HP Stream 11 review: This £179 budget Windows laptop has lots to offer

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HP has taken the budget Windows laptop sector by storm with the Stream 11, a compact 11.6-inch laptop that’s priced to sell for just £179. Despite being advertised over last Christmas, the slow boat from China missed the present season and has only just arrived with its consignment of the cheapest Windows laptops to land on Blighty’s shores. How on earth did HP hit this low price point, and what sacrifices did it have to make to keep the price down?

The principal economy is made not at our expense, but through HP accepting Microsoft’s gift of a free version of Windows 8.1. That knocks off the traditional Windows tax that the manufacturer pays to Microsoft, with the cost then passed to the customer. See all laptop reviews.

The Stream 11 has Windows 8.1 with Bing already installed, which requires the hardware maker only to agree not to switch the default internet search engine away from Microsoft’s Bing service, before the product is packed and shipped. Most PC makers otherwise accept sponsorship deals from Google or Yahoo to change the default search engine, in a bid to claw back some profit above the thin margins the Windows PC industry has let itself work with.

Sounds simple, but it’s Microsoft’s way to encourage Windows users to try its own search engine, thereby diverting valuable personal user data and commercial advertising revenue back to Microsoft. And in the process it makes a small step in reducing Google’s monopoly in the search and data-mining market.

This doesn’t mean the Stream 11 is free of crapware though. HP is still using its laptop as a platform to sell you other services, such as its own Snapfish photo printing service, while also accepting kickbacks from TripAdvisor, Amazon, Dropbox, Netflix and McAfee, whose software and web shortcuts litter the desktop and programs folder. Also see: Best laptops 2015.

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