Always-connected Windows laptops show promise but still need work

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Laptops with integrated cellular connections are about to become real for consumers this year, after years of being available only to commercial customers. One of the biggest impulses for these connected PCs is Qualcomm, which has promoted its Snapdragon platform as the future of portable mobile computing. Windows-based computers in Snapdragon, which run on Qualcomm smart phone processors and modems, are finally making their way to store shelves this spring.
The Windows platform on Snapdragon does more than just provide an integrated cellular modem that frees you from having to rely on Wi-Fi. It is a complete change in the central structure of Windows that allows it to run on processors originally designed for smartphones. In addition to this important architectural change, there are a number of benefits apart from the integrated connectivity, which includes the instant resumption of the suspension, significantly longer battery life and silent, cool machines. Basically, the new platform makes laptops work in the same way that we're used to smart phones working: instantaneously, silently and efficiently.
Microsoft tried and failed on this idea before
Of course, this idea has been tried before, and Microsoft has some significant flaws (* cough * Windows RT * cough *) in its history that promised many of the same things. Qualcomm and Microsoft argue that this time things will be different, since the processors are much more powerful and Windows in Snapdragon is not limited to a handful of applications.
To get an idea of ​​how this new platform works and how it is different from the standard version of Windows 10 that is already available on hundreds of millions of devices, I have been using one of the first Windows machines on Snapdragon to arrive: the Asus & # 39; NovaGo convertible. Asus plans to sell NovaGo in the US UU As of May 1 for $ 599, it includes 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage.
The model that I have been using will not be sold in the USA. UU And it has more RAM and storage than we can buy, so this is not a review of the device itself, but rather a look at how the platform will run on various devices from HP, Lenovo and others. (TL; DR on the machine: it's a clunker of a convertible, with an outdated design, no USB-C ports, and everything mediocre, basically, what you would expect from a $ 600 laptop.) I've been using the NovaGo it's my main computer to see how my daily workflow can be maintained, what applications I can install and use on it, and how well those demands on battery life are maintained. While the experience was not as bad as Windows RT or other previous efforts, it still has not sold me on the platform.

The first thing that drew my attention to the use of the Always Connected PC was how little it was different from Windows 10 in any other laptop or computer that I used. The interface is the same; performance when changing virtual desktops, scrolling through applications, using gestures on the touchpad and interacting with the touch screen are also the same. Fluid animations are certainly not a given, especially since this computer is running a small smart phone chip, but I am pleased to report that they work as well here as on any other Windows laptop I have used.
Most modern applications, especially those downloaded from the Microsoft store or preinstalled on the machine, opened quickly, with little discernible difference between how they work on Intel-based computers. However, other applications were much slower on Snapdragon's computer, which led to a frustrating experience (more on application stuff at one time).
Since the processor of this computer is the same Snapdragon 835 chip found on countless Android smartphones last year, there are no fans needed. The NovaGo is a silent and dead machine, however, it remains cold under load.

As I recently discovered with Microsoft's Surface Pro LTE, having an LTE connection always available on my computer is fantastic. I do not need to trust the incomplete public Wi-Fi, nor do I need to bother with the connection of my smartphone to get online. I tried the NovaGo with the T-Mobile service and it worked similarly to the T-Mobile smartphones in my area. Also, when the lid is closed and the laptop is in standby mode, it still maintains its connection to receive emails and other updates, just like a smartphone. I want this on every computer I use, even if I have to get up and running for an unlimited data plan to use it.

Resuming the Windows dream on Snapdragon PC is similar to waking up a smartphone: simply press the power button, and it's ready to go. A cold start takes a similar amount of time to an Intel computer, but I never felt the need to turn off the computer completely, so I rarely encountered that.
Qualcomm has a huge battery of these Windows computers in Snapdragon, and this particular model lasts a long time between charges. It is not close to the 20 or 24 hours that Qualcomm claims, but in my use in the real world, I am averaging around 11 or 12 hours per load. That's much better than I normally see in a lightweight, portable ultrabook, and significantly longer than the six or seven hours I've been on Surface Pro LTE.

It is possible to download and install the Chrome browser on Snapdragon PCs (assuming you change the Windows 10 S mode not included in Windows 10 Pro, as was done on this computer), but you probably do not want to. The performance in Chrome is pretty bad, with slow loading times, intermittent scrolling and slow transfers between tabs. You will have much better time to stay with Microsoft's Edge browser, but that brings its own problems, namely, the poor compatibility with certain websites and the tendency to feel overwhelmed after a few hours of use, which require a restart of the browser .
Chrome's problems extend to web wrap or electron-based applications, such as Slack, which have abysmal and frustrating performance. I ended up using Slack in a tab inside the Edge browser, which performed much better than the Slack application downloaded from the Microsoft store.

Windows on Snapdragon is a 32-bit platform, which means that any 64-bit application (x64, in the Microsoft language) can not be installed or run on it. As a result, many more recent tools and utilities simply can not be used in this system, and I quickly ran into problems when my favorite Twitter application and the screen capture tool required x64 support, even though they are listed in the Microsoft store. . Your mileage may vary, but since x64 has been around for several years, it is very likely that an application or utility you trust now will not work on the Snapdragon PC, and you will have to find an alternative or look for a version of the 32-bit tool. bits. (I could find an alternative screen capture tool quite easily, but suffering through the official Twitter application for Windows has been horrible).
And 32-bit support does not guarantee that all applications will work either. I was able to install an email client, but it was blocked every time I tried to configure it with my email accounts, leaving it unusable. The Windows mail application itself behaved strangely: it took three attempts to add and delete my Google accounts before it allowed the basic file. (This is despite the fact that Qualcomm and Microsoft assure me that the application is compiled from the same source as in machines with Intel technology).
I downloaded and ran Adobe Photoshop to laugh; It works as you would expect: slowly. The limitation of x64 applications means that virtually any modern game will not be installed on this computer, and that it would not work very well on this hardware if it is installed.

In general, while there were some advantages to using Windows on the Snapdragon computer (extended battery life, silent design and integrated connectivity), I could not wait to reuse any of the other Intel PCs I'm used to. . Between the compatibility problems of the application and the general feeling that I was always pushing the machine to the edge and barely holding, using NovaGo as my main work computer has not been a very pleasant experience. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the use of a low-end Chromebook.
This platform could work for more casual users who can live with the Edge browser and not depend on many third-party applications or utilities. But if you are a heavy user looking for the holy grail of an always connected computer that can last well beyond a business day away from a store, Windows on Snapdragon is probably not your answer. Most likely we will see more PCs connected and soon, but it is likely that the best are powered by Intel processors, not the same chip that is in your phone.


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