Premium Chromebooks took a bit of a hit in 2020. As mid-range Chromebooks got a lot better over the course of the year (the Acer Spin 713 is a prime example of this), we started seeing features in $500-$600 Chromebooks that we used to reserve for only the high-end flagship devices. While there were a few top of the line Chromebooks released in 2020, many of them failed to really gain any ground due to the increase in mid-range competition.
That being said, there are still many out there – myself included – that still put an emphasis on build quality, premium materials, and not having to compromise when choosing a Chromebook as a daily driver laptop. Just because I like Chrome OS, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have options to purchase high-quality machines to work from. If you find yourself in this seat and devices like last year’s Samsung Galaxy Chromebook felt like nearly the perfect Chromebook (aside from the woeful battery), then something like this HP Elite C1030 Chromebook could be just the laptop you’ve been looking for.
It starts with a quality build
Right up front, you can’t escape the Elite C1030’s build quallity. From an all-aluminum frame to the fit and finish to the hinges, this Chromebook was thoughtfully designed. It is thin at only 15mm and light at only 2.8 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still firm and substantial to hold in your hands. And just looking at it on the desk, it is attractive, compact, and oozes premium from every conceivable angle. Oh, and it is MIL-STD 810H rated so it can withstand water, dust, humidity and the like without missing a step.
Additionally, the hinges here are noteworthy. At every angle they feel tight without feeling clunky. The balance on offer when moving from tablet to presentation to clamshell to closed doesn’t go unnoticed, and it is yet another part of the Elite C1030 formula that just works extremely well.
My favorite display layout is still 3:2
All that good just continues as you open the Chromebook up and feast your eyes on all 400 nits of brightness the 3:2 1920×1280 screen provides. At 13.5-inches diagonal, this screen size and aspect ratio is by far my absolute favorite on a Chromebook. The Acer Spin 713 matches this screen size/aspect ratio and between these two devices, I’m 100% sold on this layout. I honestly didn’t miss the extra pixels that the Spin 713 offers too often, but I do wish HP would have gone that route anyway. It’s a bit of a bummer to be outclassed by a Chromebook that costs hundreds of dollars less and a 1080p class screen is pushing the limits of what I expect on a premium laptop.
The version of the Chromebook we tested came with the upgraded anti-glare finish on the screen and while I don’t love anti-glare screens, I was pretty impressed with this one. Like other anti-glare panels, you lose a bit of brightness off-axis, but the colors were still vibrant and the viewing angles were solid. HP was offering a 1000 nit version of this device, but that option has gone away for the time being, so you really have a standard and anti-glare 400 nit screen to choose between at the moment.
The bezels surrounding the screen are also very minimal, helping the Chromebook pull off that impossible-feeling compact design. They even got the bottom bezel down to a reasonable size, too. With convertible hinges taking up valuable real estate on the bottom portion of laptops, this was a nice surprise and makes the device far less ridiculous to look at in tablet mode.
With USI input on board, this display checks most of the boxes you could ask for in a Chromebook and being married to very small bezels all around makes for a very immersive, larger-than-expected viewing experience each time you pull this thing from your bag.
Premium extends to the inputs, too
It’s one thing to have a solid build and screen, but pairing them up with a class-leading keyboard and trackpad simply puts things over the top, here. I won’t beat around the bush on this: the keyboard is perhaps the best I’ve ever typed on and yes, I’m including the oft-doted-upon Pixelbook Go in that statement. The trackpad is equally top-tier and I can confidently say it is the best trackpad I’ve ever used on a Chromebook. It is wide, smooth, and has a perfect click mechanism. There’s literally nothing to fault, here.
My only gripe in this area is the backlighting on the keyboard’s gray keys. Just like other devices, during the day I constantly had to adjust my backlight to allow the symbols on the keys to be legible. Don’t get me wrong: I could always adjust it to work, but I hate having to continually fine-tune my keyboard just to see it. I’m to the point where I’m ready to swear off gray keyboards all around. Dark keys with solid backlighting work so much better in all environments. I know they don’t look as cool, but this is a bit of a frustration where there simply doesn’t need to be one.
As far as general I/O goes, the HP delivers what you’d expect at this point in a thin/light Chromebook. With a USB Type C on either side, one USB Type A, a microSD card slot, Kensington lock, headphone/mic jack, and side-mounted power and volume keys, there’s no shortage of ways to interact with this Chromebook. Sure, I’d love to see a full-sized HDMI port like we’re seeing on other enterprise-focused Chromebooks, but I’m not sure they could have made it fit given the smallness of the frame, here.
