HP Stream 7 Review and Minecraft Test

 

The HP Stream 7 is a tablet running full Windows 8.1 which includes a year subscription to Office 365 Personal, all from a relatively respected OEM, and priced at under $100.

Is it really possible to get a good Windows experience for under a hundred bucks?

If that’s all you’re here for, I’ll make this easy:  the answer is not really, no. Some of this has to do with the Stream 7, and some has to do with Windows 8.1 itself.

Still, the HP Stream 7 is cheap enough, and decent enough at a wide enough range of tasks, that it somehow becomes a compelling device despite its limitations.

Here is my long time coming, and long-winded, review of the HP Stream 7.

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Budget Laptop Battle: HP Stream 11 vs. Asus X205TA vs. Acer C720

Preface

Please note: these laptops, while still available from some retailers, have been replaced in the market by more recent devices. For a comparison of the more recent Windows 10 laptops – the Acer Cloudbook 11, HP Stream 11 2015, and Lenovo IdeaPad 100S, click here.

Last December, I bought my first Chromebook – the Acer C720. At the time, it was the only sub-$200 laptop on the market that I was aware of, and as a Chromebook running Chrome OS and not Windows, it required certain sacrifices. Despite its flaws, I fell in love with it immediately, and wouldn’t be writing this blog had I not purchased it.

Today, the budget laptop landscape is significantly different. After a year of running ad campaigns mocking Chromebooks (coining the term “Scroogled“) only to see them become a major player in the education market, Microsoft has done an abrupt about-face and embraced low-end PCs: they are waiving the Windows license fee for OEMs producing low-cost laptops running Windows 8.

At the same time, several other factors have combined to break down the cellar for low-cost Windows PCs:

  • Intel has created several low-power, low-cost x86-based processor configurations capable of running Windows efficiently
  • Microsoft found a way to reduce the installed size of  Windows 8.1 OS so that it can be run off 32 GB of total storage
  • Low-cost and cheap eMMC memory is now available as a storage medium instead of mechanical hard drives

The result of all these factors is that we’re actually seeing competent Windows laptops selling for less than $200. These aren’t the second coming of Netbooks, either; yes, they’re budget systems, but they can run the OS competently and without overly dramatic sacrifices in performance or hardware quality.

As a consumer, this means that in addition to the sub-$200 Chromebooks, you now have a variety of sub-$200 Windows laptops to choose from that are actually, well, pretty good! Today I want to compare and contrast three of these devices:

[Please note that the MSRPs above may not be available as of this writing – due to the upcoming Holidays some of these items are sold out and/or are selling at above MSRP, though at other times they may be available far below MSRP.]

For each device, I’ll look at its pros and cons, and compare it to the others. I’ll start with the newer Windows laptops.

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Asus X205TA – Laptop Review and Minecraft Test

Intro – Sub-$200 Windows PCs

This Fall, we’re seeing the first full Windows laptops hitting the market at or below the $199.99 MSRP price point, part of Microsoft’s initiative to push back against Google’s Chromebooks and Chrome OS.  One of the first of these was the HP Stream 11, which I reviewed and did a follow-up on. In short, it is a surprisingly solid first effort by HP with some great value add items included, but is somewhat marred by a poor trackpad and a questionable set of color choices, both of which should be fairly easy for HP to fix if they so desire.

Right behind the Stream 11 comes the Asus X205TA, which launched at $199.99 but quickly dropped to $179.99 online at most retailers including Best Buy and Amazon. Like the HP Stream 11, this is a full Windows 8.1 laptop running Windows 8.1 with Bing. However, there are a number of differences in terms of specs, design, and what is included in the full package.

For this review, I’m going to focus on looking at the X205TA mostly unto itself, with some comparisons to rivals at this price point where appropriate. I’ll also talk about my experiences with Windows 8.1 itself as they relate to this computer.

Let’s get familiar with the X205TA.

Asus XT205 Unboxed

Asus XT205 Unboxed 2

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HP Stream 11: Minecraft, and Additional Thoughts

NOTE: As of October 2015, HP has “upgraded” the HP Stream 11 to the newer, Intel N3050 Celeron processor. Please see my review, here, for details.

