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I put up thoughts on the HP Chromebook 11, after having one for a couple of weeks on Google+. At the time I said I liked it, and I still do, but it’s not perfect. I’m happy with it, but if it disappeared I don’t know if I’d get a new one or something else.

What I’ve found is that it’s mainly a tablet replacement for me. The HP Chromebook 11 is light enough to do that. What I really like about the machine is the display, which is Mac-like. It’s 1366 x 768 pixels, which is the standard resolution for all Chromebooks (and the same at the MacBook air I think). The smaller display you have on your Chromebook the better it will look.

I also like the keyboard. I bought an iPad, thinking I’d type into it. I really don’t like doing that. The HP keyboard on the other hand is perfectly usable. I’m surprised, because I thought an 11″ machine would be a bit too small for serious work, but I have happily sat down and typed for a few hours. For me, the display and keyboard are critical. The HP 11 is the best of the Chromebooks for that.

Where the HP 11 lags is with the chip. The HP 11 and Samsung machines use an ARM chip. This means they’re fanless, but also they aren’t as fast as the Intel based machines (like the HP 14 and everyone else). This caused problems with YouTube videos, which seems to have improved since I got the machine, but there are still lags on the laptop. Some of this is my poor internet connection, but I also wonder if some of it is the machine being a bit underpowered. It really isn’t by a lot, but it’s not quite seamless.

A bigger problem with the ARM chips is geeky, but surprisingly important. You can set up a Chromebook to flip between Chrome OS and Linux. But many Linux apps don’t work on ARM chips, only Intel chips. If the HP 11 had an Intel chip then I’d have Linux and the Linux version of Scrivener on it. For writing that would make a difference for me. Google Docs works fine though.

Looking at the machines on the market or coming to market in the next few months, the biggest challenger, for me, to the HP 11 is the Asus C200. This will be an 11″ glossy screen Chromebook with an Intel Bay Trail chip.

Despite the features of the Chromebooks all seeming samey there is some variety. The best Chromebook depends on what you want to do with it. The things to look for are:

The chip. Intel Haswell/Celeron machines run faster. They also need a fan, which is what attracted me to the fanless HP 11. I’ve used my father’s HP 14, with the Intel chip, and it’s not noisy, so ideally the Intel machines are better.

RAM: 2GB is enough, but 4GB helps, especially if you plan to hook it into another display.

SSD: 16GB is enough. You can get 32GB machines, but unless you plan to store movies on the device, there’s not much you need it for. If extra storage is essential then an SD card can add it – except for the HP 11, which lacks an SD slot.

Display: Unless you get a Chromebook Pixel, you’ll have 1366 x 768 pixels on your screen. The bigger your screen the more pixellated that will look. It’s good enough for an 11″ screen. It’s ok on 13″. It’s slightly pixellated on 14″. You might want to see if you can live with it.

Keyboard/trackpad: A key component for getting information in. The HP machines work well. Try others to see how they work. No Chromebooks, other than the Pixel, have backlit keyboards so typing in the dark is more of a challenge.

The best machine is the Chromebook Pixel, but it’s insanely priced, so this is what I’d be looking at now.

Toshiba: The 13″ screen is not too large, and the chip is powerful enough to run everything you might want to with it. It looks like a good compromise, rather than outstanding in any particular way. Look for it at £229. Amazon has dropped it to £199 briefly I think.
HP 11: The best screen/keyboard. Good for word processing, rubbish for anything intensive. Try before you buy. Not so good if you want to use Linux too. Spend no more than £199.
HP 14: The 14″ screen is ok, but visibly worse than the cheaper 11″ HP Chromebook, which could be annoying. The chip and the 4GB of ram make it powerful as Chromebooks go. £269 from HP last time I looked and they were helpful when I bought my Da’s machine.
Asus C200/C300: Probably good if the Nexus 7 is an example of what quality to expect, but they’re not out yet. If my current Chromebook evaporated, this is what I would wait for – to see if it was good.

I’m still not sold on the Acer machines because I didn’t like the display, but plenty of other people don’t mind. Currys/PC World have them in the UK, and their prices for most machines (except the Toshiba) seem competitive. Avoid the current (May 2014) Samsung machines, they’re end of line. The new machines they have in the summer might be good, but again they won’t be using Intel chips. If they’re fast enough, that might not matter.

I still think a HP 11 with a slightly faster chip, SD card slot and longer battery life would beat the opposition. That slight lack of power is what makes me hesitate from recommending a machine I like a lot to everyone else.