There’s no denying the appeal and portability of excellent Chromebooks, but they also limit you in screen size, and let’s face it: they’re too small. Unless you go full workstation and put the laptop on a riser while you use a separate keyboard and mouse, you’re just going to hurt your neck or back hunching over it. It’s not ideal, and if you opt for an external monitor, it won’t be a touchscreen like your laptop’s screen.
HP now offers an excellent solution to this issue, as well as a great overall choice for a quality, no-maintenance family computer in the HP Chromebase 21.5, the first touchscreen Chrome OS desktop all-in-one. While it may not pack the absolute latest processors, the upgraded memory, rotating touchscreen, and solid design of this Chromebase help it stand out — if you can find the proper configuration, that is.
HP’s Chromebase lets you have the best of both Chrome OS worlds: the much larger screen and beefier speakers of a desktop with the touch interaction and easy-to-use interface of a Chromebook. You might not rotate the screen that often, but it’s more useful than you’d imagine, and now that HP is packing enough RAM for you to actually multitask, the HP Chromebase 21.5 will help your family learn, work, play and check the latest trends on Twitter with ease.
- Storage: 64-128GB eMMC, 256GB SSD
- CPU: Intel Core i3-10110U (recommended), Intel Pentium 6405U
- Memory: 4-16GB
- Ports: 2x USB-C 3.1, 2x USB-A 3.2, Audio combo jack
- Camera: 5MP 720p webcam with privacy/mic mute switch
- Display (Size, Resolution): 21.5-inch rotating IPS touchscreen (1920x1080), 16:9 aspect ratio, anti-glare display, 250 nits
- GPU: Intel UHD Graphics
- Auto Update Expiration (AUE): June 2028
- Form: Touchscreen All-in-One
- Network: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5
- Speakers: 5W stereo speakers, B&O Audio
- Board: Dooly
- USI Compatibility: No
- Rotating 21.5-inch 1080p touchscreen
- 8-16GB of RAM for easier multi-tasking
- Two USB-C ports for peripherals/monitors
- Avoid 4GB RAM configurations
- Ports are all on the back and can be hard to reach
Release and availability
Before we get into the rest of our review, it’s important to know a few key things surrounding the HP Chromebase 21.5. The 21.5 initially debuted back in August 2021 with the processor choices of either a Pentium Gold 6405U or a 10th Gen Intel Core i3, but the memory and storage options at the time were rather limited, especially for the $600 base model. HP beefed up these offerings earlier this spring, giving us up to 16GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage while keeping prices reasonable.
These 8-16GB RAM models have been impossible to find outside of HP’s website so far, but they’re the only configurations you should buy, especially if you want this Chromebase to still be a viable, smooth-running machine from now until June 2029. Both Best Buy and Amazon still only sell last fall’s Pentium 4GB/64GB model, and 4GB RAM on a Chrome OS device in 2022 will run just okay for now, but will likely struggle in a year or two.
The main event, the rotating touchscreen, moves easily with just a single finger, and touch response is great whichever orientation the screen is in. As this is a 16:9 screen, flipping it to 9:16 can feel almost ridiculously tall to some users. Ideally, it’d be great for watching TikTok videos or Instagram stories on a larger screen, but TikTok installs a PWA on Chromebooks rather than the Android app and Insta won’t let you resize the window. Well, at least you can watch those vertical videos you took on vacation in full glory?
If you tend to keep things directly under the monitor, be warned you'll be moving them out of the way whenever you rotate the screen, as you have less than an inch of clearance when the screen is the closest to the desk. I'd rotate, hit my cable bundle, then have to move that out of the way and finish the rotation. It's not a huge problem, but it is something to be aware of if your family's computer workstation is a perpetually cluttered mess. (Hey, I'm not judging; mine is too when I'm not photographing it for work.)
