from a distance? Reply
  • kyuu - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    Not sure what "gunky gel" you're referring to, but if you mean the distortion of the pixels, that's likely caused by the matte finish of the panel. As Brett mentions in the article. Reply
  • jtharris3 - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    The crappy TN screen is a deal breaker for me. Not buying! Reply

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