Google's high-end Chromebook Pixel raised a few eyebrows when it hit the shelves earlier in the year. Despite being a beautiful device with a crystal clear HD IPS display many, including me, questioned whether a machine running Google's internet-reliant Chrome OS could justify a hefty £1,000 price tag. Luckily for the less well off we now have HP's Chromebook 11, a machine "inspired" by the Pixel's design. It's a device I was immediately drawn to for its clean and stylish looks, which are particularly attractive considering it costs just £229.
Usefully HP appears to have got picked the right areas to keep the cost down without compromising the Chromebook experience. Simply put, this is the best Chromebook yet thanks in no little measure to its looks.
That's partly down to its reflective plastic body, which harks back to the days of Apple's white MacBooks. From the lid to the gaps between its chiclet-style keys, light bounces off the Chromebook 11 at every angle. It looks great though it does mean that the machine attracts fingerprints rather easily. Inside is a magnesium chassis so everything feels impressively solid and durable.
A strip featuring Google's trademark colours can be found on the back of the lid. Like Apple's MacBooks, it lights up when in the open position, lending it another subtle Apple-like touch. The Chromebook 11 sports a sharp 11-inch 1366 x 768 display that provides wide viewing angles thanks to the inclusion of an IPS panel, which provides deep blacks and makes colours very vivid.
Ultimately, at this price point, the Chromebook 11 was going to have to make a few sacrifices and a major one is the processor. HP decided against an Intel processor instead choosing to opt for a dual-core Samsung Exynos 5250 processor backed up by 2GB RAM. Chrome OS is naturally light on its feet so I failed to detect any slowdown when opening apps or windows and it wakes up immediately from sleep.
The device itself weighs just over 1kg, so it's certainly a machine that you could sling in a bag without a seconds thought. It comes with 16GB of internal storage which you'll need to install the increasing number of Desktop Apps emerging from Google's Chrome Web store. There's no SD card slot but that's something I can live with.
Of course, Google is also throwing in 100GB of cloud storage for two years that you can use to store and retrieve files from before splashing out for a subscription. The only ports to be found on the Chromebook 11 are on the left-hand side of its body, the most notable being a micro-USB slot used to charge the device.
It's a remarkable first for a laptop and only adds to its mobile feel. Best of all it means an end to lugging around chunky charging bricks because you can now use the same charger that you use for your phone and tablet. Hoorah.
Other ports include two USB 2.0 connectors and a headphone jack, and a front-facing VGA webcam is housed in the top of the device's lid. Let's face it - a laptop at this price is never going to afford you the reassuring springiness of Apple's MacBook Air ultrabooks, but the Chromebook 11 offers adequate travel and decent spacing between its full-size keys.
There's also the usual row of Chrome OS-specific shortcut keys along the top. The matte trackpad feels responsive enough, and it supports two-finger scrolling and three-finger tab switching in Chrome.
Flip the Chromebook 11 over and you'll find a strip of padding along the top and the bottom that matches the coloured trim around the keyboard. There's a HP logo in the middle, the only evidence that the company actually made the device. It's joined by an even more inconspicuous "Made with Google" logo underneath.
In use the Chromebook 11 is just like any other Chromebook - that's sort of the whole idea behind the concept - and just so long as you have a decent internet connection it does most of things a conventional laptop can do, the only serious missing feature being the absence of Skype. Increasingly Chromebooks will work off-line too hence the growing number of what Google calls desktop apps which allow you work while disconnected and sync later.
And because Chrome OS is constantly being automatically updated your Chromebook 11 will always have the latest version of the operating system installed. That in itself is a strong reason to consider buying one.
Verdict: I'm already a fan of the Chromebook concept but that to one side I really took a shine to the new Chromebook 11 which could well prove to be the first of the breed that tempts people away from MacBooks and Ultrabooks in some quantity and gets them to try something a bit different. This new Chromebook is stylish, well made and not a little sexy. And all for under £230. That's a bit of a result in my book.