The Chromebook concept – the idea of a stripped-down laptop that runs nothing but a web browser in the form of Google's Chrome OS – has up till now usually been about cheap, commodity computing.
It's been about manufacturers clustering around a low price point, and the compromises they have had to make to get a device out at that price point.
With the Chromebook 11 though, for the first time, a Chromebook can be both about affordability but also about delight.
It feels solid – light yet sturdy. The keyboard is genuinely very good. The IPS screen's colours are rich and vibrant. The styling feels fresh and simple and clean and friendly.
It feels, in short, like a beautifully made, simple to use computer.
Plus the fact you've only paid GBP £229/USD $279/AUD $364 for it not only makes that all the sweeter, but also makes you feel like you've got a special, secret, insiders' deal when everyone else is paying two, three, eight times as much to do pretty much the same things you'll be doing on your Chromebook.
This is not, of course, the first time you've been able to buy a well-made Chromebook; Google's own Chromebook Pixel genuinely is Apple-class hardware, with its high-resolution touch display and anodised aluminium enclosure. But it's £1,049, and as we said in our review it's more a learning and PR exercise made flesh than it is a computer that any sane person would actually buy.
And with that exception, other Chromebooks have been – and, crucially, felt – cheap. Before the launch of this new model, our previous favourite was the Samsung Series 3, but while it shares many of the basic specs with HP's Chromebook 11 – 16GB SSD, a Samsung Exynos 5250 ARM processor, an 11-inch 1366x768 screen, even the price tag – it feels like a completely different class of device. The Samsung's keyboard lacks bite, the screen is dreadfully washed out, and the whole chassis creaks if you pick it up by one edge.
The Acer C7 has an even worse keyboard, feels chunky, and has a netbook-derived spec that just makes no sense on a Chromebook. (A 320GB hard disk? For a cloud computer? All it does it slow everything down!) Even HP's Chromebook, the Pavilion 14, is a bit rubbish. Sure, you get a bigger screen, if that's important to you, but again the fit and finish are distinctly average; it just feels like a computer nobody really cared much about.
This one, though, feels special. It feels right. It's something HP should be proud of. We don't know whose project it was at the company, but it reeks of someone, frankly, giving a damn.