Asus's long-awaited ARM-powered laptop finally went on sale in the UK on Oct. 19, promising around 22 hours of battery life with an always-on LTE mobile connection. The NovaGo comes bundled with a 24GB data sim, so buyers can start using it straight away, though they'll need to make their own arrangements for long-term use.
The NovaGo's long battery life -- which could last you two or even three days -- comes from using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 Mobile PC platform instead of an Intel processor. The NovaGo also has Wi-Fi, of course, but Qualcomm's Vikrant Jain said NovaGo's built-in X16 LTE connection was "much better than the experience of Wi-Fi at most places". It's also more secure.
Microsoft first tried Windows-on-ARM way in 2012 with the launch of the Surface RT. While users loved the device, there were not many of them, and it was a spectacular billion-dollar failure.
However, things have changed since then. ARM chips have got faster, LTE mobile connections are much faster, Windows 10 has more smartphone-style apps, and the new machines have a just-in-time emulation system that -- unlike the Surface RT -- runs traditional Windows programs.
Unfortunately, these "Always Connected Devices" have been slow to reach the market.
It's almost a year since Microsoft announced the first two: the Asus NovaGo and an HP Envy x2. Systems have been shown at CES -- including Lenovo's entry, the Miix 630 -- and other trade shows since then. But also since then, Qualcomm has launched the Snapdragon 845 and 850 processors, while ARM has promised a 35-percent increase in single-core performance with the new Cortex A-76 design -- used in the forthcoming Snapdragon 855 Fusion -- which should appear in devices next summer.
The Snapdragon 835 sounded quite exciting in January 2017. Today, it doesn't.
HP's Envy x2 at least made it to the UK market in the spring, though you could be forgiven for not noticing. The £999 price tag put it out of contention for most users, even though that included a detachable keyboard and Active Pen. The price has now come down to £849, but you can get a much faster Intel laptop for that sort of money. (The Miix 630 is still listed as "coming soon" in the UK, but it's $899.99 in the USA.)
The Asus NovaGo TP370 differs from the HP and Lenovo models in that it isn't a detachable 2-in-1 but a 13.3in touch-screen laptop with a 360-degree hinge. This also means it's not particularly light at 1.39kg. And while it's cheaper than HP's Envy x2, the NovaGo still costs £699, which is getting into Zenbook territory.
You could buy a faster Intel laptop for around half the price, so you're paying a hefty premium for the LTE connection and long battery life.
You could, of course, argue that people pay £699 or more for smartphones, but that's not quite how it works. Most of the phones that used the Snapdragon 835 -- such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2 -- are old news, and you can now get the same processor in a Nokia 8 smartphone for £259.99.
Of course, most unfairly, this overlooks the NovaGo's other features including the large screen, 6GB of memory, 128GB of storage and two USB-A 3.1 ports.
Apart from the price, there are also doubts about the efficiency of the Win32 emulation on the Snapdragon 835. Not having tried it, I went to Asus UK's press conference to get a hands-on. Unfortunately, Asus was running systems in Windows 10S mode (upgradeable to Pro), with only Microsoft Office and Windows Store apps loaded. We weren't given the chance to try, for example, Adobe Photoshop or even Google Chrome.
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In theory, I like the idea of ARM-based Windows 10 laptops, and in theory, Windows 10S laptops can compete with Chromebooks. In reality, the people who want a laptop want at least the same power as an Intel laptop for the same money, and people who want Chromebooks want them at around the same price as Intel Chromebooks. What nobody wants is ARM Chromebook power for an Intel laptop price, which is what Snapdragon 835 machines seem to offer at the moment.
The NovaGo TP370 would be much more attractive at double the power or half the price, preferably both. That's not inconceivable, but it may take a while.
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