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Review: 2 low-cost Windows 10 laptops challenge the Chromebooks

Brian Nadel | Feb. 10, 2016
Two US$200 systems offer travelers a lightweight and low-cost way to work with Windows apps on the road.

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Call it the democratization of technology, but $200 buys an awful lot of notebook today. The staying power of the Chromebook has shown that lightweight, low-cost technology has a place in today's marketplace -- and, perhaps in answer to that, several low-cost Windows 10 laptops have recently hit the market. They appeal to a variety of audiences, from students in need of an inexpensive school PC to business travelers looking for a lightweight second computer for the road.

And they have one advantage over Chromebooks: Because they run Windows 10, they can use a wide variety of familiar software. In fact, each of these "Blue Light Specials" comes with a year's subscription to Office 365 Personal and a terabyte of online storage that's worth $70.

For this comparison, I tested two low-cost Windows 10 notebooks: The Lenovo IdeaPad 100S and HP Stream 11, two slim, light and stylish computers that make a virtue of simplicity. These are not fire-breathing game machines, by any means. They are basic fan-less systems powered by entry-level processors, with 2GB of RAM and 30GB of solid-state disk storage.

What do you have to give up if you choose one of these inexpensive systems? A lot of the creature comforts that midrange notebooks now offer, like more RAM or a touch-screen option. They keyboards aren't backlit and can be a bit cramped, especially if you have large hands.

By far, though, the sharpest corner that's been cut is with screens. Both of these notebooks have 11.6-in. LCDs that rely on Twisted Nematic (TN) technology; they show less detail than today's typical smartphone. (Most notebooks offer in-plane switching (IPS) technology that gives sharper images and brighter colors.) And while the displays are large enough for single Web pages or Word documents, it can be awkward (and slow) trying to work with several windows open, and trying to cope with a large spreadsheet is a challenge.

At first I had my doubts that a $200 computer was worth the effort and money. After spending two weeks with each, I'm convinced that they can cut it at home and even on business trips. Both systems actually work well and should satisfy most modest computing needs.

HP Stream 11

With HP's first generation Stream now in closeout mode, the second generation Stream 11 picks up where its predecessor leaves off with a smaller and lighter design that adds a USB 3.0 port.

Measuring 11.8 x 8.1 x 0.8 in., the Stream 11 is 3 oz. lighter than the first-generation Stream. Still, at 2.6 lb., it's slightly heavier than the 2.3-lb. Lenovo IdeaPad. Plus, it uses a traditional AC power adapter with an awkward three-prong plug, giving it a total travel weight of 2.9 lb. -- about 4 oz. heavier than the IdeaPad's travel weight.


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