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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Really affordable price
Sharp, beautiful design
Excellent battery life
Slow, limited processing power
Overly plastic-y build
Slightly washed-out display
The HP Stream 14 isn’t fast and doesn’t feel super-premium, but that’s because it’s so affordable. With that in mind, it could be a good buy for some users.
The HP Stream 14-inch laptop is a difficult laptop to review in a vacuum. On one hand, the device costs under $200, and gives you the confidence that comes with a brand like HP. On the other hand, it cuts a lot of corners to give you that insanely low price—categories like the display, the trackpad, and even the CPU performance suffer a bit. But if you calibrate your expectations appropriately, and you’re looking to get a Windows 10 experience for a fraction of the price, this might be a good bet for you.
The design of the device itself is one of the truly standout features for the HP Stream 14. This line of laptops from HP has always had modern design at its center—typically featuring bright colors, sleek corners, and more. The latest 14-inch model is no exception, with four colors to choose from, including, pink, black, white, and the metallic royal blue I got my hands on.
When the laptop is closed it looks much more premium than the price would imply, with a sleek matte plastic casing and a metallic silver HP logo. On the inside, the plastic sports more of a brushed-aluminum-style texture with a matching trackpad. What’s more is the laptop is only 0.73 inches thick, weighing just barely above 3 pounds. Considering HP has fit a 14-inch screen in here, I was impressed by just how sleek the laptop looks and feels, even if it is a little on the plasticy side.
Setting up any Windows 10 machine follows the same formula, and virtually the same script—literally. Windows has opted to guide you through setup using Cortana, the Windows voice assistant. This is a far cry from the days of 45-minute PC setups requiring installation CDs and endless updates.
The setup takes you through the Wi-Fi connection, linking to your Microsoft account (or creating one), setting your region, accepting license agreements, and choosing which settings you’d like Cortana to have access to. On paper, this process should really take you no longer than 10-15 minutes, but because of some slight processor hiccups (I’ll dig into that issue in the performance section), it took me a little longer.
While it’s nice that Windows lets Cortana talk out loud to you, I found it a little jarring in a quiet room, and she even stuttered a couple of times due to the intensive loading required. All in all, I was ready to go in about 20 minutes, and once set up, adjusting the settings to my liking was quick and simple.
HP is calling this display a BrightView panel, which is just marketing speak for a pretty basic LED screen. It does offer a resolution of 1366x768, giving you a 14-inch display that’s technically high-definition. If I’m being fair, the display doesn’t look that bad—it offers plenty of brightness (about 220 nits), and for most browsing and streaming, the resolution is fine.
While it is clear, it isn’t overly sharp either, especially when compared to the top-tier displays on Microsoft Surface products or Macbooks, that’s mostly okay, considering how little you’re spending. What I didn’t love about the display was how one-dimensional it feels when looking at it.
When the laptop is closed it looks much more premium than the price would imply, with a sleek matte plastic casing and a metallic silver HP logo.
Its color response leans very blue, and as a result, the colors are very washed out. This led to a bit of eye strain, but also noticeably took away from high contrast images and videos. Again, this isn’t something that is going to prevent you from enjoying Internet videos or doing a bit of light gaming, but it’s certainly a mixed bag.
The HP Stream series isn’t known for blistering speeds because HP has targeted the very bottom end of the market. I’ve already touched on the slowish setup process, but it’s when you start to really load up multiple internet tabs or fire up heavier programs that you see the system start to churn.
The spec sheet on this configuration lists the processor as a dual-core AMD a4-9120e processor capable of speeds of 1.5GHz (2.2GHz with overclock), but in real life it certainly doesn’t feel like that. This is likely because the AMD processors employed here are a bit older and a bit less expensive when compared to the budget-friendly Intel processors out there.
HP has included 4GB of DDR4 RAM to take some of the pressure off the processor, and I noticed that this showed promise when gaming. The 32GB of solid-state eMMC storage helps with the speed, too (though it isn’t quite as snappy as the superior SSD flash storage, it isn’t nearly as sluggish as old-school disk-style drives). Finally, there’s a Radeon Graphics card here, which really helps with light Windows 10 S-friendly games.
But I just couldn’t get past how slow this laptop runs when you try to load up third-party, non-Windows websites and software. I’m writing specifically about Google products—Gmail and YouTube both load very slowly, and bring the system into a throttled speed that takes a lot of patience. Though to be fair, I am typing this review right now on a Google doc on the HP Stream, so it isn’t unusable.
On the plus side, Microsoft-friendly apps, like those preloaded on the system, Microsoft Office, and even the surprisingly good Edge browser load up quickly and seamlessly. You’ll just need to make sure you aren’t loading up too many tabs simultaneously.
Productivity on a laptop like this comes down to the physical components you interact with, and how well the operating system works with the software. First, the peripherals—the trackpad and keyboard on this machine are just barely good enough.
At first glance, the keys seem super-cheap and plasticy, but once you get used to them, they actually feel pretty good. I was annoyed with the additional column of “home” and “page up/down” keys on the right side of that keyboard that required me to shift my typing over to the left, but it’s adaptable.
