HP Stream 13 First Impressions

HP Stream 13 First Impressions

Bigger and better, depending on your needs

The HP Stream 13 holds no surprises, and that's a good thing: As you might expect, it's basically just a larger version of the excellent HP Stream 11, one that is probably a better fit for most adults. And since it costs just $30 more than its smaller sibling the HP Stream 13 is also an excellent value as well.

You can and should check out my HP Stream 11 First Impressions for my initial reaction to HP's stunning $200 laptop. Three points to know up front: Just about everything I wrote about the HP Stream 11 applies to the HP Stream 13, except for the larger screen and body, and a few port differences. We've acquired a second HP Stream 11 that my wife is now using as a replacement for the slower Surface 2 at a standing desk. And if I were to choose between these two devices, the HP Stream 11 and 13, I'd personally choose the Stream 13 because of the larger screen, which I prefer.

The packaging is common between the two Stream laptops, as you'd expect, and you get the same Office 365 Personal offer, Microsoft Store (virtual) gift card, and other semi-useless documentation. The review unit Stream 13 is decked out in the same dark blue color as the Stream 11s we have, and it has the same high-quality gradient paint job on the C-deck, which is the area around the keyboard and trackpad. It's a luxury touch that I think really resonates with people. (HP also makes a magenta version of both Stream laptops.)

HP Stream 11 (left) and HP Stream 13 (right)

The keyboard appears to be identical to that in the Stream 11.

HP Stream 11 (left, top) and HP Stream 13 (bottom, right)

HP describes this as a "97 percent" full-sized keyboard, and while I'm usually sensitive to smaller or cramped keyboards, thanks to my large hands, I find the typing experience to be perfectly acceptable on both. The machine itself has the same solid and durable feel, and it would be a great choice for kids: They're unlikely to really hurt it and even if they did, the cost of the machine is minimal.

The screen is of course larger at 13.3-inches, compared to 11.6-inches on the Stream 11, and it shares the same 1366 x 768 resolution. I really prefer the bigger screen, but then I'm also not in the target market for such a device, so shop accordingly, as some kids will prefer a smaller and lighter device.

HP Stream 11 (back, left) and HP Stream 13 (front, right)

The Stream 13 has roughly the same ports as the Stream 11, with a few differences, but they're laid out differently, not that it matters. On the left side of the device, you'll find a full-sized HDMI-out, USB 3.0, headphone and microSD. (The Stream 11, curiously, has a full-sized SD slot.)

And on the right are two USB 2.0 ports. (By comparison the Stream 11 has only one USB 2.0 port, plus the one USB 3.0 port.)

The processing power is identical between the two devices: A dual-core 2.16 GHz Intel Celeron N2840, 2GB of RAM and 32 GB of eMMc storage. The battery life of the Stream 13 is rated a bit higher, at 7.75 hours, than the Stream 11's 7 hours. But since these devices will be used around the house, this doesn't really matter as much as it would for a road machine.

HP Stream 11 (top) and HP Stream 13 (bottom)

As a bigger device, the HP Stream 13 is of course heavier than the Stream 11, though I've had trouble coming up with accurate specs for either so I can report the exact weights. Suffice to say it's no MacBook Air, but then you could purchase five or more HP Stream 13s for the price I paid for my Apple laptop.

It's no MacBook Air. But it is one-fifth the price

The OS is Windows 8.1 with Bing, of course, and HP provides the 64-bit version, though you can't expand the RAM past 2 GB so that's kind of a wash. In addition to the free Office 365 Personal—a $69.99 value right there—the Stream 13 (like the 11) is awash in what appears to be mostly superfluous additional apps, which is too bad. You can avoid this junk by buying at Microsoft Store, but I will be spending some time ridding this machine of the Connected Drive, Music and Photos apps that HP provides, as well as the other crapware.

With just 32 GB of storage, space is of course an issue. Out of the box, the Stream 13 reported about 17 GB of free space, but after installing a voluminous number of Windows Updates, that was down to 14 GB, and that was before installing Office. So you're going to want to get that microSD card going and configure Windows to use that space for documents and other data.

I'm not sure what to make of this, but the error-prone hoops you have to jump through—in the form of a complex series of Internet Explorer configuration changes and some terrible captchas—to validate Microsoft's $25 gift card are completely unacceptable. Surely there is a better way to handle this. Not HP's fault per se. But unacceptable regardless.

Even when I finally got a code, the page errored out. Nice!

Long story short, it's pretty clear that the HP Stream 13 is a great deal for the very same reasons the HP Stream 11 is a great deal. It's inexpensive at $230, high-quality for the price, and with the bundled extras—the $70 Office 365 Personal offer and the $25 gift card—it's about as close to a technology no-brainer as you'll ever find, especially if you're buying for a child or someone with minimal personal computing needs. The only question is which size—and which color—to get.

You can buy the HP Stream in horizon blue from Amazon.com for $229.99. Or, grab the orchid magenta version for the same price.

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