HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch review: A big-screened budget laptop for the right user

HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch review: A big-screened budget laptop for the right user
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a side angled view of the hp chromebook plus 15.6-inch on a wooden table

Is “impressive Chromebook” still an oxymoron?

Luxe models like the $999 Google Pixelbook exist (well, existed), but plastic, practical-to-a-fault clunkers have defined this genre of web-based devices since it debuted in 2011. The Chromebook™️ is infamously cheap (costing and looking) and generally relegated to schoolwork or basic browsing — your archetypical bare-minimum laptop.

However, now there’s Chromebook Plus. Google introduced this taxonomy for a new breed of ChromeOS computers in October 2023, marking the Chromebook experience’s first proper retooling in over a decade. It rolled out in the form of an OS update for certain older Chromebooks and via eight brand-new models from Acer, ASUS, Lenovo, and HP, which start at $399 to retain an appeal for budget shoppers.

I spent several weeks with the HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch, one of two 15.6-inch models from that original octet, which retails for $499. I’ll tell you upfront that it makes some sacrifices to adhere to that price point, namely in build and audio quality, and its battery life is a letdown. I don’t think it’s quite able to slough off some of those Chromebook stereotypes. 

That said, the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch is plenty peppy for casual productivity, especially if you’re a big Google Workspace person, and its colorful, capacious screen is excellent for off-the-clock entertainment. It also comes with some useful features and AI tools you won’t find in non-Plus Chromebooks. It’s not an outstanding laptop worthy of our Mashable Choice Award, but it’s decidedly solid if you’re looking for a reliable bargain big-screener.

The only problem is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

HP Chromebook Plus 15.5-inch specs and price

Models with the “Chromebook Plus” label are guaranteed to have certain specs, including:

  • At least a 12th-generation Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 7000 series processor (i.e., a CPU from 2022 or newer)

  • At least 8GB of RAM

  • At least 128GB of storage

  • A 1080p webcam with temporal noise reduction

  • An IPS display with a resolution of at least 1080p (Full HD)

This new standardization doesn’t rewrite the book on Chromebooks, so to speak: It’s been possible to buy a non-Plus model with this hardware before. Rather, Google said it’s meant to make it easier for shoppers to narrow down their options and identify models that “will actually give you what you need, at the price you want.”

a front view of the hp chromebook plus 15.6-inch

The HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch’s base configuration is available exclusively at Best Buy.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

The Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch is a traditional clamshell-style laptop that sells for $499 at Best Buy. Under its hood, you’ll find:

  • An Intel Core i3-N305 processor (a mobile CPU from early 2023)

  • Intel UHD graphics

  • 8GB of RAM

  • 128GB of Universal Flash Storage (UFS)

  • A 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution display (non-touchscreen) in a 16:9 aspect ratio with a 60Hz refresh rate

  • MediaTek WiFi 6

  • Two USB-C 3.0 ports, one USB-A 3.0 port, an SD card slot, and a headphone jack

Another variant of the HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch is available directly on the HP website starting at $599.99; it can be upgraded with a 144hz refresh rate, a backlit keyboard, and an Intel WiFi 6E card for a maxed-out price of $659.99. (This review only covers the $499 Best Buy model, FYI.)

HP Chromebook Plus 15.5-inch design

Let’s acknowledge the polymer elephant in the room up top — yes, this laptop has a plastic shell, though you probably wouldn’t know it from looks alone. It comes in a mineral silver finish that gives it an elegant, metallic-seeming sheen, and there’s a reflective HP logo on its lid. It measures in at just 0.78 inches thin; while it’s not a particularly small laptop, it’s still sleek. Its hinge is tight and sturdy and not at all creaky.

a rear view of the hp chromebook plus 15.6-inch on a wooden surface

The HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch looks sleek in Mineral Silver.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

That said, be gentle. I don’t think you could completely junk the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch without serious intent, but I also don’t think it could walk away from an accidental fall or drop without some cuts and bruises. My loaner unit’s lid somehow picked up a nick during my testing, and I was only carrying it between my desk, couch, and kitchen table.

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In the plastic’s defense, it does keep the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch relatively light for its size at 3.81 pounds. Small kids might pitch a fit if they had to haul it around in their backpack all day, but I could easily tote it around in one arm.

a close-up of the side of the hp chromebook plus 15.6-inch on a wooden table

The HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch has a headphone jack, two USB-C ports, one USB-A port, and an SD card slot on either side of its base.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

The Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch’s low cost is a little more apparent in its plastic touchpad, which is accurate and responsive but weirdly grippy, as if it needs to be waxed or Zambonied. My fingers made a dull skidding sound every few gestures, like a scaled-down version of sneakers friction-squeaking on a gym floor. Finding the right finger pressure took some adjustments.

