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Helpware: A worthy $200 laptop

January 26, 2015


Thereís nothing flashy about the $200 HP Stream notebook, save its choices of colors ó horizon blue and orchid magenta. Itís slow and underpowered due to its Celeron processor and woeful 2 gigs of RAM. Still, it has many of the features its more expensive siblings have, weighs 2.7 pounds for the 11.6-inch model and 3.4 pounds for the 13.3 inch, and its full-size keyboard is pleasant to the touch. Itís definitely more versatile than Chromebooks, which are more expensive and can come with even smaller flash drives. Storage on the Stream is limited to a 32-gigabyte flash drive. If you choose the 13.3-inch model, as I did, the base price is $230. Adding wireless and a touch screen and youíre looking at close to $300. For that kind of money you can get a more powerful laptop. Just check the Sunday supplements for deals on sub-$300 laptops. Those will usually have traditional hard drives and at least 4 gigs of RAM.

Hereís what you get for your $200: Windows 8.1, an 11.6-inch screen, Wi-Fi, webcam, two USB 2.0 and one 3.0 USB ports, HDMI port, an SD card slot, Bluetooth, and the earlier mentioned 2 gigs of RAM and a 32-gig flash drive. Battery life is upwards of eight hours. Itís relatively svelte, at three-quarters of an inch high.

You also get, and I take this directly from the HP website, so hang on to your hats:

A one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365, a terabyte of OneDrive storage, 60 minutes a month of Skype Premium for a year and Ö a $25 gift card for the Microsoft store. I resisted a comparison to late-night TV pitches for slicers and dicers, except to say, hurry, quantities are limited. Kidding aside, those are generous incentives.

Iíd be remiss if I didnít mention that the touch pad is too sensitive. All it takes is a light tap to call up programs. Some will like this feature, Iím certain, but gliding over the Windows 8.1 start menu I always was calling up programs I didnít want. On the plus side, you can scroll sideways on the touchpad.

That said, there is much is to praise about the HP Stream. The colors are not to my liking, appearing more like something youíd find at Toys "R" Us, but cosmetics aside, itís more than adequate for email, word processing and other personal computing tasks. It connects to the Internet and surfs surprisingly fast on my Wi-Fi network. The backlit display is sharp and bright. I tested the 13.3-inch version, and could see taking it or its little brother on airplane trips.

Iím a big Apple fan, and Iím not going to compare the Stream to my MacBook Air, which costs five times as much. But the real taste test is whether Iíd take the Stream or my three-times-as-expensive iPad on a trip. No contest: Iíd take the Stream. The display is bigger, the keyboard is a huge plus, and the wide range of software the Stream runs are simply more useful and appealing.

If youíre on a tight budget, the smaller $200 Stream is one of the biggest bargains in laptop land.

Stay tuned for reviews of the competition.

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McClatchy-Tribune Information Services