The first thing you notice about the HP Stream 13 is its bright, colorful shell. The plastic body features a matte, cornflower-blue exterior, which sets the Stream 13 apart from the sea of traditional silver and black notebooks (it's also available in magenta if you really want to stand out).
Opening the lid reveals a shiny chromatic paint job with a gradient that shifts from blue near the hinge to a light sky-blue on the palm rest, accented by a subtle dotted pattern throughout. While the color scheme may not be for everyone, it's nice to see HP employ a playful touch on this budget machine, a category in which looks often remain an afterthought.
Measuring 13.1 x 9 x 0.77 inches, the Stream 13 is similar in size to its 13-inch Chromebook competition. The main difference is that, with a weight of 3.4 pounds, the Stream 13 is just a bit heavier than the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (12.6 x 8.4 x 0.76 and 2.05 pounds) and the Acer Chromebook 13 (12.8 x 8.9 x 0.71 and 3.1 pounds).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Stream 13's white, chiclet keyboard features a relatively standard key travel of 1.6 millimeters, although the actuation weight of 55 grams is a little on the light side. I generally like a short, light stroke on laptop keyboards, so adjusting to the Stream 13 took almost no time. On my first run on the TenFastFingers.com typing test with this laptop, I nailed my typical average of 75 words per minute.
The touchpad is decently sized, measuring 3.75 x 2.5-inches, but it's smaller than the touchpads on both the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (4 x 2.8-inches) and the Acer Chromebook 13 (4.1 x 2.4-inches). I had no problem using the pad to perform Windows gestures such as swiping down from the top right to summon the Charms bar, but occasionally the notebook ignored my left and right clicks. This usually happened after I hadn't used the touchpad for a few seconds; I had to repeat the click in order for the command to register.
The HP Stream 13's screen is the only feature on this system that screams "budget notebook." The 13-inch, 1366 x 768 display has poor viewing angles that wash out or blacken when tilted just 10 degrees forward or backward. Side-to-side viewing angles were just slightly better.
When I watched the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road, the normally rich coppery-red sands of the film's desert landscape became a flat shade of orange that reminded me of sherbet melting on the sidewalk.
Using a light meter to test the Stream 13's brightness, we measured just 166 nits. That's 86 nits lower than the ultraportable average of 254 nits, and less than the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (339 nits) and the Acer Chromebook 13 (222 nits) with its optional 1920 x 1080 display.
The Stream 13 performed a bit better on color gamut, with the display recreating 79.2 percent of the sRGB spectrum. This means it can show more colors than the Acer Chromebook 13 (58.1 percent), but less than the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (98.5 percent).
In terms of color accuracy, the Stream 13 performed better than average (6.5), notching a Delta-E rating of 3.6 (closer to 0 is better). This is better than the Acer Chromebook 13 (11.4), but still behind the superb display in the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (1).
One of the standout features of the HP Stream 13 is its set of DTS Studio Sound speakers. The bottom-facing stereo speakers produced a surprisingly loud 91 decibels of sound on the Laptop Mag Volume test (measured from 23 inches away), easily enough to fill my 13 x 13-foot bedroom.
When I listened to Fujiya and Miyagi's "Collarbone," the highs were a little tinny, but the strong bass performance belies the Stream's price. You can also adjust your listening experience via the DTS Sound app, which features a customizable EQ and settings for multi-source playback, audio presets and more.
On the Laptop Mag Heat Test (15 minutes of streaming HD video from Hulu), the Stream 13 ran a bit toasty. The underside reached 101 degrees Fahrenheit, which is above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The touchpad stayed quite comfortable, at 78 degrees, and the space between the G and H keys remained usable, at 95 degrees.
Ports and Webcam
HP equips the Stream 13 with three USB ports: a single USB 3.0 port on the left and two USB 2.0 ports on the right. The left side also features a combo headset/microphone port and microSD card reader. The final port is the AC power port on the back right.
The Stream 13 features a 720p webcam for your selfie and video-chatting needs. When I took a picture in our well-lit office, the Stream 13's camera captured details in my shirt and hair, but there was a lot of grain, which detracted from the overall clarity.
The heart of the Stream 13 is its 2.16-GHz Intel Celeron N2840 CPU, which is accompanied by 2GB of RAM and 32 GB of eMMC flash storage. HP's budget machine wasn't designed to be a computing powerhouse, but watching 1080p videos on Youtube was smooth and lag free.
When I increased the load by streaming two 1080ps videos at the same time, I noticed playback began to stutter. And when I typed words into the search bar, I had to wait several seconds for the characters to appear.
Booting into Windows 8.1 took 33 seconds, which is slow compared to the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (8 seconds) and the Acer Chromebook 13 (7 seconds).
On another browser test, Peacekeeper, the Stream 13 scored 1,536, which is behind Toshiba Chromebook 2 (2,920) but ahead of the Acer Chromebook 13 (1,244).
The HP Stream 13 features integrated Intel HD graphics, meaning that it can handle casual games from the Windows Store like Star Wars Commander, but not more graphically intense games like League of Legends.
To test the graphics, we ran Web GL Cubes benchmark, which renders 150,000 floating cubes with three light sources. The Stream 13 managed 13 frames per second, which is just a bit higher than the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (11 fps) but less than the Acer Chromebook 13 (20 fps).
When it comes to endurance, the Stream 13 doesn't stand up very well to the Chromebook competition. The system lasted just 6 hours and 26 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits). That's shorter than the ultraportable laptop average of 7:57, and also less than the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (7:48) and Acer Chromebook 13 (8:08).
There are two versions of the HP Stream 13: the $230 base model reviewed here, and a $280 model with the exact same specs except for a 13.3-inch touch screen.
Software and Warranty
The HP Stream 13 comes with a one-year subscription of Office 365, so you can use Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote both offline and in the cloud. There's also a one-year trial of OneDrive featuring 1 TB of cloud storage and a discounted price ($6.99 for both OneDrive and Office 365 vs. the regular price of $9.99 for just Office 365) if you want to renew the subscription in the future.
HP includes HP Connected Music and HP Connected Photo for accessing music and pictures both locally and in the cloud, and HP Connected Drive to make sure your important data gets backed up.
The Stream 13 comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty, with toll-free technical support and 90 days of limited software support. The warranty can be upgraded to two or three years with additional accidental damage protection for 190 and 230 dollars, respectively.
For those who prefer Windows OS, the HP Stream 13 offers better software flexibility than Chromebooks for a comparable price. For $230, you get more high-quality apps that can run offline, plus a comfortable keyboard, strong speakers and fairly smooth performance in a fun design. The two things that hold this system back are its dim display and below-average battery life (though 6.5 hours is decent).
Is the Stream 13 a Chromebook killer? Not quite. For example, both the Acer Chromebook 13 ($249) and Toshiba Chromebook 2 ($299) have full-HD displays and last longer on a charge. But overall, the Stream 13 is one of the better 13-inch notebook values.