"So you're the type of woman who takes your work everywhere with you?" my cab driver asked Sunday when I pulled out the ASUS NovaGo and started writing this very intro. Usually, I don't. But in the past few weeks, I've had to work nonstop, and the only hope I had at securing a good night's rest is chipping away at stuff while I'm out and about. That's made a portable, constantly connected and long-lasting laptop absolutely necessary. Microsoft promises just that with its 'always-connected PCs' -- notebooks that offer long-lasting batteries, are constantly connected to the internet and wake up as quickly as a smartphone.
Gallery: ASUS NovaGo | 14 Photos
Gallery: ASUS NovaGo | 14 Photos
And there I was, writing this from the back of a cab on the NovaGo, which is the first Snapdragon-powered "always-connected PC" available. Honestly, I marveled at the fact that I could edit the same document I was working on at home awhile ago without first having to painstakingly set up my phone as a hotspot. Plus, I didn't have to sap my phone's battery to keep editing my Google Doc while monitoring my usual slew of tabs and apps like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack and Telegram.
Later, I moved locations to the lobby of my building, after snapping the laptop shut and getting out of the car. I opened up the notebook again, and the lock screen appeared slightly more quickly than on my usual on-the-go workhorses (the 12-inch MacBook or the Huawei MateBook X). Signing in and loading up my open apps was swift, too. That's one of the promises of these Snapdragon-equipped PCs -- they're "always on" so you don't have to wait around for the device to wake up before getting to work. While this did seem to work during my time with the NovaGo, I have to say it isn't dramatically different from a regular laptop -- it's about half a second faster than my MacBook and around a second faster than my MateBook.
So far this has been working out as I'd anticipated, although I'd like a shorter time for the device to wake from sleep. But I'm OK waiting a second for the immense benefit of already being connected. My review unit has a T-Mobile SIM in it, and I got decent coverage almost everywhere I've been, even holding three to four bars in the Holland Tunnel as I wrote this sentence.
I'm going to thank both T-Mobile and Qualcomm for this. The latter because it supplies the Snapdragon 835 chipset that powers the NovaGo, along with most of the first gigabit LTE phones. That CPU contains the X16 LTE radio that allows these reliable, fast transfer speeds of 75 Mbps down (as detected by Speedtest). It took a little longer to load Engadget's YouTube page than I'm used to on my WiFi connection, but the videos I picked started playing in hardly any time at all (a second or less). Pictures my friend sent over WhatsApp Web also loaded as quickly as they normally do on my phone or over my home WiFi, and the grainy selfies I took with the laptop's webcam sent almost immediately.
Just as important, the Snapdragon 835 has held up pretty well, performance-wise. Running Windows on an ARM-based chipset seems potentially problematic, but so far I've had no issue installing and running most of my favorite apps. This is a Windows 10 experience that's almost identical to my other PCs, save a couple minuscule differences. To be fair, I haven't pushed the NovaGo very hard -- I've been mostly using this for my usual on-the-go workflow, which consists of two windows full of tabs like Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Slack, and WhatsApp. If I were using this like my desktop-replacement laptop, there'd be a lot more Netflixing and shopping going on.
The NovaGo occasionally stuttered, especially when the Slack app is running, but I have similar issues with my Intel Core i5/7-powered PCs too. That's probably because Slack is awful. I was also able to multitask smoothly while talking on a group video Hangout with my editor and colleagues. I still don't know if this laptop will be able to manage Photoshop or other intensive apps -- that'll have to wait till I can test it more comprehensively for a full review.
You could get a somewhat similar experience with any old notebook and a cellular dongle. Of course, those setups require extra moving parts and didn't offer speeds as fast as this promises. The software appears better integrated here, too. Going from WiFi to a cellular connection brought up an alert saying, "This PC is on a metered network," warning me to pause background syncs to save data. When I switched over to a WiFi network in my office, the laptop struggled a little with the shift in connection. Some of my tabs went offline for a few seconds before coming back on again. That's a minor hiccup, though. For the most part, changing between WiFi and LTE is seamless.
By now, I've spent close to 48 hours with the NovaGo (and have taken way more cab rides than I should, really). In that time, the battery has been chugging along just fine. It's supposed to last up to 20 hours, which is a potential life-changer for my painfully long journeys to Asia. I haven't used the NovaGo nonstop for that duration just yet, and in all honesty, I keep plugging it in because I want to run a battery test soon.
After about three hours of using it since the last full charge, the battery indicator said we're at 72 percent, and that there was about eight hours of juice left on this thing. But I don't think that estimate is accurate, since a little bit before that it was reporting five hours left.
A few quick final observations: Compared to the MacBook and MateBook I use at shows, the NovaGo's keyboard is a dream. It offers ample travel and a spongy feedback that my fingers appreciate. Another advantage the ASUS laptop has over the Apple and Huawei is ports. As in, it has plenty of them. Instead of just one or two USB-C sockets, the NovaGo has HDMI, two USB As, a microSD card slot and a headphone jack.
The major downside so far is that it doesn't offer USB-C. For a system that promises to be like a smartphone, this is a big letdown. I still have to lug around the ASUS-branded proprietary charger if I want to bring this laptop on a weekend trip, in addition to the USB C cables I'll be taking for my phones. If I pick the MacBook or MateBook, I can bring just the one charger for all my devices. Finally, the NovaGo's display could stand to be a bit brighter. In direct sunlight, it was hard to see what I was writing -- all I saw was the reflection of my puffy winter coat.
There are still a few more things I'd like to try on the NovaGo before giving it a score, like run a full battery test and benchmarks. So stay tuned for the review.
For now, I'm satisfied with its ability to handle all the basic tasks I need and connect to LTE wherever I go. It could be lighter, and USB-C is a glaring omission. But there are several Snapdragon-powered PCs from brands like HP and Lenovo coming out that could address those complaints.