Last year’s HP Stream 11 was one of the more successful budget Windows 8.1 laptops of the year. It featured a unique design, with decent performance paired with a great keyboard, and a year subscription to MS Office 365.
There was certainly some room for improvement, however, as it also had a mediocre screen and fairly unresponsive trackpad, and somewhat cramped local storage.
With HP’s 2015 refresh of the Stream 11 now available, is this budget laptop still worth your money?
As with Acer’s Cloudbook, the answer is… it depends.
In this review, I’ll explain why, and also compare some of the Stream’s pros and cons as compared to the Cloudbook 11.
The HP Stream 11 2015 edition is available in a few colors – blue, purple, and supposedly a silver coming soon – but they all have identical internals, and include a one year Office 365 subscription and 1 TB of OneDrive storage.
Beyond these differences, the two machines are identical, and feature the following specs:
- Intel Celeron N3050 “Braswell” dual-core processor at 1.6 GHz with burst to 2.16 GHz
- 2 GB of DDR3 RAM
- 32 GB of eMMC flash memory for local storage (comes with 1 TB OneDrive storage)
- 11.6″ 1366×768 Display – TN Panel
- 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB 2.0 Port
- HDMI Out
- Micro-SD card slot
- Combo headphone/microphone jack
- 720p webcam
- 802.11n Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
The Stream 11 2015 is in direct competition with similar models from late 2014 into 2015, such as the Acer Cloudbook 11, Asus X205TA, and Lenovo S21e, many of which launched around $199.99 but are now available in the $150-$180 range from retailers. This includes the 2014 version of the HP Stream 11, which can often be found on Woot! for around $120.
This year’s Stream has two most major differences from last year’s: the processor, and the operating system.
The original Stream 11 had an Intel N2840 Bay Trail Celeron processor, while this year’s has Intel’s newer N3050 Braswell Celeron, the same processor that powers the Acer Cloudbook. On paper, this CPU offers some fairly significant improvements to graphical processing.
And, like the Cloudbook, the Stream 11 now ships with Windows 10. This is a welcome upgrade, as Windows 10 runs very well on low-end systems, and is much more user-friendly as well.
Comparing this system directly to the Cloudbook, there are two key points of differentiation:
- The Cloudbook has newer, high-speed 802.11ac Wi-Fi, while the Stream 11 has the same 802.11n as last year
- The Stream 11 uses Micro-SD cards instead of full-size on the Cloudbook 11, however the cards fully insert into the Stream, which is a major advantage
Finally, this laptop also has the same 32 GB of eMMC flash storage as last year’s, with about 15.5 GB available to the user upon initial boot:
Build Quality and Design
The Stream 11 2015 has the same design as last year’s, which may be a pro or a con depending on your personal preference. I like that it is distinctive, and considering the price point I find that it has a sturdy construction with less give or flex than one often finds in sub-$300 laptops.
One major improvement to this year’s model is the trackpad, which is significantly more responsive for general use and multi-touch gesture control. Kudos to HP for solving this problem, though I wonder if the credit is actually due to Microsoft, as Windows 10 devices in general appear to have much better trackpads.
Thankfully HP did not make any changes to the keyboard, which is one of the best I’ve used on an 11.6″ Windows laptop. Where both the Cloudbook 11 and Asus X205TA have smaller keyboards, the Stream 11 has a full-size keyboard that results in easy, accurate typing.
Opening up the Steam 11 and booting it up, the matte TN panel with a resolution of 1366×768 appears to be the same as last year’s; it has generally poor viewing angles and the screen’s coating gives it anti-glare but also makes the display somewhat muted. That said, it is perfectly usable and on par with most of the other $200 machines.
As is typical with these cheaper TN panels, tilting the display distorts and inverts the colors:
In terms of ports, the mix of USB ports and full-size HDMI out is fairly standard. As noted above, the Micro-SD card slot allows full insertion into the side of the Stream 11, which is ideal for semi-permanent additional storage.
Note that at 2.6 pounds, this is a solidly built but not overly heavy unit, and it is rated by HP at just over 8 hours battery life per charge, which is similar to last year’s as well.
Note: If you’re read my Acer Cloudbook 11 review, prepare for some deja vu from here on out, as the “guts” of these machines are identical, resulting in more or less identical performance overall and with specific applications.
The Intel N3050 Celeron powering the Stream 11 2015 is a new “Braswell” generation chip that is supposed to be more power efficient than its predecessor, “Bay Trail”, while offering significantly improved graphics performance.
This dual-core processor has a base clock speed of 1.6 GHz, with boost up to 2.16 GHz. The dual-core N2840 Celeron in the previous generation HP Stream 11 has a base speed of 2.16 GHz with boost up to 2.58 GHz. Clock speeds alone don’t explain everything in terms of performance comparison, but it does seem that in many tasks, the N3050 is actually slower than the processor it is replacing.
When I tested the Acer Cloudbook 11 without adjusting the power profile to “Performance”, I had a difficult time breaking 6,000 on Google’s Octane 2.0 benchmark. Again, benchmarks don’t tell the full story of a device’s performance, but in this case they feel accurate, as web browsing is not this laptop’s strength.
