Cheap and Easy
As typical classroom notebooks get more complex and expensive, Google’s Chromebook family stays true to the vision of a simple, inexpensive system for education that is easy to use and maintain. The HP Chromebook 11 improves on a good thing with a small and light $279 system.
One of the best ways to digitize the classroom, the Chromebook 11 weighs 2.3 pounds, half as much as many of its Windows- or Mac-based competitors and is the lightest Chromebook available. Add in its tiny AC adapter and you have a travel weight of 2.5 pounds, less than many notebooks on their own. This may not seem like much, but it can deliver tangible benefits when it comes to lessening the load that kids have to carry during the day.
The system is one of the smallest notebooks around and takes up only 11.7- by 7.6-inches of precious desktop space; it’s 0.7-inches thick. The case has rounded corners and neither hatches nor visible screws underneath. It doesn’t require a cooling fan, so the system is silent. On the downside, you can’t quickly swap the Chromebook 11’s battery for a fresh one.
Available in white or black, the system is built around a plastic case that’s been thermally bonded to a lightweight magnesium frame for extra strength, something that can add years to its lifetime in schools. It feels sturdier than most budget systems and the white model is available with blue, red, green or yellow accent trim. Rather than feet, there’re two soft rubber strips on the bottom. Google sells a nicely padded carry case for $50.
Open the Chromebook 11’s screen lid and a colorful rainbow strip lights up to show that it’s on and ready for class, a nice touch because a teacher can scan the room looking for the lit lids. The system has an 11.6-inch display that can show up to 1,366 by 768 resolution. Unlike Google’s beautiful Pixel system, the ChromeBook 11 lacks a touch-screen, which is a disappointment.
Above the screen is a Web cam that can capture up to VGA images. This, unfortunately, pales in comparison to the abilities of even the cheapest mobile phone on the market. Below, the Chromebook 11 has a comfortable 19mm keyboard, but rather than the expected row of function keys it has specialty keys for moving the Chrome Browser back and forth, adjusting the screen brightness, changing the volume or muting the system.
Mirroring Samsung’s XE303C12 Chromebook, the Chromebook 11 is powered by Samsung’s Exynos 5250 GAIA chip that runs at 1.7GHz. It comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of solid state storage, but lacks an SD card slot that could have been used to augment its capacity. The system comes 100GB of free online storage for two years on GoogleDrive. After that it costs $60 per year.
A big step forward for notebook design is that the Chromebook 11 uses a micro-USB port for charging the system’s 30-watt-hour battery pack. The good news is that it can be charged with an off-the-shelf USB AC adapter, but it might take longer and the system really wants to use the included 3.0-amp charger.
The system has audio jacks and a pair of USB 2.0 ports, but not the more recent and faster USB 3.0 ports that many older Chromebooks already have. These connections worked with an external drive, a memory key and an Ethernet adapter, but not with a printer. With an Internet connected printer, the system can use GooglePrint to put what’s on screen onto paper.
As far as teaching goes, a big gap in the Chromebook 11’s classroom abilities is that it does without an HDMI or VGA port for driving a projector or large monitor. You can plug a generic $15 Slimport adapter into the notebook or connect to a projector with Google’s $35 Chromecast wireless adapter. Both can send sound as well as video.
The system has 802.11n WiFi networking and Bluetooth 4.0, but does without a wired LAN connection; it works with a generic USB-Ethernet adapter. The speakers are strategically located under the system’s keyboard and deliver surprisingly rich and clear audio aimed at the user.
While the system’s hardware is impressive, Google’s software is particularly appropriate for schools because of its Spartan needs and thoughtful administrative touches. Version 30.0 is the best Chrome OS so far, and has the ability to automatically update its software and wipe a machine for a new user in a matter of minutes. Since most of its resources are online, you don’t need anything more than minimal storage on the actual notebook.
The system includes apps or online connections for Google Docs, managing files as well as the Desmos Graphing calculator and GeoGebra math software. Google has a wide variety of educational software from early reading and vocabulary to current events and making flash cards. The best part is that much of it is free or available at minimal cost. There’re also apps for controlling and managing a school’s worth of Chromebooks, recording grades and stopping plagiarism.
The price of this integration is that every student, teacher and administrator who uses a Chromebook needs to have a Google account. Some schools, parents and school boards may object to this, but it allows schools to swap systems quickly yet still have the students personal data pop up instantly.
Compared to other ChromeBooks, the ChromeBook 11 is a mediocre, but reliable, performer. The system’s FutureMark PeaceKeeper score of 1,112 was 20-percent off the pace of the similar Samsung XE303C12 system and half that of the ThinkPad XE131e Chromebook. It made up for that with a 647.6-milisecond time on the SunSpider test, significantly faster than the XE303C12, but much slower than the ThinkPad XE131e. That said, it never froze or refused to perform a task.
The Chromebook 11 worked well in a variety of classroom situations, including demonstrating how to solve a linear equation, sound-out a word and project a map of pre-colonial North America. It worked fine on the University of Colorado’s latest PHET science simulations that use HTML 5.
It lasted for 4 hours and 36 minutes on a charge while continuously playing YouTube videos over a WiFi connection. That is 40 minutes short of the XE303C12 but plenty for a full day of school work of on-and-off use.
It may have its quirks, but the Chromebook 11 is the best $279 a school can spend on a classroom computer.
+ Lightweight design
+ No Fan
+ Chrome OS software
+ Micro-USB charging
+ 100GB of free online storage for two years
- Needs adapter to project
- Lacks USB 3.0
- Users must have Google accounts