Remember when Chromebooks were supposed to be the next big thing in personal computing? Hailed by some as the bare minimum conqueror of Windows laptops we were promised a lot of things, chiefly a rock-bottom price tag. The Walmart exclusive Hisense Chromebook appears to fill that desire, as one of the latest entries to hit an affordable $149 mark.
For Chrome OS laptops we don’t ask for much, other than a legitimately cheap alternative with just enough hardware to make multitasking bearable. And this is coming from Hisense, who’ve previously had their hand in thrifty hundred-dollar Android tablets.
Even here they keep their first Chromebook functional, which could invariably go both ways depending on the looks. The body is all plastic on the outside with a textured feel, open it up and you get a brushed surface palm rest that helps add a smooth contrast. But make no mistake – this is utilitarian as it gets for 3.3lbs and thickness of 0.6”, even the port selections are narrowed down to the essential HDMI, USB 2.0 on both sides, and just a microSD slot. Obviously you’re expected to rely on a 16GB SSD or jump on the Google Cloud well before you hook up any type of external device.
The 11.6” display doesn’t stray from the Chromebook norm either. You’ll feast your eyes on a mediocre 1366×768 TN panel and that checks all the boxes of decent straight-on viewing, along with the expected compromises of not-so great off-center viewing angles, muddied contrasts, and the somewhat muted colors. To be fair, this isn’t any worse than other Chromebooks I’ve recently came across, and the small speakers and webcam do enough to round out the package.
Things improve slightly when taking the chiclet keyboard into account, which at this point seems to be a more-or-less shared trait. For getting work done like writing this review I have little to complain about unless you’re a power-typist and are serious about shallow key travel. However, the trackpad is definitely the weakest link as a single piece pad design does no favors for with a copious amount of trouble for clicking, dragging, and two-finger tracking, and merely adequate for everyday browsing. If you’re so inclined, it’s best to bring a cheap wireless mouse of your own.
In order to actually create a low-cost Chromebook (ironic, I know) Hisense had to look at a SoC (System on a Chip) approach to make everything feasible. Utilizing 2GB of RAM and a Rockchip RK3288 ARM processor that incorporates four 1.8GHz Cortex A17 CPU cores with four Mali T760 GPU cores, This is just a beefed up version of the Cortex A15. And for those that care, this ARM is technically capable of 4K H.265 resolution decoding too. The battery life is also surprisingly good for roughly 9 hours of work from a full charge.
Beyond the SunSpider (ver. 1.0.2) benchmark of 601.6 milliseconds, this actually isn’t half-bad by Chromebook standards. I mean it’s not that snappy and trails a little behind in performance compared to Intel-based variants, but is good enough to keep a couple tabs open for web browsing and one-on-one conferencing. If you’re in the habit of leaving a string of tabs open from YouTube videos to Flash sites you’ll notice things can get quite sluggish, at the very least you’ll definitely need to manage your daily time-wasting activities here. Another 2GB of DDR3L would do wonders, but we’re content that it’s good enough.
And that’s exactly what the Hisense Chromebook is, plainly good enough. To be honest, I always thought Chromebooks should be much cheaper anyways – at least going by the claims confidently made by Google all those years ago, if it weren’t for the smallest additions made by OEMs equalling unsavory price hikes. People should expect a basic experience from a Chromebook, and this one delivers on that front.