Last week, I bought an HP Stream 11 and wrote a first impressions and review of the device. I did it partially because I had a sudden and temporary need for a cheap, light, long-lasting Windows laptop, and partially because I was just very curious how it would compare to similarly equipped Chromebooks, especially the Acer C720.

As it turns out, the review I posted has been one of my more popular blog entries, probably because there hasn’t been much coverage of this laptop among the mainstream press. That isn’t surprising to me: a $200, oddly colored low-end device isn’t exactly sexy writing material. Yet, there’s clearly a lot of interest in this computer (and similar releases by Asus and Acer). I figured I’d give some additional follow-up for people thinking about buying the computer this holiday season, whether for personal use or as a gift.

In brief, I’m shocked with how much I like this computer. The keyboard is very comfortable and after a week of use, I feel like the screen is just a tiny bit better than the Acer C720 due to slightly better viewing angles. The screen is still pretty low-end though, to be clear. I’ve worked out how to use the trackpad better, but find myself using a mouse whenever possible. And while my three year old son loves the color, I’d be a bit embarrassed pulling out this laptop on a business flight surrounded by Macbook Air owners.

And yet… I love how light this computer use and how long the battery lasts, even in performance mode. Web browsing in Chrome has some slowdown but is perfectly serviceable. Compared to Chromebooks, which I’ve been using for most of my non-tablet web consumption and interaction for the past twelve months, it is nice to be able to use the Windows 8 Snipping Tool again, and be back to just opening up Steam instead of having to sideload Ubuntu every time, or to have printer functionality that works like it should.

For the average consumer looking for a second computer, I still think an Acer C720 is a terrific purchase, but if your second computer needs to have full Windows functionality, this is actually a very easy recommendation: Buy an HP Stream 11. With Office 365 for a year and 1 TB of Cloud Storage plus a $25 Windows Store giftcard, you get a ton of goodies with your laptop. Just do yourself a favor and pick up a decent-speed SD card for additional storage space because the 20GB usable space on this thing disappears in a hurry. I suggest an SD card over a USB Flash Drive because, and kudos to HP for this, it uses a full-size SD card slot and it fully loads into the computer.

If you’re like me, you have other questions: what else can I do with this computer as far as entertainment?

Let’s start with one of the big questions: Minecraft.

“But Can it Run Minecraft?”

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HP Stream 11: Initial Impressions and Review

Just over a year ago, I got my first Chromebook, the Acer C720. Since that time, except for gaming, it has been my most used daily computer, especially for web consumption: Ebay, Amazon, Facebook, Google+, WordPress, Netflix, Youtube, etc. I even figured out how to use Crouton to install Linux (Ubuntu) on it, so that I could install Steam for local gaming and Steam Streaming.

While the Acer doesn’t have a great screen, or even a good screen, and it feels kind of, well, cheap overall, for the price it was a fantastic value.  As such, I’ve recommended it to a lot of people. There was just no Windows laptop that was comparable.

With the release of the HP Stream 11, I think Windows has a device that hits a similar value/performance intersection. I’ve only owned it one day but based on initial impressions, this device offers fantastic value and an easy recommendation for a lot of different use cases.  Too bad that they decided to release it in magenta and blue only, though:

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Specs

The HP Stream 11 is an 11.6″ Windows 8.1 Laptop, powered by an Intel Celeron N2840 processor at 2.16 GHz. It has 2 GB of RAM and a 32 GB SSD, neither of which can be upgraded. It is rated for 8.25 hours of battery life according to HP; this is depending on performance and brightness settings, of course.

The screen is a 1366×768 high definition LCD screen, which has a matte coating for anti-glare. This is basically the same screen as the Acer C720. Which is to say, the screen is pretty bad. The matte coating takes a relatively low-resolution affair and makes it that much more dull and muted. That said, it is serviceable enough and has decent brightness considering the price point. Just know going in that your tradeoff for choosing this over a similarly priced $200 Windows Tablet is that the screen on a tablet will likely be IPS and significantly better in terms of clarity and viewing angles. However, this matte coating does help very much with glare in overhead and outdoor lighting situations.

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