The trackpad isn’t nearly as premium as I was hoping, and even though it supports some basic gestures, it doesn’t track particularly well with the pointer, and it’s clunky in the clicking department.
I’ll dig into the operating system in the software section, but the way Windows 10 S (essentially the lighter version of Windows) handles memory really salvaged performance for me. Because the system doesn’t have to keep too much built-in software ready to go, it actually maintains the ability to switch between tasks more easily, even if the computer is slowing down a bit.
Virtually no laptop speakers at any price point are good, and that’s largely because putting drivers this small into anything well sound tinny and stifled. HP has actually done a really good job in the physical speaker department with the Stream series, but the speakers have been positioned in a maddeningly bad place. Due to the constraints of a slim laptop like this, HP has opted to put the speakers on the bottom of the chassis, firing down into your lap when using the speakers.
This isn’t that uncommon, but I found that it muffled any sound that came out of the computer. What’s extra-annoying here is that when I played music and lifted the laptop, pointing the speakers at me, they actually sounded really good. It feels like HP left something on the table here. That said, you can get around it if you’re just listening to music by placing the laptop on its side. It’s not elegant, but at least the hardware is there. There is also a headphone jack here, so as long as you have a nice set of headphones, you’ll have a good option there.
The HP Stream gives you the most modern version of Wi-Fi (802.11a/c) and a reasonably modern Bluetooth 4.2. This means that you’ll be able to connect to the fastest 5GHz networks and you’ll get reasonably good range for Bluetooth peripherals and headphones. This was a nice bright spot in a laptop with otherwise dated internal components, but the slowish processor does seem to limit the laptop’s ability to stream heavier files.
In terms of ports and I/Os I was pretty satisfied with the offering here. First off, there’s a full-sized SD card reader built right in, which is hugely important because the laptop features an abysmal 32GB of total onboard storage right out of the box—though Windows has included up to 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage. So this slot will let you heavily expand that storage.
There are also 2 USB 3.1 ports for faster connections, and an older USB 2 port. They’ve also included an HDMI for easy connection to an external monitor and the combo headphone/microphone port. This is an impressive selection of ports for such a thin chassis at any price point.
I’m constantly surprised at how bad laptop webcams have gotten, even on premium machines. The top-tier Macbook Pro still doesn’t feature full HD cameras in most cases. With that said, the HP Stream left me seriously wanting a modern webcam. In a world where people use their laptops for professional video calls more than silly photo booth selfies, I am unimpressed by how grainy, dark, and stuttery this one is.
Because this laptop is billed as being so portable, I was pleased that this battery really brings it for long working session. On paper, it’s a standard lithium-ion cell with 41wHs, which HP has clocked at 8 hours and 15 minutes of video playback use. With normal use, you’ll get at least this much, even if you are doing a lot of browsing and media consumption.
If you calibrate your expectations appropriately, and you’re looking to get a Windows 10 experience for a fraction of the price, this might be a good bet for you.
One thing I like about Windows 10 is that simply by clicking the battery icon in the doc, you can drag a slider to optimize your machine for performance or battery life. This is great for last-minute working sessions. A final positive is that this computer will fully charge up within an hour with the included charger, making it a great machine for on-the-go users.
When I first saw the price point and the dated processor here, I was surprised that Windows 10 was able to run on it. This HP Streams laptop runs a much lighter version called Windows 10 S out of the box, which is a great choice for a low-speed laptop. That’s because it doesn’t come with nearly as much bloatware, and it offers less customization than the full Windows. This allows the machine to focus on what’s important, and not waste limited processing power on third-party functions.
If you do want non-Windows software, like Google Chrome, for example, you’ll have to toggle it to switch to a full Windows Home experience—but that will likely slow down your performance.
At around $200 from most retailers at the time of this writing, this laptop is about as affordable as you’ll find from a top-tier manufacturer, for a machine running Windows 10. While the price is largely a positive feature of this laptop, you’ll need to pay attention to the corners HP cut on this one. If the washy display and limited performance capabilities are okay with you, then you won’t regret the price tag.
Lenovo’s take on the 14-inch Windows laptop is an interesting comparison. From a design perspective, both laptops offer a solid look and feel, with the Lenovo Ideapad 14 feeling a bit more professional and the Stream 14 feeling flashier. Normally, I like how Lenovo handles software and performance, but in this case, the Ideapad tries to use full-on Windows 10 Home, making it a much slower machine even than the already slow Stream. Overall, I’d lean toward the Stream, though the components feel a bit more solid on the Ideapad.
Hard to recommend, but affordable for light browsing and productivity.
This is a difficult product to fully recommend, full stop. At face value it feels slower than I want and doesn’t look or feel as crisp and premium as I’m used to with pricier models. But price is just the point: for under $200 you get a full laptop, that’s more than capable of accomplishing basic tasks. So if you want a travel laptop you don’t have to worry about losing, or you need a starter computer, this could work for you.