Split screening two windows vertically offers a much more interesting setup option when using the HP Chromebase 21.5, but it works best as a secondary monitor while using a traditional landscape monitor as your primary screen. Speaking of, the 10th Gen Intel Core i3 inside the Chromebase had no problems running two screens with multiple windows on each, and it made me wish my Dell UltraSharp 27 USB-C Hub Monitor was a touchscreen as I swiped through feeds and tapped around in Android apps and questionnaires.
Reaching up to tap the touchscreen felt perfectly normal to me, but I recognize that it may feel awkward for those of you who are used to the traditional mouse/keyboard experience on a desktop. I’ve moved my Chromebase onto a plastic placemat so that I can move it closer to tap when I know I’m going to be using the touchscreen a lot, and then slide it back when I don’t need it immediately in my face.
Design, hardware, and what’s in the box
While you could technically just use the touchscreen and on-screen keyboard until you get your own, HP thoughtfully ships a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse in the box with the Chromebase 21.5. Both are easy to pair with the unit and work adequately, though I still prefer my wired Kensington Orbit trackball mouse and mechanical keyboard most of the time. Also, atop the touchscreen, we also have a privacy shutter than also has an extra step it can take to mute your mic as well as block your camera.
The power supply for the HP Chromebase is a traditional barrel plug that goes dead center underneath the base. That keeps the cable from being jostled or dislodged, but the tight channel it slots into can make it hard to insert by yourself unless you have a well-padded place to gently set the Chromebase down on its side. Sturdy as the connection between touchscreen and base is, I never felt comfortable with that and thus would hold the Chromebase at an angle with one hand while the other fumbled to get the plug in.
The conical base of the HP Chromebase 21.5 is wrapped in an unassuming heather gray, acoustically transparent fabric to conceal not only the computer’s components but Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers. A volume rocker sits on the right side of the cone while the power button and all ports (except for the power cable) are on the back of the base in a vertical line, out of sight and out of mind while you’re using the desktop.
While this does present a much cleaner look, I do wish at least one USB-A port was on the front for plugging in flash drives or other peripherals for quick use, especially given that the Chromebase 21.5 only has two USB-A ports and two USB-C ports. Don’t get me wrong, these days it’s easy enough to expand with a USB-C hub or docking station — or to stick in a USB-C hub and snake it around for easy-to-reach ports — but it would’ve been nice to see at least one up front.
Performance and software
Chrome OS gets a bad rap at times, but it’s the right operating system for plenty of people. Its stability and security make it an ideal family computer, even for less tech-savvy folks. For normal users, the only things you will install are Google Chrome Extensions and Google Play apps, be they Android apps or Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). This means that your kids can’t install random programs that corrupt the core system or load you down with malware, but you can still get the tools you need to get your work, homework, or personal projects done.
Chrome OS is used in a growing number of schools, and the HP Chromebase 21.5 allows your children to use a system they’re already familiar with. You get the chance to familiarize yourself with Chrome OS in case your kids need help with it once they’re issued their own Chromebooks from the school district. And if you or your memory-challenged mother need help to find a feature or how to do something, simply press Ctrl + Shift + / in order to bring up the Explore app with a full guide to using Chrome OS.
The HP Chromebase 21.5 will receive automatic, self-installing monthly Chrome OS updates until June 2028, ensuring that any exploits discovered by Google researchers or through Google’s Bug Hunters bounty program are patched. Like Google’s Pixel phones, each Chrome OS update tends to bring a new feature or two with it, adding more and more functionality and expanding integration between your Chromebase and your other devices.
Chrome OS ran smoothly here — with 16GB of RAM, that’s no surprise — and the only performance issues I ever encountered were some small graphical hangs in the Android version Stardew Valley, but those only reared their heads after six hours or so of nonstop gameplay. (Don’t look at me like you’ve never played six hours of Halo or Elden Ring!) Being able to tap and swipe through Android apps makes the HP Chromebase 21.5 a much smoother device when dealing with Android apps, and with up to 16GB of RAM and up to 256GB of SSD storage, this machine should handle Linux quite well, too.
