For $229, the HP Stream 13 is a great value for Windows users

Over the past few weeks I’ve been using the HP Stream 13 laptop I bought during the 2014 holiday season. The regular price is $229 but there was a special Christmas deal that reduced my price to $199. Even at the full price, this Windows 8.1 with Bing laptop is a solid value; particularly for students.

hp stream 13 front

“But wait,” you’re thinking, “isn’t this the laptop he said wasn’t a Chromebook killer?” Yes, that was me earlier this month. And I still believe that, mainly because of the simplicity that [company]Google[/company]’s Chrome OS offers to those willing to sacrifice — or who simply don’t need — more functionality that a traditional laptop has. At the time, however, I also said I’d take a deeper dive into using the [company]HP[/company] Stream 13 for its intended use and audience: Those who want or need to run Windows and the many apps that work with it. So here we are.

I previously alluded to the laptop as a good example of a “netbook 2.0” device: A low-cost Windows machine that provides good performance for the cost and long battery life. The HP Stream 13 delivers in those areas.

HP Stream 13 logo

Inside the plastic casing is a dual-core [company]Intel[/company] Celeron N2840 — based on the BayTrail-M architecture — running at 2.16GHz with a turbo speed of 2.58GHz. Integrated Intel HD graphics power the visuals so don’t expect any discrete graphics card or chip at this price. Those power-friendly chips, combined with the 36wHr battery, should provide 7 hours and 45 minutes of run time on a single charge says HP. I’m getting closer to 7 hours in my usage but I’ll take it.

The laptop has a 13-inch screen with 1366 x 768 resolution. That’s more suited for a smaller panel in my opinion, but most people will be just fine with it. HP chose a matte display so there’s no glare and both the viewing angles and brightness are average; maybe a bit better. Put another way: Show this screen to 10 people, telling them this is a $229 computer and I’m willing to bet that at least 8 of them say it’s good.

HP Stream 13 screen

You’ll only get 2GB of memory and 32GB of flash storage with the HP Stream 13; that should be expected for a budget computer. I don’t see the memory as an issue in my activities on the Stream 13 which include some YouTube videos, heavy web browsing in Chrome and IE, occasional use of Microsoft’s own apps — Sports, Finance, Weather, and News — and some Java programming; more on that later.

Response time for apps and the web isn’t instantaneous but it’s not sluggish either. A quick SunSpider test for JavaScript using IE, for example, returned a time of 341.6 milliseconds, which is surprisingly good: The lower the time, the faster the device and browser can run JavaScript. And playback for a 720p YouTube video — there’s no point in wasting resources to have this computer transcode 1080p content — is smooth. It helps that the pair of speakers with DTS Studio Sound support are in the front, bottom corners of the laptop; sound is reasonably loud, even if lacking a little in bass.

If I had to pick any disappointing aspects I’ve found using the Stream 13 it would be with the input. The trackpad could be larger — there’s room for it — and a little more accurate. It works fine but it’s forgettable. The keyboard is pretty good overall with its island style keys. However, they’re not backlit and more importantly, I struggle with the right-most column of keys.

HP Stream 13 right side keys

Here you’ll find from top to bottom the Delete, Home, Page Up, Page Down, End and right arrow buttons. When touch typing, I often hit the Home key, which is to the right of the Backspace. My son is having the same issues when using the computer for his Java programming, so it’s not just me.

Aside from that, the rest of the computer is solid for the money. It has a USB 3.0 port and a pair of USB 2.0 jacks, plus full HDMI out and — another odd design decision to me — a microSD card slot. I’d rather see a full-sized SD card accepted rather than the smaller type generally used in phones and tablets.

HP Stream 13 left side

Anything I have on those devices I already have or can easily shoot up to the cloud so I wouldn’t use a microSD card from them in this laptop. Speaking of the cloud: You get 1TB of OneDrive storage with purchase as well as a one-year subscription to Office365. Windows itself and Office will eat up a chunk of that 32GB flash storage; I have few third-party apps installed and I’m already down to 7.08GB left of free space.

Clearly, the HP Stream 13 has its shortcomings. It uses a low-power processor, has limited storage capacity, and a “just acceptable” screen. But for $229, you’re still getting a full Windows 8.1 device that’s capable of most tasks. I wouldn’t use this for heavy gaming or video edits. To do just about anything else though, you’ll be just fine with this device.

I originally bought it for my son to use in the AP Computer Science class he’s taking; he needs a machine for his Java programming. And I’ve since registered in a similar class at my local community college, so I’m using the Stream 13 for the same purpose. A few classmates asked which computer they should get or use for the course and without hesitation I mentioned this laptop.

Sure you can spend more and get better performance, more storage or any number of other features. I can’t help but coming back to the price-tag of the HP Stream 13, however; for basic computing on a budget, this is a nice little laptop with a low cost.