This Chromebook costs just $149. The Hisense Chromebook, that is, announced Tuesday morning and available immediately via Walmart.com. This model and the Haier Chromebook also announced today set a new standard for affordable computers compared to Windows and Mac PCs.
We could easily criticize this Chromebook for everything it doesn't have for $149, but we can't ignore the benefit of that price point for people or schools on a tight budget. Think about it this way: The minimum wage in San Francisco (where PCWorld is based) is currently $11.05. Someone working for that wage would have to work about 15 hours (based on gross pay, and assuming sales tax) to afford the $149 Hisense Chromebook. That already seems like a lot, doesn't it?
If the Hisense Chromebook didn't exist, however, that person would have to work about 20 hours to afford a $200-range Chromebook (or HP Stream 11, the Windows-based rival), and so on for more expensive machines. Now you see why a $149 laptop could fly off the shelves at Walmart. And this isn't counting people who could afford a better laptop but want something their kids can destroy with minimal fiscal impact.
Considering the price, the Hisense Chromebook is a decent machine. It's not in the least bit flashy, with a textured, matte-plastic chassis. The bezel around the 11.6-inch display is thick, but that may be part of the reason why the lid feels so sturdy.
The display quality is nothing special — this is a common drawback among low-end Chromebooks. The video playback quality is surprisingly good — we could play an action movie at full-screen with only very occasional hiccups. (The GPU is a Rockchip Mali 760 quad core). The viewing angles are limited, however, and brightness maxes out at 200 nits. The speakers are the usual tinny sort you find in most laptops.
The base of the Hisense Chromebook feels rock-solid. The metal plate covering the wrist area around the trackpad probably contributes to that, but the cold metal feels uncomfortable.
The keyboard is adequate, but it's the cheapest-feeling part of the Hisense Chromebook. Its hard-plastic keys feel second-rate. The slightly springy travel compensates a little bit, but the entire keyboard area bends a bit while typing.
The connectivity includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Ports include one HDMI, two USB 2.0, and audio, plus an SD Card reader.
The Rockchip CPU: Balancing cost and performance
Now let's dive into the Rockchip RK3288 CPU that contributes to the Hisense Chromebook's low price. We updated the Hisense Chromebook to the latest stable build of Chrome OS available as well as our test stable including the Google Pixel, the Acer Chromebook 13 and Chromebook 15, a Toshiba Chromebook 2. Also included are results from Google's new Pixel, which we're calling Pixel 2 in our chart to make it easier to read. [Note: We didn't get a chance to update the Pixel 2 to the latest OS, so we're reusing previous results. The Pixels are much higher-end, but we've included the results for reference.]
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