One month in...
I was actually quite glad when an opportunity to do a written review came up, the video segment we shot previously was the first time I've done anything remotely like that and, to me at least, it felt very cringe-worthy to watch! Writing a review after having spent some time with the products is much more my thing, so hopefully I'll be able to do them justice this time. Thanks once again to Currys PC World for sending us the products, having shiny new toys is always nice.
First off, the HP Pavilion 14, which has proven to be a snappy little laptop that belies its low price tag. In fact it’s the speed of the machine, or at least the perceived speed, that most surprised me while using it. Despite relatively diminutive specs it’s a very nippy thing to use, due in equal part to the solid state drive and the operating system. Solid state storage, also known as flash memory, allows for much quicker loading and booting than a traditional hard drive. What does this mean for the user? A laptop that boots in 8 seconds, occasionally less. Once you’re into the laptop it continues to feel really snappy and responsive thanks to ChromeOS, Google’s own operating system built around the popular web browser Chrome rather, rather than using the more common Windows or Mac OS X. The result is a very different computing experience with some marked advantages and disadvantages.
On the plus side, being such a simple, lightweight OS that handles the vast majority of its “applications” in the browser allows Chromebooks like the HP Pavilion to get great performance out of its components. This deep integration with Google’s cloud services also means that the files you create and edit whilst logged into the Chromebook are available at virtually any other computer you can access the web from. However being almost entirely browser based also eliminates a lot of the functionality that many users will want from their laptop- conventional programs can’t be installed on Chromebooks, in fact if you can’t do it in Google Chrome on a Windows PC then odds are you can’t do it on a Chromebook. This will not be an issue for a lot of people, most of my coursemates use their laptops solely for web browsing and essay writing because our course (biology) doesn’t really require any specialist software. For people who don’t want to do anything more than that then the Chromebook is a great buy and for under £200 it will feel like a better performer than Windows machines costing £100-£150 more. For those whose courses call for specialist software or want to do more demanding things, it could be worth looking elsewhere. Chromebooks are also pretty dependent on an internet connection to be useful, so while this isn’t a problem for most universities where it’s becoming increasingly common for there to be wifi across the whole campus, it is worth considering.
As for the laptop itself, it feels very well built for a notebook of this price. The glossy black plastic may look a bit cheap and is an absolute fingerprint magnet, but the build quality feels very sturdy, the case is rigid and the hinge has a reassuring stiffness- this is not a flimsy feeling machine. The screen is pretty nice, coming in at 14” with a pretty standard resolution. Viewing angles are a bit naff and it’s glossy, but this will usually only be a problem if you’re working in direct sunlight or trying to share the computer between multiple people. The speakers were very good, much to my surprise, coming from well regarded audio manufacturer Altec Lansing, and were a very nice surprise given that the majority of laptops these days have horrible tinny things that have me reaching for my headphones. The keyboard is very nice to type on with shallow, chiclet style keys that I much prefer, and more than enough space to type comfortably. Battery life is standard for laptops of this price, coming in at between three and five hours of light usage.
One of my earlier gripes about the Chromebook was it’s dependance on having an internet connection to be really useful, something which I haven’t had to worry about after getting a Huawei 4G Mifi Hotspot. It’s essentially a portable wifi router that gets its internet connection over the airwaves like a standard smartphone. This pretty much guarantees a stable internet connection provided there’s network coverage, and with the EE sim card in mine that translates to pretty much anywhere. Setup is pretty simple, put the sim card in and turn it on, connect your tech to it like you would any wifi connection, and away you go. Another big plus of this particular router is the 4G connectivity, which grants you ridiculously quick internet if you’re in an area with 4G coverage- when we were filming in London the hotspot was providing faster internet speeds than I get on my home broadband and handled multiple devices connecting to it really well. As well as making it a breeze to get the Chromebook online out and about and whilst travelling, I can see this becoming a massive lifesaver when disaster strikes and the broadband goes down the night before a deadline! Definitely a handy little device for commuters or even as an alternative to a pricey broadband contract in 4G areas!
Finally there’s the Samsung ST72 Digital Camera. Like a lot of people I tend to use my smartphone for most of my photography when I’m doing things with mates or on a night out, it was always a lot more convenient to just take out your phone and take snaps and have them there ready to send to people or share on social networks. However as well as being very easy to fit in a jeans pocked, the ST72 is also what’s known as a smart camera which means it can pair with your smartphone (I use it with my Nexus 4 which has Android, I expect there is also an app for iPhones too) and from there automatically upload any photos you take to your phone, offering the best of both worlds in providing great image quality (and image quality is great, on par with other point-and-shoots in this price range) and ease of sharing with no extra work. This feature also allows you to continue taking snaps with a full SD card or even no SD card, which is awesome for those times when you forget to take it out of your computer after uploading an album or two.
It’s dawned on me that I’ve probably rambled on for a lot longer than I expected, so I’ll try and wrap this up quickly. In short, they’re three really nice pieces of tech for the average student that wants to stay connected. The HP Chromebook makes a great, speedy PC for the casual user for a stupidly low price tag, the Huawei 4G hotspot ensures you can stay connected wherever you go, and the Samsung Smart Camera makes it a breeze to take take high quality photos and have them ready to share instantly.