The quality of the keyboard is also on par with what I’d expect from a $500 laptop. It’s definitely not the worst keyboard I’ve ever used — I survived the butterfly keyboard era and all I got were these lousy Genius Bar bills! — but it’s not great. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like you’re pushing the keys into Styrofoam: stiff, but also kind of airy and mushy, and overall just unsatisfying. I got used to it over time, too.

a close-up of the keyboard and touchpad on the hp chromebook 15.6-inch

Note the numeric keypad.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

As an aside, I want to flag that there’s a built-in numeric keypad to the right of the Chromebook Plus 15-inch’s keyboard. It’s not my favorite design choice, as it makes the keyboard and touchpad off-center, but I haven’t docked points off for it because I know keypads are a draw for some users.

Meanwhile, the IPS display on the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch is distractingly nice, and easily my favorite thing about this laptop. The colors are intense, with good contrast and rich blacks, and an anti-reflective panel preserves that quality at most viewing angles, even in direct sunlight. It also feels huge despite some moderately thick horizontal bezels. It really has no right looking as good as it does.

a close-up of the hp chromebook plus 15.6-inch's display

The HP Chromebook Plus 15.6’s display is vivid and spacious.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

I suppose the display could be brighter — it maxes out at a homely 250 nits — but it’s workable and sort of a nice break from my Apple MacBook Pro‘s 500-nit screen, which can sometimes feel like staring into a high-beam headlight. It’s not blinding, but its whites aren’t dingy. I can make peace with that.

I wouldn’t complain if the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch had a higher refresh rate, and you might be inclined to upgrade to the HP.com-exclusive 144Hz model, but 60Hz is completely reasonable for $500. I noticed a little jitteriness when I was playing Lies of P on it via Xbox Game Pass, but gaming and streaming were otherwise passably smooth. (Chromebooks aren’t the best for gaming, but Google effectively endorses that use case by throwing in three free months of NVIDIA GeForce NOW’s Priority tier with every Chromebook, including Plus models.)

The 1080p webcam is nested in the bezel across the very top of the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch’s display, and it has a built-in privacy shutter that you can manually slide off and on. Its picture quality was adequate in photos and video calls, though it skewed a bit saturated and overly smoothed. I wish there was an option to turn the temporal noise reduction off — it made me look a little too airbrushed. 

a selfie of the author taken on a chromebook plus

The HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch’s webcam isn’t terrible, but it made me look a little orange and airbrushed.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

The Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch’s stereo speakers are more overtly subpar. The audio is loud enough, but it sounds like all the oomph has been sucked out of it, as if you’re hearing it from inside a closet. There’s, like, a negative amount of bass. While not a dealbreaker for moi, since I typically wear headphones while using a laptop, it might be for some.

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Connectivity-wise, the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch comes equipped with a decent number of ports: There’s a headphone jack, two USB-C ports, one USB-A port, and a slot for an SD card.

HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch performance and battery life

So, what’s so “Plus”? Google has a couple different selling points for its new Chromebook line, one being “power that gets more done,” per a page on the company’s website. Certified models offer “2x the processing power” compared to the most popular Chromebooks sold in the second half of 2022, it said, and offer “up to 10 hours of battery life” per charge.

A representative for Google told me that the company doesn’t publish any specifics about its top sellers, so I couldn’t personally verify its claim about extra processing power. But anecdotally, the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch was able to zip through my daily workflow, which involves bopping around between the Slack app, Google Workspace tools, Twitter, Zoom, and Mashable’s CMS. It never ran hot, either, even when I sat it on my blanketed lap to play a few hours of Palworld and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey after work one day. (The fan cranked up a bit, but it was never noticeably loud.)

a top-down view of an hp chromebook plus 15.6-inch on a couch that's playing "palworld"; a dog is laying next to it

Graphically undemanding games like “Palworld” ran well on the HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

In a more technical setting, the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch clocked in at a multi-core score of 4,121 in Primate Labs’ Geekbench 6 CPU benchmark (the Android version), which had its system run a variety of real-world tasks; the higher the score, the better. That puts it slightly lower than the HP Chromebook Plus x360 14c (another new Plus model), which scored a 4,318, with one asterisk: The x360 14c starts at $699 and retails for $819.99 as tested.

