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HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook review

Taking Chrome OS up a screen size

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The HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook's lacklustre battery life is in part because of the large 14-inch screen that needs to be backlit, and in part because of the Intel processor. It might seem silly to harp on about battery life, but if you're constantly worried about running out of juice, never mind not able to do a full work day on a single charge, owning a laptop won't be a particular pleasure.

But on the other hand, the Intel processor does mean that the Pavilion 14 is fast and capable, and although its fan is very noisy, it only kicks in if you're really hammering it. Unlike with the ARM-powered Samsung Series 3 (which we still like a great deal), it happily plays iPlayer HD streams, even if the mediocre display doesn't showcase them particularly well. The trade-off, though, is that the Samsung Chromebook lasts for about twice as long on a charge.

It's not just the screen that lets it down as a movie machine, though; despite the Altec Lansing logo - a brand we've come to respect for mid-range speaker docks - the speakers are thin. In their favour, they're plenty loud, and don't really break up much unless you're right at 100%, but at no point along the volume slider would you think of listening to your music or watching movies by choice.

HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook review

They're fine for the odd YouTube clip or if you don't have some decent headphones or speakers to hand, but they're no more than sufficient.

The HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook is based on the same shell as the HP Pavilion Sleekbook series, and while we can't say we love the slightly glittery shiny black plastic, it does at least feel well put together. The hinge is solid and the screen stays at the angle you put it in, and there's very little flex in the whole thing.

It's a shame then that the keyboard is disappointing. The keys feel dead, and writing this review on the Chromebook made us long for the crisp responsiveness of an Apple keyboard.

HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook review

The layout isn't quite to our taste either. It's nice that the generous chassis gives us space for another vertical row of keys for page up, down, delete (as well as backspace) and more, but any keyboard that doesn't put your backspace key at the top-right is likely to play merry hell with your muscle memory.

What's more, we're not fond of the arrow keys, with full size left and right, but two half-height keys sandwiched between them for up and down.

Still, we like the dedicated Chrome OS keys for navigation and window management, and unlike on some Chromebooks, there's a caps lock key as well as two system-wide search buttons. Plus, although the trackpad keys were a bit clunky (you can enable tap-to-click as well), we were quite fond of the textured trackpad surface.

HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook review

Despite its limitations, Chrome OS is actually perfectly usable, so long as what you want to do can be done through a browser and web apps - and the list of things you need desktop apps for is shrinking day by day.

Spotify can work through a browser now, and streaming services such as Netflix obviously make a lot of sense for entertainment here. Traditional desktop tasks such as word processing are served by a plethora of online services such as Office 365 and Google Docs, and although, yes, you do everything through a browser, you don't have to always be online.

Online services can choose to enable an offline mode, syncing changes depending on whether you have a live connection or not.

HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook review

One of the best for this is Google Docs - try as we might, we can't get it to lose work, even in challenging network environments such as when tethered to a mobile phone on a cross-country train. You can search for these offline-capable apps on the Chrome Web Store.

A Chrome OS computer such as the HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook makes particular sense if you're already a heavy user of Google's services, since things are kept in sync across multiple machines, tied to your Google identity.

But if you're not comfortable doing all your computing inside Google's systems, concerned perhaps about how much personal information you're giving the search giant, a Chromebook is definitely not for you.