Hitting The Road With The HP Chromebook 11

The latest Chromebook to hit the Australian market is HP’s Chromebook 11 — a stylish-looking design with more than a hint of the MacBook Air about it. Can it measure up to Road Worrier’s needs for a travel machine?

My experience to date with Chromebooks has been mixed. I’ve used the Acer Chromebook C7 as a backup machine for my main notebook since its release. However, as I mentioned briefly in my How We Work piece earlier today, I never found the Chromebook experience entirely satisfactory. One big reason for that was that the support for working offline — an essential for any work traveller — was flaky.

While it was possible to create new documents and edit existing ones, syncing those back into the cloud was often delayed. If I’d written something offline and wanted to access it on another machine, it was often quicker to copy the text into Gmail and send it than to wait for Google Drive to catch up. That meant that while I was happy to have the Chromebook around as a backup machine, it was rarely my first choice for road trips.

The HP Chromebook 11 has three potential advantages over the Acer as a travel machine. Firstly, it has an 11-inch screen and a thinner overall build, which means it’s a better size for use on planes and trains. Secondly, its power outlet is a standard micro-USB charger, which means you don’t necessarily have to pack a separate charger for it — any available cable can be used. Thirdly, it claims a battery life of over six hours, which is potentially very helpful for a conference junkie like me.

I’ve been playing around with the Chromebook 11 for a few days, and it certainly meets the battery claims. In four hours of train travel over the weekend with Wi-Fi running the whole time, it only went through 60 per cent of the battery.

The charger situation is a little more complex. While it’s true you can plug in any micro-USB charger, many of the ones you have lying around are low-powered, which won’t charge the device as quickly or as effectively as the in-box unit. The Chromebook actually warns you of this in advance:

If you just want to recharge overnight you’ll be fine, but if you rely on plugging in between sessions at a conference and just use any old charger, you might find that you’re not recharging at all. So pack the charger.

One notable improvement is the offline mode, which now seems to work much more reliably. I was able to easily create documents offline, reconnect and have them sync almost instantly.

Two minor gripes about the Chromebook 11. The launch publicity boasts that the screen has a 176 degree viewing angle. That’s handy if you’re sharing a presentation, but less helpful on a plane when you don’t want your seatmates to see a confidential document.

The keyboard also lacks any Page Up, Down, Home or End keys — bad news for a keyboard shortcut junkie. You can fake most of them with the right key combinations, but I’d still prefer to have them there.

I still can’t imagine using the Chromebook 11 as my sole machine — I don’t want to do all my writing in Google Docs. However, as a device for taking notes at conferences or working on long plane trips, it could definitely find a place in my repertoire.

The Chromebook 11 sells for $399 and is available at JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman really should stop travelling with multiple machines, but let’s not kid ourselves. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

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