Chrome OS seamlessly swaps between horizontal and vertical modes, but after years of Chrome OS tablets and convertibles, we’d expect nothing less. The Chrome OS keyboard shortcuts for docking apps left/right translate respectively to top/bottom and webpages adapt just as easily as if you were simply resizing a window with the mouse.
Should you buy it?
As long as you don’t need a portable computer, yes. While it’s hard to deny the portability of a Chromebook, having a desktop option is a boon for those seeking larger-screen devices in a more refined form than the tediously clunky Acer Chromebook 317 or the non-touch experience offered by hard-to-find and often-overpriced Chromeboxes from ASUS, Acer, and others. With solid fundamentals and the tools for the best Android app experience on Chrome OS, the HP Chromebase 21.5 more than makes its argument as a compelling family computer.
Do I wish it came in a color other than Snowflake White? Yes, but this desktop will look great in bedrooms, home offices, and family rooms while offering a seamless computing experience for users young or old. While this may currently be the only touchscreen all-in-one Chrome OS desktop, we hope the HP Chromebase 21.5 is only the beginning of a new section of the Chrome market.
Q: How does the HP Chromebase 21.5 compare to current Chromeboxes?
While this is the first Chrome OS all-in-one in years, Chrome OS mini-desktop computers have been chilling in the background of the Chrome market for years and years. The ASUS Chromebox 4 and HP Chromebox G3 both offer similar power, but both have less storage and don't come with a monitor, so you'd only save money if you already have a high-quality monitor to plug them into. Like the HP Chromebase, locating the configurations of these Chromeboxes that have Intel Core processors rather than underpowered Celerons can be a challenge, though they both offer more ports for your peripherals to plug into.
I have both the ASUS Chromebox 4 and the Chromebase, and while both have similar power, the Chromebase is a much more polished experience, and it also looks worlds better in a common room of your house. Some Chromeboxes are also technically upgradeable, but finding components that will work with them is far more of a hassle than it's worth. Buy a model with the RAM and storage you need already installed; it's cheaper in the long run and will save you headaches or voided warranties.
Q: Should I get the HP Chromebase 21.5 or a larger-screen Chromebook?
As mentioned earlier, there are large-screen Chromebooks like the Acer Chromebook 317 these days if you want a big screen but don't want to be chained to a desk — though really, any Chromebook over 14 inches is usually too heavy to really call portable. Whether you should go desktop or laptop boils down to a few questions:
- How often would you need to actually move the computer around your house? While portability is great in theory, for most of us — especially in the age of work from home — our Chromebook has a designated desk/workstation/dining room table it plops down in and doesn't move for weeks if not months at a time. If you lift your current laptop from its position and have a dust void where it sat, you're probably better off buying a desktop for the larger and better-elevated screen.
- How many peripherals do you use daily? These days most Chromebooks only come with one or two USB-A ports for peripherals — even the Chrombase only comes with two — so if you need to plug in a proper mic, webcam, an adapter for your wireless mouse/keyboard combo, or anything extra like external drives or card readers, your laptop is going to get crowded quickly. While USB-C hubs are plentiful, they'll eat up the same around your laptop's already large footprint, and you'll have to plug unplug every time you set the laptop down to work. The desktop form factor with all ports on the back of the machine allows for a much cleaner and more organized look, even if you need a hub or an extra monitor for that dual-screen productivity. Speaking of...
- Are you going to use it with a second monitor? While two or three-screen computer setups used to be relegated to hardcore gamers and stock traders, they're becoming quite normal these days. If you often need a second monitor to get your work spread out and done efficiently, you might as well go with a desktop's larger screen for your primary. I use a Dell UltraSharp 27 4K USB-C Hub Monitor with my Chromebase — well, with all my Chromebooks, really — because it allows me to consolidate to one cable to the Chromebase while all my peripherals are plugged into the monitor and their cables corralled neatly.
If you tend towards more mobility and fewer accessories, you might be better off with the Acer 317 or the ASUS Chromebook Flip C536, but if you already have a significant setup, the HP Chromebase 21.5 will fit your life more comfortably.