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Don’t tell anyone, but compact Chromebooks may be making a comeback. Not long ago, we were pleasantly surprised by the 11.6-inch Lenovo Chromebook C340-11, which defied the move to bigger, higher-resolution screens with a cute convertible design. Now HP has rolled out the Chromebook x360 12b ($359.99), a convertible with a 12-inch touch screen with a slightly squarer 3:2 aspect ratio. It’s an appealingly versatile and portable productivity companion, though its Celeron processor is no barn-burner and it’s kind of pricey ($90 more than the Lenovo C340-11, which has the same CPU and twice the storage). That’s probably why HP.com had it on sale for $50 off as I finished this review.

A Little Less Scrolling

In addition to the dual-core, 1.1GHz (2.6GHz turbo) Celeron N4000 chip with Intel UHD 600 integrated graphics, the Chromebook x360 12b offers 4GB of memory and 32GB of eMMC flash storage, expandable via a microSD card slot (or the 100GB of cloud storage included with the bundled one-year subscription to Google One). Overseas models are available with a quad-core Pentium Silver processor and 64GB of flash, but U.S. shoppers won’t get anything fancier than my test unit.

Compared to the usual 16:9 aspect ratio, the display’s 3:2 ratio yields what HP calls a 20 percent larger vertical view for perusing web or word processing pages. It also means the screen is less narrow and more like a pad of paper when the device is held in portrait orientation in tablet mode. Coupled with thin black bezels (not as slim as some Windows notebooks’, but definitely slender by Chromebook standards), it makes the 1,366-by-912-pixel screen attractive at first glance.

The Chromebook x360 12b combines an aluminum keyboard deck with a plastic bottom and lid. The case and keys have a handsome ceramic white finish, so the keys contrast with the silver deck nicely; a chrome strip around the touchpad and a speaker grille above the keyboard add flair. The system measures 0.68 by 10.7 by 8.5 inches and sneaks under the three-pound line at 2.98 pounds, making it just as easy to toss into a briefcase as the Lenovo Chromebook C340-11 (0.7 by 11.4 by 8.2 inches, 2.65 pounds) and a tad easier than the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 (0.82 by 11.7 by 8.1 inches, 3.09 pounds).

HP Chromebook x360 12b-03

There’s a USB 3.1 Type-C port on either side, so you can plug in the shirt-pocket-sized AC adapter from either the left or right. The convertible’s left edge also has the microSD card slot, an audio jack, and the power button. The USB-C port on the right side is joined by a USB 3.1 Type-A port, a security lock slot, and a volume rocker for use in tablet mode. Like most Chromebooks, the HP requires a USB-C DisplayPort or HDMI adapter rather than supplying an HDMI port for an external monitor.

HP Chromebook x360 12b-10

HP Chromebook x360 12b-09

Just Your Type

There’s no wasted space (or any space) on either side of the keyboard, but stretching to the edges of the chassis keeps it full-sized—the A through apostrophe keys span the regulation 8 inches. It follows the familiar Chromebook layout, with a search/menu key instead of Caps Lock and browser and system control keys along the top, but it happily breaks with HP tradition by putting the cursor arrow keys in the proper inverted T instead of a clumsy row.

HP Chromebook x360 12b-02

The typing feel is shallow but snappy, with good feedback and a quietly clicky sound. The buttonless touchpad glides and taps smoothly and clicks firmly (as with all Chromebooks, a two-finger tap is required to right-click).

The glossy screen is dim (HP rates it at 235 nits; we consider 300 a minimum and 400 desirable), so white backgrounds look dingy. Colors are muddy and contrast is flat. Fine details are reasonably sharp, though resolution is modest. (The Settings/Device/Displays menu lets you alter the native 1,366 by 912 pixel count to faux resolutions ranging from 911 by 608 pixels to 1,518 by 1,013.) The display doesn’t look too pixelated.

HP Chromebook x360 12b-06

The display wobbles when tapped in laptop mode but there’s little flex if you mash the keyboard or grasp the screen corners. For playing with Chrome Canvas in tablet mode, HP sent its latest pen ($59.99), which clings magnetically to the system’s left side and meets the new Universal Stylus Initiative protocol that lets the same stylus work with various compatible devices (your Chromebook and your smartphone, say). The USB-C rechargable pen doesn’t offer pressure sensitivity, but it kept up nicely with my fastest swoops and scribbles, with perfect palm rejection when I rested the edge of my hand on the screen.

HP Chromebook x360 12b-05

The 720p webcam captures fairly crisp and well-lit if somewhat noisy images. The Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers above the keyboard pump out reasonably loud and clear audio, perhaps a bit hollow or buzzy at high volume; overlapping tracks are decently defined, though highs and bass are drowned out by strong midtones.

Chromebook Performance Comparisons

The HP played Android games and streamed YouTube videos smoothly, but it wasn’t difficult to find its limits—opening too many browser tabs or multiple videos produced some sluggishness and stuttering. Everyday operations, however, were perfectly fine.

For our objective performance benchmarks, I compared the Chromebook x360 12b to four other consumer Chromebooks using Principled Technologies’ CrXPRT (a suite of simulated Chrome OS productivity apps) and more recent WebXPRT 3 (a browser-based test of HTML and JavaScript throughput). Besides the Lenovo Chromebook C340-11, a similarly sized convertible with the same Celeron N4000 CPU, there are the Acer Chromebook 315 and HP Chromebook 14, which share a dual-core AMD A4-9120C processor, and the more expensive Google Pixelbook Go hybrid, which has a dual-core, low-wattage Intel Core i5-8200Y.

HP Chromebook x360 12b (CrXPRT)

HP Chromebook x360 12b (WebXPRT 3)

In both of these tests, the x360 12b edged the two AMD-powered Chromebooks, went toe to toe with the similarly equipped Lenovo, and trailed the Pixelbook Go and its superior Core i5 processor—in other words, performed just as you’d expect.

JetStream 2 is another performance test that combines 64 JavaScript and WebAssembly benchmarks to measure a browser’s (in this case, the default Chrome’s) suitability for advanced web applications.

HP Chromebook x360 12b (JetStream 2)

Second verse, same as the first: The HP convertible topped the Acer and HP clamshells, more or less tied the Lenovo 2-in-1, and lost badly to the Google machine. It also scored 7,763 points in the PCMark for Android Work 2.0 benchmark, narrowly beating the Lenovo C340-11 (7,673) and falling behind the Pixelbook Go (10,281).

Finally, to test a Chromebook’s battery life, we loop a locally stored video with screen brightness set at 50 percent, audio volume set at 100 percent, and Wi-Fi disabled until the laptop quits.

HP Chromebook x360 12b (Battery)

The Chromebook x360 12b took a strong second place in this event, showing enough stamina to get through a work or school day plus an hour or three of gaming or streaming video (though I’d sacrifice some of its runtime for extra screen brightness).

Elegant But Underpowered

As you know, Chromebooks don’t need nearly the CPU, memory, or storage resources of Windows laptops, but I find myself wishing the HP Chromebook x360 12b had a little more gumption—perhaps the quad-core processor offered in overseas markets—and a shinier screen to make it a more than merely adequate performer.

HP Chromebook x360 12b-08

It’s perfectly usable, but it deserves to be more when you consider its classy design and convertible flexibility. Hence, I suspect, HP’s price cut—an obvious way to help more people appreciate this neat little laptop.

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