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Review: 6 business-class Chromebooks test their mettle

Woody Leonhard | Dec. 11, 2014
I've spent the last three weeks taking six business-oriented Chromebooks through their paces. I started out as a skeptical Windows-rules-them-all kind of guy: I've been using Windows since the early days, and I've rarely strayed from the ghosts of my Windows masters. By the end of my Chromebook experiment, however, my old biases were shaken.

Lest you think attention was only lavished on the screen, the backlit keyboard is a beauty, too. The keys, recessed into the base, respond quickly, with a surprising amount of throw and a solid tactile feedback. Touch-typists never had it so good on a portable keyboard. The big, silky, etched-glass trackpad follows every nuance. Even the sound is extraordinary, emanating from two speakers underneath the keypad — although bass is limited, as you probably expected.

In the nearly two years since it was first released, technology has progressed, but alas, the Pixel has not. The machine has two USB 2, not USB 3, ports, and 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi, but no 802.11ac. The battery leaves much to be desired: While Google claims five hours, my YouTube test crapped out at 3.5 hours. Google tosses in 1TB of free Google Drive storage for three years — valuable when the system launched, but chicken scratch these days. While the fan isn't unbearably noisy, many of today's Chromebooks have figured out a way to eliminate the fan entirely.

Then there's the price. The 4GB model with 32GB flash memory will set you back a bracing $1,299 on Google Play — somewhere between four and five times what one would expect to pay for a Chromebook. The LTE version bumps up the flash storage to 64GB and adds 100MB per month of free Verizon Wireless (yawn), while the price climbs to a stunning $1,449.

Few retailers carry the Chromebook Pixel — between the aging components and the obscene price, it must be a tough sell. If you are intent on busting a bottomless budget and don't mind paying a pretty penny for the hands-down best Chromebook on the market, despite its geriatric tendencies and hopeless battery, try shopping Google Play and Amazon.com.

HP Chromebook 14 G3

The original HP Chromebook 14 drew high marks for its processing prowess. The latest version, dubbed "G3" (or more officially the 14-x010nr), has switched to the Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. That's a mixed bag.

Google's Octane 2.0 test rates the HP Chromebook 14's JavaScript processing ability at 7,300 — typical for the machines in this review and for K1 processors. With multiple tabs open, I found a distinct lag in typing at full speed. That seems to be par for the course with K1 chips. Also, as noted in the Acer Chromebook 13 review, there are still minor compatibility problems with "The page uses a Native Client app that doesn't work on your computer" errors on some (admittedly obscure) websites. On the plus side, the K1 is known for its video processing chops, doesn't need a fan, and sips from the battery.

 

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