As for battery life, that “up to 10 hours” bit is doing a lot of heavy lifting. I got only seven hours and 11 minutes out of the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch in CrXPRT 2’s battery life test. Eight hours is the minimum we look for in Chromebooks, nine to ten hours being ideal, so it kind of flopped here. Moving on!

HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch software features

The other crux of Google’s Chromebook Plus spiel is a suite of new software features: It “works like magic, feels like fun,” the company said. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but most of them land somewhere on the spectrum between “convenient” and “kind of cool,” and ultimately elevate the user experience in some way.

Falling under the former categorization is File Sync. This new feature makes all of the Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides in your “My Drive” available without WiFi, then automatically updates the original files once your connection is restored. Offline usability has been a major critique of Chromebooks since forever, and while this isn’t a terribly exciting tweak, I can see it being a nice peace-of-mind thing for travelers and commuters.

Back over in the webcam department, there’s a new “pod” for video controls that appears in the lower navigation bar whenever the camera is turned on. These include some AI-powered settings like noise cancellation, live caption, and improve lighting, which work across platforms like Google Meet and Zoom. Again, nothing revolutionary, but it was handy to have them so readily available for mid-call toggling… when they worked. (Live caption didn’t for me.)

side by side selfies of the author taken on a chromebook plus

The webcam’s “Improve Lighting” AI tool (sort of arbitrarily) brightened one side of my face.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

Chromebook Plus also brings new support for popular multimedia apps like Adobe Photoshop on the web, Adobe Express, and LumaFusion, a video editor, as well as Google Photos’ Magic Eraser feature, which you’ll also find on Google’s Pixel 6, 7, and 8 series phones. (Those who purchase a new Chromebook Plus will receive three free-month trials of both Adobe products and a one-off discount on LumaFusion.) This is arguably Google’s boldest update considering “Chromebook” and “photo and video editing” are rarely used in the same sentence, unless it’s to say that the former is bad for the latter.

side by side images of a dog that have been edited using google photos magic eraser

Google Photos Magic Eraser’s “erase” mode (center) tended to produce more convincing results than “camouflage” (right).
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

I played around with Adobe Express and Magic Eraser in my testing, and without going into too much detail, both worked well. Adobe Express could be a little pokey, but it’s a flashy Canva alternative with some hit-or-miss generative AI features. Magic Eraser made it easy to scrub distractions out of photos, or “camouflage” them so that their colors didn’t stick out. While I wouldn’t buy a Chromebook Plus solely to use these tools, it’s exciting to see them succeed on a $500 laptop.

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Last, and probably least, Chromebook Plus models come with two dynamic wallpapers that change based on the time of day. They’re paired with matching animated screensavers and Chrome color themes.

a screenshot of the wallpaper and screenshot window on a chromebook plus

Google’s dynamic wallpapers and screensavers are Chromebook Plus exclusives.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

Google said it will “keep adding new features to Chromebook Plus over time”; an AI-powered short-form content editor, generative video backgrounds, and desktop wallpapers are in the works for later in 2024.

Is the HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch worth it?

The Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch is a low-priced pick for productivity revolving around the Google ecosystem with a large, vibrant display and some new software features that are at least interesting, if not game-changing. It’s unfair to compare a Chromebook to other kinds of laptops, but as a lifelong MacBook user, I feel compelled to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed using this laptop (even if it didn’t convert me away from Apple).

Here’s the thing, though: The Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch isn’t the only new Chromebook Plus, and other models kickflip on it when it comes to overall value.

For instance, the Acer Chromebook Plus 515 and the ASUS Chromebook Plus CX34 both come with slightly better processors and cost $399 apiece, or $100 less. (The former is another 15.6-incher, too.) Meanwhile, the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus gets you a newer 13th-gen Intel Core i3 processor, a backlit keyboard, and a 2-in-1 design with a multitouch display for the same $499. 

an angled view of the hp chromebook plus 15.6-inch on a wooden table

The HP Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch is a genuinely good budget laptop, but other Chromebook Plus models offer more for the same price or less.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

Even if these other models make the same major concessions as the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch in the realms of plastic construction, audio quality, and battery life, the trade-offs seem more worth it on paper. (I’m hoping to test them, too, to see if this translates in practice.)

Ultimately, and if nothing else, I think the best thing about the Chromebook Plus 15.6-inch just might be the potential it shows for these other Plus-ed options. “Impressive Chromebook” remains an oxymoron in this case, but it could veer toward tautology elsewhere among the lineup, at least as far as budget laptops are concerned. Google is onto something.

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