Switching the Stream 11 2015 to “Performance” mode via the Power settings in Control Panel as well as in the Intel Graphics application, I was able to consistently increase the score to around 7,600 to 8,100 in Google Chrome:
I did find that this laptop appears to handle Chrome slightly better than the Cloudbook 11 or 14, but only marginally. For casual web browsing this laptop is functional, but users looking to have more than a few tabs open at once, or who are used to performance from higher end devices, are likely to be frustrated at how slowly pages like CNN.com render.
Beyond web browsing, I was reasonably happy with how the Stream 11 performed once it was set to “Performance” in power settings. Windows 10 was highly responsive throughout the user interface, marginally more so here than on the Cloudbook.
Video streaming from a variety of sources including Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and Vudu was fine, and once videos loaded there weren’t issues with buffering, frame drops, or freezing. The Windows 10 Netflix app worked very well.
Keep in mind that the “Performance” power setting will impact battery life; I’d expect more like 5 or 6 hours in real-world mixed use with this setting, as compared to 7 to 8 hours of real-world use in “balanced” mode. Gaming will run down the device much faster than that, however.
As is typical with HP, the system comes laden with bloatware and McAfee, which you’ll likely want to remove once you’re done with the set-up process.
Office applications opened quickly and ran smoothly for basic functions, in fact I would say better than on last year’s model. I’m not sure whether that’s due to optimizations in the software and Windows 10, or the processor, but regardless it is impressive how well Microsoft has gotten these applications to work on lower-end systems.
This wouldn’t be an ideal device for high-powered Excel spreadsheets, RAM-intensive Word templates or multi-media packed PowerPoint presentations, but for basic functions it is capable of handling each Office application.
For traditional PC Minecraft, installed via Mojang’s website, I tested both with and without the Optifine plug-in, as I did on the Cloudbook 11 and 14. As a reminder, both the X205TA and HP Stream 11 could run Minecraft without Optifine, but it was a relatively mediocre experience; with Optifine installed, they both offered nice, playable Minecraft performance with “Fast” graphics settings and draw distance reduced.
However, the Acer Cloudbook 11 was completely unable to run Minecraft with or without Optifine, and the same holds true on the new HP Stream 11 2015. I can’t say I’m suprised, as it has the same processor, but it certainly is disappointing.
Fortunately, the Windows 10 Minecraft Beta runs fine on this device, and was very responsive with an Xbox 360 controller. With all the graphics options turned on and draw-in set to 2 or 3 (out of 6, with 6 being the farthest), everything was quite smooth, even when flying around in Creative mode.
Let’s get this out of the way first: please do not buy this laptop if your primary concern is gaming. While the graphics performance of the Braswell Celeron is supposedly an upgrade over the previous generation’s Bay Trail HD Graphics, this is still a distinctly low-powered system that cannot hope to handle modern AAA games.
That being said, one of the inherent advantages of a Windows laptop over a Chromebook is that you actually can install Steam, GOG Galaxy, Origin, and so on without any issues, and there is a tremendous catalog of older games and indie games that will run on the HP Stream 11 2015.
Indie games such as Super Meat Boy, Duck Game, and Towerfall: Ascension all ran fine on this laptop. Graduating to Source engine games, Half Life 2 ran reasonably well with graphics settings turned down, while Portal 2 required all graphics settings on low and 720p resolution in order to hit around 30 FPS. Still, I was impressed to see that this was even possible. Here again it makes the Minecraft issues all the more shocking.
Outside of Source engine games, which are well-known for running on lower end hardware, modern 3D-based games did not run well, or at all. For example, even with all settings on “Low” and 720p resolution, Rocket League was not playable. Games like League of Legends and DotA 2 are not playable, either, as the framerates are not consistent.
Steam Streaming worked fine on this device as well, provided the wireless connection was sufficiently fast.
Finally, I tested Hearthstone. The intro movie had some stuttering, which is never a good sign, but once I dropped it into “Low” settings, it ran very smoothly. Hearthstone on low at native resolution is completely playable on the HP Stream 11 2015, and it runs decently even in “Medium” settings.
I’m not quite sure how to feel about this updated HP Stream 11.
As with the Acer Cloudbook, the value proposition is solid, as you get a full-featured Windows laptop with 1 TB of cloud storage and a full year of MS Office 365. Last year’s decent screen is paired with the same great keyboard, and a significantly improved trackpad. The inclusion of Windows 10 out of the box is a definite advantage. And, the build quality is still quite solid for a lower price device.
Unfortunately, you also get last year’s previous-gen 802.11n wireless, and this year’s low-end Intel Celeron processor, which feels like it is just on the wrong side of where it needs to be in terms of performance.
Again, for casual use for homework, for light gaming, or for one or two tab web-browsing, this will work just fine. It does handle streaming video well, so as a more functional tablet with the addition of a full keyboard and MS Office, there’s plenty of use cases where I can recommend the HP Stream 11.
All that being said, this year’s Stream 11 also has to compete against last year’s version, and if you don’t need Office 365, I’m not sure that it isn’t wiser to buy either last year’s regular model at a discounted price, or to pick up the souped up touchscreen convertible which is on sale for $199.99 from Amazon.com as of this writing.
As with the Cloudbook 11, if you spend most of your time on a computer browsing the web, I strongly suggest looking at a Chromebook like the Asus C201 instead of this year’s crop of budget Windows laptops, as the performance you get online is significantly improved by comparsion.
Still, if you know you need access to Windows applications and want a cheaper Windows laptop, the Stream 11 still has more pros than cons.
Just make sure you know coming into it what it is that you’re getting.
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