Many of the reviews I read about Chromebooks are written by tech reviewers and business writers. Very few educators have written detailed reviews. This past weekend, I had an opportunity to take both the 11″ and 14″ HP Chromebook out for a spin. Given this limited time, I worked quickly to put both devices through their paces. I even made sure to have students use them during classtime on Friday and asked for their feedback.
HP Chromebook 11″
Pick up the 11″ HP Chromebook, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Unlike the flimsy, fragile feel of the Samsung Chromebooks, the HP version has a more solid feel to it. It’s still just a plastic case, but it feels like it has more substance. Don’t confuse this with the solid feel of a Macbook Air – this plastic bends and flexes when handled roughly like a student might – but it doesn’t feel like it could break at any moment. This is more important than one might think. Students, especially high school students, notice when computers are old and slow or Chromebooks feel more like a Winfun Elite Plus Laptop than an Acer C7 Chromebook.
One of my main complaints about the Samsung Chromebook – an opinion repeated by many of my students – is that it feels cheap. From the plastic casing to the inaccurate trackpad to the low-quality display, the Samsung Chromebook is serviceable but not spectacular. That is why I asked Matt, Kayanah, and Matt to use the 11″ Chromebook during class time for research.
- The. Screen. Is. Phenomenal – The 1366 x 768 resolution is the same as the 14″, but in a smaller screen size, it looks GORGEOUS. Netflix, WeVideo, and Screencastify all look great on this screen. Despite its small size, students didn’t have to squint to read the screen.
- Lightweight – weighing in at a sleek 2.3 pounds, this device screams to be picked up in one hand and carried from class to class.
- The keyboard – students and I both commented on the keyboard. Matt said that he liked how the keyboard had the tactile feel of a laptop keyboard. He does not like the crowded keyboard of the Samsung Chromebook.
- Looks – I have never paid much attention to looks, but students repeatedly commented on how much they liked the sleek, white look of this Chromebook. Matt in 4th Hour commented that this Chromebook is “just a lot sleeker and the key pad is much smoother.”
- Limited ports – only 2 USB 2.0, an audio in/out combo jack, and a Slimport video out.
- Poor battery life – for schools looking to use Chromebooks in 1:1 initiatives, a six hour battery life does not make it through an entire day. That means having charging stations available throughout the building for students to recharge.
HP Chromebook 14″
The 14″ HP Chromebook makes you feel like you are working on a full-blown laptop computer. It’s still just a plastic case, but this grown-up version has all of the weight and solid feel of a laptop. While you shouldn’t confuse this solidity with the industrial feel of a Macbook Air – despite the obvious homage to the Macbook Air’s tapered design, this is definitely not a Macbook – this is a nice effort to make a serious version of the Chromebook.
- It feels like a laptop – I know all of these are basically the Chrome OS in a plastic wrapper, but from the very beginning my students have spoken derisively of the cheap, plastic feel of the original Samsung Chromebook. Students like the feel of this unit, and feel like they “are using a computer, not a toy.”
- Plenty of ports – 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, HDMI, Audio in/out combo jack, 3-in-1 card reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC)
- Excellent battery life – with 9.5 hours of charge, students can come to school with their devices charged and use them all day long. Teachers will appreciate not having to locate a charging cable for Johnny during the middle of a lesson.
- This is HEAVY – You feel all 4.07 pounds of this Chromebook. Probably part of the tradeoff for excellent battery life.
- The. Screen. Is. OK– The 1366 x 768 resolution is the same as the 11″, but in a larger screen size, it looks serviceable but is not as crisp as the smaller unit. Netflix, WeVideo, and Screencastify all work well on this screen. Students commented frequently that they loved being able to look at an actual large screen. They didn’t feel at all verklempt about the resolution and didn’t notice the difference until I asked.
- Too much bezel – The weight of this device will be a drawback once teachers and/or students start transporting it. Perhaps trimming the bezel would shave off precious ounces. I know that the size of the internal components dictates case size, but I think they can do better. As an added comment, Yachee in 4th Hour said that he felt HP had created “too much palm rest.” He said it was hard to reach all of the keys with his palms resting on the palm rest.
Both of these Chromebooks will meet the technical specifications for the Smarter Balanced Assessments. See chart below.
My Take On These Chromebooks
Overall, I like both of these devices and think they are a significant improvement over the original Samsung Chromebook I have used extensively. That being said, I now marvel at how much Samsung managed to fit into their Chromebook 1. Remember, they included two USB 2.0 ports and an HDMI port.
The 11″ HP ditches the HDMI port in favor of a Slimport video out. That’s a deal-breaker for me. We need standardized components and cables in education, not proprietary. This device could work as a teacher device if it used an HDMI port to allow teachers to hook up to an external monitor at home.
My students repeatedly commented that they liked the 14″ Chromebook’s screen size and said, “It feels like a real laptop.” I also like the additional real estate, but after watching House of Cards in 1366 x 768 resolution on the 11″ Chromebook, the same resolution on the 14″ Chromebook looked fuzzy. I know we will not ask our students to watch Netflix on school devices (they will at home), but they may be asked to create and edit HD video. The lower resolution is noticeable.
If pressed for a decision, I’d say that the 11″ device is a nice fit for students and many teachers would like the 14″ unit. Here’s the thing, though – many teachers have had desktop computers available and do not transport a device between home and work. Once they start carrying a Chromebook back and forth, they will realize how heavy 4.07 pounds feels in a backpack or briefcase.
Room To Improve
Here’s a suggestion, though, HP. Find the sweet spot between these two devices. A 12.5-13″ screen might provide enough space to satisfy all comers. The 1366 x 768 resolution won’t look as blurred at this “in-between” screen size. Trim the bezel – the smaller the overall footprint of the device, the better. If you can get the weight down to 3-3.3 pounds, this will demand people’s attention. HDMI is a deal-breaker. Instead of the two USB 3.0 ports included on the 14″ model, go with one. That still leaves room for an adapter for wireless mice. The 3-in-1 card reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC) is nice, but as more and more of us move to the cloud, is it a necessity? Especially for education?
I know it is easier said than done, but if manufacturers find the holy grail combination of features, weight, and reliability and they will not be able to produce these units quickly enough. Hit the sweet spot between these devices, and schools can consider a single device rather than looking at one for students and one for staff.
Consider Your Audience
This is unrelated, but related. I read a great post by Lucy Gray this morning explaining to EdTech companies how and when they should talk to educators. I’d like to add this to the mix: find classroom teachers and get your products into their hands. I know that IT departments make purchasing decisions, but they often do not use these devices in the classroom or deal with 4th graders precariously balancing their Chromebook as they traipse across the room.
I am very fortunate that my district gave me the opportunity to to look at these two units. Most classroom teachers never have that opportunity. Google, HP, Dell, Samsung, Acer, Lenovo, and Toshiba…do yourselves a favor. Bend over backwards to get your devices into the hands of tech-savvy, connected classroom teachers like me. We will get them into the hands of actual end-users so that you will know how classroom teachers and students – your presumed intended audience – feel about the tradeoffs you have to make to deliver a Chromebook at an educational price. Let us give you feedback – we may never get to the big conventions, but we use your products with our students every day.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll test drive your device and get it into the hands of my students and fellow teachers. We’ll put together a review of how your product works in practice.