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Hands on: HP Chromebook 13

HP built one of the nicest Chromebooks we've ever seen for $500

Chromebooks are known for their affordability and lightweight, cloud-based operating system, Chrome OS. Because most Chromebooks were made of plastic and not exactly sexy, Google wanted to prove that it could build a high-end Chromebook. The result was the gorgeous, all-metal Pixel, but seeing as it costs nearly $1,000 (and more than that, when it first debuted), the Pixel didn’t sell to many would-be buyers. Now, Google has turned to HP to build a Chromebook that offers a top-of-the-line feel, but at a much lower cost.

We had a chance to check out the new HP Chromebook 13 at an event in New York and test out its powers. Here are all the specs you need to know and our initial hands-on impressions.

Gorgeous design and lots of power

The business-targeted HP Chromebook 13 was designed in collaboration with Google,and it is beautiful. It has an all-metal build, with a anodized brushed aluminum texture. The hinge is shiny to add contrast, as is the HP logo in the center of the device, and there’s light chrome beveling around the trackpad. When you flip the device over, you’ll see a black grippy surface that ensures your shiny new Chromebook won’t go slipping out of your grip.

Related: Open-source code leaks indicate arrival of Google Play Store on Chromebooks

It’s quite thin at 0.50 inches, which is even thinner than Apple’s 0.65-inch thick MacBook Air. It also beats out the 2.96-pound MacBook Air in weight, coming in at 2.86 pounds. The Chromebook is absolutely stunning to behold, and it feels super light. It looks quite a bit like a MacBook, which is hardly a bad thing. It’s one of the nicest Chromebooks we’ve ever seen.

As the name suggests, the Chromebook has a 13.3-inch IPS display. The model we looked offered a resolution of  3,200 x 1,800 pixels, which is excellent, but is models have a more mundane 1080p screen. Both look remarkably sharp and crisp, with rich colors. You can even get a matte finish on the display if glare is a problem. You’ll get several options on what you want powering the Chromebook, ranging up to Intel’s 6th generation Core M7 processor, paired with 16GB of RAM. HP says this is the first Chromebook to use Intel’s 6th generation Core M7 processor.

In our brief hands-on time, the device felt super speedy and quick. Google showed us a demo of the Chromebook running Skype, Excel, Powerpoint, Evernote, Chrome, and a handful of other programs at the same time, while powering two HD displays via HP’s Elite USB-C Docking Station, which offers 3 additional USB ports. You could also power one 4K display with it if you so chose.  The programs ran without a hitch during our demo, which was pretty impressive for a Chromebook.

Attention to details

The Chromebook 13 doesn’t skimp on battery life. HP claims the laptop will last a whopping 11.5 hours, and thanks to a USB-Type C port, it won’t take as long to charge. We couldn’t verify HP’s numbers during our short time with the device, of course. Manufacturers usually over-estimate, so we think battery life of seven to eight hours is more likely in typical use.

Unfortunately, if you’re using the Quad HD display variant, your webcam will feel lackluster, as the Chromebook 13 is outfitted with a 720p one. The audio, on the other hand, is powered by Bang & Olufsen Play. The B&O branding adds some flash to the device’s design, and it ups the audio quality for listening to audio or holding a video conference.

Chrome OS is better than ever

Of course, the Chromebook 13 is running Chrome OS, which is built around Google’s Chrome browser. You’re limited to cloud-based apps like Gmail, but Google has been increasing the amount of offline features available. Thanks to the Chrome Web Store, you’ll also get access to apps like Netflix, YouTube, and Microsoft Office. Google’s spent a lot of time working on great apps for its Chromebooks, and you can run many Android apps on it, too. We saw the Android version of Evernote running during our demo.

Related: Chromebook for Work, liquid-cooled 2-in-1 steal the show at Acer’s New York PC refresh

For businesses, Citrix has also announced a new version of Receiver for Chrome. The service lets users remotely use apps from other platforms, but the 2.0 version of Receiver now “ensures Windows apps work like native Chrome apps.” There’s also a new connection center and a slicker-looking toolbar. Google demoed the Chromebook running a full version of Excel and Powerpoint at the event.

Pricing and availability

The HP Chromebook 13 will cost $500 in the U.S. and will launch towards the end of April. Pre-orders start now. You can check the device out on Google’s website here.

Highs

  • Beautiful design
  • Excellent hardware options
  • Up to 3,200 x 1,800 display

Lows

  • Chrome OS still limiting
  • Webcam is only 720p