HP Chromebook x360 14 First Impressions

Posted on April 21, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Chrome OS, Chromebook, Hardware, Mobile with 44 Comments

HP’s business-class Chromebook x360 14 targets the modern workplace with its premium design and versatile form factor.

As I write this, I’m in Pittsburgh for a long weekend of college tours with my wife and daughter. That we are an HP household is on display: My daughter uses an HP Envy 13, my wife uses an HP Spectre 13, and I’ve had a hard time separating myself from the new HP EliteBook 1040, which just might have the best typing experience of any portable PC I’ve ever used. (Yes, I’m overdue in publishing that review. Soon, I promise.)

But there’s a fourth HP laptop along for this trip, and it’s an interloper: The new HP Chromebook x360 14 is, at its name implies, a 14-inch convertible laptop with a 360-degree hinge. It looks very much like the other HP PCs with which we’re traveling, with its all-metal design and thin and light form factor. But it runs Chrome OS, not Windows 10.

This platform, HP tells me, is prized by individuals and businesses for its simplicity, security, and long battery life, and for the low pricing of most Chromebooks. But businesses, in particular, also have expectations around quality and performance, and HP intends to address these needs with the Chromebook x360 14.

And it certainly looks like a premium PC, though HP aficionados will note that it bears the old, non-premium, round HP logo on its display lid and not the hip, new, chiseled and angular new premium HP logo that the firm uses on its high-end Windows PCs.

But don’t be fooled. This is a real PC. It’s powered by an Intel Core i7 processor, 4 to 16 GB of RAM, up to 64 GB of onboard storage, and provides a 14-inch Full HU (1920 x 1080) IPS display. Its all-metal construction is, if not pretty, then at least handsome and professional-looking, and it’s durable enough to achieve a MIL-STD 810G rating. It’s 16mm deep at its thickest and weighs 3.7-pounds, which is a bit heavy but adds to the premium feel.

Chrome OS will seem like a controversial choice, especially to those Thurrott.com readers who fall into the “Chrome denier” category. But it’s hard to argue with the simplicity of this system, and it boots up in seconds and handles software updating far more seamlessly than does Windows. That the HP, like other Chromebooks, now runs Android apps too, only adds to its allure.

But the Chromebook x360 14 targets businesses, not education. For those not paying attention to this platform, that may be further confusing. But as HP explained to me, almost 80 percent of the decision makers they speak to in corporations are looking for “cloud-based computers” for their workforces, and Chrome OS is pretty much it today. These systems are simpler than traditional PCs, and easier to deploy and manage, but they still support the productivity solutions that employees expect. And while G Suite adoption is still small compared to Office 365, usage grew 36 percent last year, compared to just 2.6 percent for the Microsoft solutions. Chromebooks are on the rise in business.

The Chromebook x360 14 isn’t HP’s first business-class Chromebook, but it is its first business-class convertible. In addition to the 360-degree hinge, this PC delivers on the premium look and feel that business users expect, with its all-metal design, narrow side display bezels, and backlit keyboard. It also provides the performance that today’s customers demand, and provides up to 13 hours of battery life, according to HP.

Aesthetically, the Chromebook x360 14 cuts a handsome figure, but it’s no EliteBook. The keyboard is standard-issue Chromebook, which is unavoidable but gives it a bit of a pedestrian look. And while the design is all-metal, I believe that only the keyboard deck is aluminum. Rounded corners all around contribute to a slightly different look than HP’s other, edgier designs.

But the versatility is there: The x360 14 ships with two USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 ports, one on each side, which is preferable for charging and peripheral versatility.  There’s a single full-sized USB 3.0 port on the left, plus a microSD card slot, headphone jack, and power button. (The USB-C ports are not Thunderbolt 3-enabled, but both provide Power Delivery and DisplayPort capabilities.)

And you’ll find another full-sized USB 3.0 port on the right, along with the volume buttons and Kensington security lock.

The x360-degree hinge provides the expected four modes of operation—clamshell/laptop, of course, but also tablet, tent, and media (presentation) modes—and provides the flexibility one normally only associates with Windows-based convertibles. It can also lay flat, of course.

As good, Chrome OS adapts to form factor changes quickly and seamlessly. Switch from clamshell/laptop mode into tent mode, for example, and the display quickly changes to the new, upside-down orientation and switches the display from a traditional desktop environment to a full-screen launcher display, in which your app icons are arranged in full-screen as with a phone or tablet.

Under the hood, the HP is driven by Kaby Lake generation Intel processors, which include Pentium, Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 variants, 8 or 16 GB of DDR4 RAM, 32 or 64 GB of eMMC storage, and Intel dual-band Wireless-AC/Bluetooth 4.2 networking. It has Bang & Olufsen-tuned HP stereo speakers, dual microphones, and a 720p front-facing webcam. The 61-Whr battery delivers up to 13 hours of streaming video battery life.

The display is crisp, and provides multi-touch support, of course, but not smartpen compatibility, which is a bit surprising. As noted, the performance when switching between usage modes is excellent.

From a typing perspective, the Chromebook x360 14 offers what I’d call very good to very good performance—I need a bit more time to be sure—though the body has a bit of flex if you’re a heavy typist like me.

The glass trackpad is excellent, and responsive, and supports the expected multi-finger gestures, similarly to Windows.

HP makes various performance claims compared to competing Chromebooks like the Google Pixelbook and Dell Inspiron Chromebook. I really can’t make these comparisons myself, but I find the day-to-day performance to be excellent, and I’ve never experienced any stutters, pauses, or glitches. Fan noise hasn’t been an issue either.

From a software perspective, the Chromebook x360 14 offers a clean image, like all Chromebooks, and the only real custom additions are those apps I’ve already installed elsewhere that sync via my Google account. For those of us who struggle with Microsoft’s insane crapware additions in Windows 10, or with PC makers that add their own cruft, this is a welcome change.

And while this isn’t HP’s fault, some of the Android app experiences in Chrome OS are still a bit odd. For example, Microsoft Outlook works OK, but it has a weird split-screen view between the message list and the reading pane that was probably tailored to phones and other Android devices with smaller displays. You can’t resize either, and the Chrome OS system font settings don’t appear to impact the app, so the text is all very small. It works, but it’s not ideal.

I’m not sure whether I’m personally ready to travel only with a Chromebook, in part because of some specialty Windows applications on which I rely. But many, including many who work similarly to me, could do so. And the HP Chromebook x360 14 certainly appears to deliver on the needs of many users. And you can’t argue with the price: HP advertises a starting price of under $1000, but a Core i3 variant currently starts at under $800. A fully-decked Core i7 version is under $1100.

More soon.

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