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HP Chromebox review: A small box with a big vision

The little computer running Android's big-younger brother, Chrome OS

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As Android users we’re already fully embracing the online future, our data ever present on all our connected devices. This extends to the Chrome browser as well, with bookmarks and web history shared across PC, laptop and smartphones if you have them set up properly.

The HP Chromebox, one from the most recent batch of Chromebox releases post this year’s I/O, uses the Chrome browser as a base to take this one step further by having your entire desktop on one of these interconnected devices with all your information instantly available. While it was a rocky start for ChromeOS and Chrome hardware, it has really matured over the past couple of years and the HP Chromebox includes some of the best lessons learned.

Firstly, the hardware design is very important for a Chromebox and HP get it spot on. It’s a small, light device that is perfectly portable for wherever you need to set up your office or workspace. Once there it supports the necessary standards for you to then actually work with it, such as the ubiquitous HDMI port and DisplayPort that hooks into TVs and most modern monitors, along with conveniently located USB ports on the front for your input devices.

Not only is it perfectly suited for portability, it’s also just fine to be kept in one location. As well as the two USB ports on the front, there are multiple on the rear that allow for tidier cables, and open up the front ports for connecting devices and mass storage.

The small formfactor and ports makes it useful for more than just office work, and with the right tweaking of Chrome OS it can be easily used as a pretty serviceable media centre or home theatre PC. You can control it from an Android device or other computer easily enough, and with some perseverance, a universal remote.

Performance wise, it is one of the lowest powered Chrome OS devices on the market. However, due to the nature of Chrome OS being very low-resource, you’ll rarely, if ever notice a problem. It boots up instantly to the login screen, and from there straight into Chrome OS. There’s no booting from standby here, it’s really just extremely fast.

While in the past you would need a persistent internet connection to do just about anything with Chrome OS, these days you can do important stuff offline like writing documents. There’s also some limited degree of file storage on the devices 16 GB SSD card which can then be easily uploaded to Drive when you get a connection again. While Chrome itself is the main window into the majority of Chrome OS tasks, the Google team have seen enough sense to divorce the file manager and core settings from the browser to give it a more desktop-like feel.

Actual browsing works great. The apps and videos install and run just fine even on the lower-powered box, with 1080p YouTube video only being limited to your internet connection and not the machine’s processor. It performs so well at the kind of things you’d use a Chromebox for that it makes us wonder why you’d get more powerful, expensive machines in the first place.

A recent addition to Chrome OS is the ability to run Android apps natively – this is a little misleading as these apps are being ported to Chrome OS rather than having some kind of official Android emulation. The handful that have been released are located in the Chrome Store like all the other apps and add-ons, and include things like Vine and Spotify. These have varying levels of usefulness on Chrome OS (it’s a bit difficult to angle a webcam at a cat for a million loop vine), but it opens the door for a lot more.

Android app compatibility aside, the HP Chromebox really does everything it needs to and for a lot cheaper than some of the other offerings out there.

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For further reviews of the latest Android and Chrome products, make sure to check out the new issue of Android Magazine.

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