Since we’re talking about all the stuff on the outside, we have to mention the B&O branded speakers here, mainly because they’re an expected let down. We’ve had numerous B&O branded speakers on HP Chromebooks at this point and they’ve all been mediocre at best. The problem is, we know speakers can be great in thin, light devices. I still marvel at the sound that emanates from the Pixelbook Go and wrote a portion of this review on said device while enjoying music pumping through those very speakers. HP could have put some money in the speakers and really set themselves apart in the high-end space, but they clearly did not. This pair will get you through a video chat if needed, but little else.
Fun additions and perks
Part of luxury is the perks, right? You can’t have an expensive Chromebook if you don’t get a few perks along the way, and the HP doesn’t disappoint. While the webcam on this Chromebook is a standard 720p shooter, it has a trick up its sleeve that I love seeing: a hardware button for turning off the camera. Nestled on the side right under the volume rocker, this tiny switch is a handy tool that lets you know 100% that you’ve severed your video feed from the rest of the world.
Another great perk is the addition of a keyboard backlight slider right on the top row of keys. With a device like this that requires constant adjustment, I found those keys to be very helpful. The other keyboard addition is the screenshot key that does just what you’d expect when you press it. Add ALT to that key and you’ll quickly pull up Chrome OS’ new screen capture mode and even though there are keyboard shortcuts for this stuff, I did like having the key there for slightly-easier access.
Finally, in the perks department, you have a very fast fingerprint scanner on board, here. While not a new feature by any means, it would have simply felt wrong for HP to skip out on biometrics at this piont and I’m very glad it is there. When available, I really do enjoy fingerprint scanners as the speediest way to log into my Chromebook, and this one works just as advertised.
The speed you need
So far, so good, right? When you consider the excellent build quality, the screen size/resolution, the class-leading keyboard and trackpad, the port selection and the extras this Chromebook offers, it starts becoming a bit easier to see why the price is a bit higher than some others we’ve reviewed. At this point, a Chromebook is much more than just the speed of the processor inside and its all these little things that take a device from utilitarian to elegant. But we still need to hit on the stuff under the hood.
This Chromebook comes in two lanes, one for consumers and one customization version for enterprise. For the single consumer model, we’re looking at the 10th-gen Core i3 processor paired up with 8GB of RAM and 128G of NVMe SSD storage. Everything else on the outside stays the same, from the fingerprint scanner to the screen to the build quality.
The enterprise version can be configured in a few ways, giving users the option of a 10th-gen Core i3, i5 or i7, 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and either 128GB or 256GB of NVMe SSD storage. Again, the outer parts are all the same between models with exception to the screen. Right now, enterprise customers can choose the anti-glare finish on the touchscreen for a fee if they would like.
All models come with the same 50Wh battery that we found gets about 8 hours of real-world use. HP claims that with the right charger, you can get a 90% charge in 90 minutes, so topping up is pretty quick. I found the battery to be a non-issue, but not a class leader. It won’t tucker out too quickly, but it also isn’t going to get you second day stamina, either. Expect a full day’s work out of it and you’ll not be let down.
Now, about the price tag
At this point, we finally have to talk money. You don’t get everything we’ve covered in this review on the cheap, but if you value fit and finish, extra perks, and not having to compromise on the feel and quality of the parts that make up your Chromebook, you see where this is going: it comes at a price. The consumer model starts at $999 and the model we tested with the specs all maxed out (Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, anti-glare screen) comes in at $1561.96 and with LTE on board, it hops up to $1956.36. That’s a lot of money, but most of you would be just fine with the $999 if we’re being honest.
And, at that price, you’d be getting a bunch of features you simply can’t get together in one place with any other Chromebook right now. Sure, the Acer Spin 713 has a better screen and slightly faster processor in the 10th-gen Core i5, but there’s no comparison in the build quality, thinness/lightness, keyboard, trackpad, perks and the overall fit and finish.
The question becomes: what do those things mean to you in terms of value? If you are like me, they mean quite a bit. I love getting a deal just like anyone else, but I also realize that sometimes you simply have to pay for quality if that’s what you are after. Just like the Pixelbook, there are intangibles that this Chromebook possesses that don’t happen by accident or on a budget. They come from better materials, more R&D, and attention to detail. If you are the type of buyer who puts a premium on those types of traits, this could be a great Chromebook for you. If not, don’t worry: there are plenty of options out there for you and plenty more on the way.