Chromebooks have come a long way, since I first reviewed a CTL J4 Plus and a Chromebit stick back in 2016. Nearly all now offer the capability of running Android apps, and some can run Linux apps too. Many have native support for the Apple Magic Trackpad 2 (thanks Robby Payne), USB-C charging and interconnectivity. Some of those support a particular mode called USB-C feature called DisplayPort Alt mode, which is necessary for it to work with a bus-powered external display like the one I recently reviewed from HP. Today, I am going to review the under US$300 HP Chromebook 14 IPS matte 2018 with 1080p display and USB-C (model 14-ca040nr), and why I wished at had a couple of features available in a new, unique CTL Chromebook model that I’ll cover briefly too.
Matte, not touch
If you have read my articles before, you know that given the choice of a laptop having a touch screen together with a mirror reflection, or a high-quality IPS matte (“anti-glare”), I’ll always pick the latter. So far, technology that tries to combine color, matte and touch screen haven’t worked well.
So the under US$300 HP Chromebook 14 IPS I’m reviewing is matte, IPS 1080p I am using for the focus of this article has a 14” high-quality IPS matte display at 1920×1080. For those unfamiliar, IPS (in addition to standing for in-plane switching), the benefit is that it has good off-axis performance, so you can see it very well from the angles.
Trackpad support, internal and external
The internal trackpad in the under US$300 HP Chromebook 14 IPS matte 2018 with 1080p display and USB-C (model 14-ca040nr) is definitely good. However, it’s not nearly as good in the original external Apple Magic Trackpad or its successor, the Apple Magic Trackpad 2 (Amazon — B&H).
Although the original external Apple Magic Trackpad has worked with Chromebooks at least since 2016, when I first published 2 Chromebooks reviewed: CTL J4 Plus laptop & Chromebit stick back in 2016 (illustrated above) without any special driver, the case with the newer Apple Magic Trackpad 2 is different.
As covered in detail and demonstrated by Robby Payne of Chromebook Unboxed in the above video, Google ChromeOS has only recently added native support to the Apple Magic Trackpad 2 model. Apparently, Google did that after previously adding it to its own contributions to the Linux Kernel in version 3.20. Using the Apple Magic Trackpad 2 on Windows requires purchasing a paid third party driver. To date, I still have the original Magic Trackpad.
The Magic Trackpad 2 (Amazon — B&H) is similar to its predecessor, with the key differences being a larger form factor, rechargeable lithium-ion battery and Force Touch. The trackpad also provides haptic feedback via Apple’s built-in Taptic Engine that is the same in recent MacBook trackpads. I suspect that the Force Touch and Taptic Engine are the two details that require the special driver, while the original Magic Trackpad has a physical click mechanism, and therefore just worked, since the operating systems just thought it was a mouse.
Even if you prefer to have a touchscreen, support for the trackpad is still essential for pointing to many apps or web pages you may want to use on an external monitor.
USB-C feature called DisplayPort Alt mode and other i/o
Even though not listed in the specs, the HP Chromebook 14 IPS matte 2018 with 1080p display and USB-C (model 14-ca040nr) evidently does support the USB-C feature called DisplayPort Alt mode, since when I plugged the HP EliteDisplay S14 (see HP EliteDisplay S14 bus-powered portable monitor review), it worked instantly.
In addition to having two USB-C ports (one on each side), it also has two USB 3.1 type A (one on each side), an SD media slot and a TRRS 3.5 mm jack for an analog headset with microphone. The same jack also accepts stereo TRS headphones. See TS/TRS/TRRS/TRRRS: Combating the misconnection epidemic.
Audio by B&O PLAY (Bang & Olufsen) audio speakers
They do not sound like a high-end stereo system. However, they sound much better than you would expect from a sub US$300 laptop, and similar to the sound on my MacBook Air 11” which cost around US$1600 back in the day.
Two things I wish it had
There are two features I wish the under US$300 HP Chromebook 14 IPS matte 2018 with 1080p display and USB-C (model 14-ca040nr) as offered in the US. One of the two features is something that CTL has been offering since 2016, and the other is now in a single new model:
Spanish ISO keyboard in the US
At least since 2016, CTL has offered the option of a Spanish ISO keyboard in the US. HP does with its ZBook Studio, but not with any Chromebook in the US as of publishing time of this article. This despite these indisputable facts:
- Castilian (commonly but inaccurately called “Spanish”, since there are 5 different official Spanish languages —not dialects, protected by the Spanish Constitution of 1978, and they are all Spanish languages, each with its own distinct name) is the second language in the United States.
- By population, the United States is the number 2 country among Castilian-speakers worldwide. The United States outnumbers all other Castilian-language countries except México, which is the number 1 in Castilian speakers.
- The Spanish ISO keyboard is the most universal of all that use the Latin or Roman alphabet, and since it is QWERTY, there is a 30-second learning curve for prior users of the US keyboard. Of all of the keyboards made for the Latin/Roman alphabet, the Spanish ISO is the only one made for direct access to so many languages directly, let alone facilitating proper writing of client’s names which use accent marks or other diacritical marks on the first or last name.
In fact, I cannot even find anything close to this HP Chromebook 14 IPS matte 2018 with 1080p display and USB-C (model 14-ca040nr) in Amazon.es (Spain) or Amazon.com.mx (México). So what can a Spanish ISO keyboard lover do? For external use, choose the Logitech Wireless Bluetooth Solar Keyboard K760.
For internal use, use these stickers to remap the US keyboard of this US HP Chromebook to the Spanish ISO keymap, until HP starts to offer this model with a Spanish ISO keyboard, or until CTL starts to offer a 14” matte IPS 1080p Chromebook, whichever happens first.
CTL Chromebook NL7 LTE
The new CTL Chromebook NL7 LTE has built-in data from Sprint. As of publication time of this article, CTL has not yet responded as to whether this model is unlocked, i.e. to bring your own data-SIM card from Google Fi (save US$20 with this link) or locked to Sprint only. The CTL Chromebook NL7 LTE is 11.6” IPS. CTL has not yet responded as to whether it is touch or matte. I’ll update this article whenever CTL responds.
See related articles and ebooks
- Chromebook/ChromeOS audio production: a maturing platform
- Google Fi now officially supports iPhone + more Androids than before
- Chromebooks for bilingual writers (in English)
- Chromebooks para escritores bilingües (en castellano)
- Chromebooks pour écrivains bilingues (en français)
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