A year and a half ago when I bought the Acer C720, I asked myself, “How good can a $200 laptop really be?” My expectations going in were quite low, but the C720 proved itself to be a surprisingly capable device.
Today, the question I’m asking is, “How good can a $149 Chromebook really be?” If you’re reading this, you may be asking the same question. I bought both a Hisense and Haier Chromebook to find out, the latter from Amazon and former from Walmart, both being exclusive to only those retailers.
And again, to my surprise, the answer wasn’t what I expected: the $149 Hisense and Haier Chromebooks are both solidly made budget-class devices that provide users with decent performance at an impressively low price point.
Today I’ll offer some insight on the differentiation between these two Chromebooks, which will help if you’re looking to make a purchase decision. If you’re more interested in specific detail on the performance and capabilities, please start out instead with my detailed Hisense Chromebook Review; in terms of performance, the Haier is so similar (having the same processor, RAM, storage, and I/O) that the brand is name is interchangeable from a performance perspective.
In terms of raw specs, these devices are nearly identical. Both feature the new Rockchip 3288, an ARM architecture System on Chip (SoC) that is also powering the Asus C201, and the upcoming Chromebook Flip (the first budget Chrome OS 2-1) and Chromebit (the first Chrome OS HDMI “stick” or “dongle” system).
The good news is that I found the performance provided by this processor to be quite good for a budget device. These Chromebooks boot in under ten seconds, turn off and wake from sleep almost instantly, and have no issues completing general web browsing tasks. There also appeared to be no compatibility issues I could identify as far as existing Chrome OS extensions and applications.
Google Docs, Google Drive, Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime all worked perfectly on these Chromebooks, and the lag to render complex pages like CNN.com or The Verge was not as bad as I’ve seen on budget Windows 8.1 laptops and tablets. Where it is allowed by the OS, you can play back and stream full 1080p content to an external monitor as well.
Both laptops feature the same selection of ports, including a full size HDMI out, two USB 2.0 ports, and a Micro SD card slot. The inclusion of full-size HDMI is definitely appreciated and is a differentiating feature between these and similarly priced Windows 8.1 tablets, which rarely have video out until you get to the more expensive 10″ devices.
They also feature the same type of display: 1366×768 TN display panels of relatively low quality. Both were certainly useable, and the Hisense ran a little cooler on the color spectrum to my eyes, but I wouldn’t say one was better than the other.
The only real difference is how they’re rated for battery, which is 8.5 hours for the Hisense and 10 hours for the Haier.
In fairness to their budget nature, both of these devices have solid but unexceptional build quality. That being said, I would give the clear edge to the Hisense in this category, as it more closely emulates the feel and appearance of expensive laptops, while the Haier comes off as wholly budget in appearance.
Small touches are responsible for this difference, which is largely aesthetic. The Hisense has an indent in the lid to assist in opening the device, for instance – a small but practical touch that many users expect, but which is missing from the Haier. The textured lid is not only more pleasing in appearance, but it also gives the Hisense Chromebook much more grip in than hand as compared to the Haier.
Perhaps most shocking to me was the metal palm rest and track pad on the Hisense, which upon opening the device gives it a look and feel that certainly exceeds $149. The Haier has a patterned plastic palm rest which feels fine but, at least to me, looks pretty bad and outdated.
Both devices have similar, quite possibly identical, screens and keyboards, and the track pad performance on both is excellent, though the Hisense is more physically pleasing to use.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint the sides of the Hisense are more attractively tapered and look more typical of a 2015 laptop, at least to my eyes.
Keeping in mind that these devices have the same processor, the same RAM, and the same storage type and amount (16 GB eMMC), and the same ports (2x USB 2.0, HDMI, Micro-SD), the only point of differentiation in performance is the battery life. The Haier is rated at 10 hours, as compared to 8.5 hours for the Hisense. In real-world use I found that neither is likely to quite hit those estimates.
The Hisense lasted me about 7 hours of mixed use with the screen at 60%, while the Haier lasted about 8 hours. How valuable that extra hour is depends on how you’re planning on using the device, but from a purely performance perspective, that’s the only difference here.
I do wish that a USB 3.0 port had been included with each of these, but to reiterate what I stated in my Hisense Chromebook review, the performance of Chrome on these devices was better than I expected and felt faster than the 7100-ish Octane 2.0 benchmark scores would indicate. I would absolutely rate the Chrome browser experience on these devices as significantly better than on Windows 8.1 laptops using a Bay Trail Celeron, like the HP Stream 11, or Windows 8.1 laptops using an Atom Z3735 such as the Asus X205TA, Intel Compute Stick, or most budget and mid-range Windows Tablets. [If you’d like to read more about a comparison of these devices, click here.]
Pages rendered relatively quickly and once loaded, scrolling was smooth. More importantly the device was able to sustain reasonable speeds while I had five, six, or seven tabs open, while budget Windows devices often slow down beyond four or five tabs. In general usage I didn’t feel that there was considerable speed difference between these Rockchip-powered devices as compared to those using 4th-generation Haswell processors, unless I was running multiple video streams or opening up eight or more tabs at once.
That said, there absolutely is a divide between these Rockchip 3288 processors and the 5th-generation Broadwell processors, which are just lightining-quick to load pages as well as to boot up.
Both devices have the same setup time: almost none. You can power wash one of these to factory settings, log back in and have your extensions up and running again in a matter of minutes.
I did not note any problems with Wi-fi or Bluetooth on either of these, and it is worth noting that both feature Bluetooth 4.0 and Built-in dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 2×2 (MIMO) a/b/g/n/ac, which many budget devices do not. It remains to be seen if the Chromebit includes ac wifi, but this would be something of a coup as competing Windows stick computing devices do not.
As these are ARM systems, using Crouton offers much more limited functionality in terms of compatible applications than you’d get from a budget Intel-powered system, so if Crouton is your end-goal you’re better off buying a cheaper Intel-based device like the Asus C200, 2015 Dell 11, or Acer Chromebook 11.
As you’d probably expect, there isn’t a ton of difference between these two devices considering their identical hardware. Both offer a pretty good experience for their price point, and run Chrome much better than the $200 Windows devices I’ve tested.
Considering that they also both run $50 less than the cheapest Windows 8.1 laptops, these really make ideal computers for basic web-browsing tasks including school work, Facebook, email, Reddit, Netflix, and so on; anyone who would benefit from an easy to maintain, cheap, portable laptop will not be disappointed by these Chromebooks.
It is also worth noting that someone who is used to a Windows XP or Windows 7 laptop that may be aged and running on a mechanical hard drive will be shocked at how fast these cheap Chromebooks are; as I noted, they boot in under ten seconds and their modest Octane 2.0 benchmarks mask some shocking good web performance.
If I had to choose, I’d personally go with the Hisense. While it has shorter battery life, to me it is the significantly more attractive Chromebook. I really appreciate the design touches both large and small, in particular the much better feel and appearance of the track pad and palm rest, and the nicely textured lid.
However, there’s no denying that an extra hour of battery is pretty significant and may make the Haier a better choice for those using it for travel or hoping to make it through a full school day on a single charge.
In either case, at the full MSRP these both feel like good values, and it is really exciting to see consumer computer experiences of decent quality at such an incredibly low price point.