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December 6, 2017

Super-efficient Windows laptops powered by Qualcomm phone chips are here

by John_A

More details about the upcoming Snapdragon-powered laptops have emerged at the Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit hosted in Maui, Hawaii. This includes the details about two specific models that will soon be on store shelves – the Asus NovaGo and HP Envy x2.

The laptops are the result of a collaboration between Qualcomm and Microsoft that was first announced in December of 2016. At the time, Microsoft teased a build of Windows 10 running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor. The launch platform has since been upgraded to the newer, more advanced Snapdragon 835.

Always Connected

While the hardware has changed, Qualcomm’s talking points haven’t. The company has given Windows laptops with Snapdragon hardware the name “Always Connected PCs” for a simple and obvious reason – they have built-in LTE. While laptops with AMD and Intel hardware can have use LTE, it’s available only through an optional adapter that often adds $100 (or more) to the final price. Laptops with Snapdragon 835, meanwhile, will offer LTE by default. Though it is possible to leave the store without a mobile contract, representatives from Qualcomm say that the carrier deals will be so “juicy” that they expect most people will want to sign up.

Qualcomm is also using battery life to champion its chip. The company says Always Connected PCs will manage up to 25 hours of battery life. That figure is reached through some creative use case scenarios that include standby time, so continual real-world use many not reach that lofty figure. Still, there’s no doubt that Snapdragon, which is primarily targeted at smartphones, sips power. It seems likely to give Intel real competition in marathon sessions away from a socket.

The real test for the new Always Connected PCs, though, will be performance. Digital Trends has not been able to benchmark them yet, but leaked tests of Windows 10 running on Qualcomm hardware sparked concern.

Whatever the final results may be, even Qualcomm admits that it can’t go toe-to-toe with AMD and Intel hardware. Its own performance metrics show that certain tasks, like opening a PDF or installing Skype, can take up to twice as long as on a “competitor” 2-in-1. Yet the company’s figures show that other tasks, like launching a browser or using Cortana, take no more time on Snapdragon hardware.

The argument, unsurprisingly, is that Qualcomm-powered laptops will be quick enough for most users. Always Connected PCs will be fanless, too, yet can manage lower external temperatures than most laptops. We don’t think that’s a selling point for most people, but it’s certainly a bonus.

Performance might also be helped by Windows 10 S. Both the laptops unveiled today come with it installed, rather than Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Home. First introduced on the Surface Laptop, Windows 10 S is a version of the operating system that only runs Windows Store applications. That means it can’t run legacy programs which might not be well optimized for the new Qualcomm hardware. Like the Surface Laptop, representatives say that the devices can be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro or Home, though it’s not clear if the upgrade will be free.

Asus NovaGo

The first Always Connected PC from Asus will be its NovaGo, which is essentially a Zenbook Flip sold under another name. The 13-inch device includes a 360-degree hinge and a 1080p touchscreen, so it can be used as either tablet or laptop. It’s as thin and light as you’d expect at 0.58 inches thick and just a hair over three pounds. Battery life is quoted at an impressive 22 hours.

Asus has joined the Snapdragon 835 processor with impressive hardware including 8GB of memory and 256GB of solid state storage, which will cost $799. Asus also offers a $599 model with 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage. Wireless connectivity is provided by a Qualcomm’s X16 LTE mode, but 802.11ac Wi-Fi is also supported.

Connection options include two USB-A ports (3.1), HDMI, a MicroSD card, and a headphone jack. No USB-C port here, but a stylus does comes with the system.

HP Envy x2

HP’s option is a slightly smaller device with a 12.3-inch touchscreen covered by Corning Gorilla Glass 4. It boasts 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, a slight improvement over the Asus that reflects the HP’s 16:10 aspect ratio.

Also unlike the Asus, HP’s Envy x2 is a detachable, which means the display separates entirely from the keyboard to become a standalone tablet – and that later half seems to be what HP wants to focus on. The company says it’s just 0.27 inches thick and weighs only 1.54 pounds, which is both lighter and thinner than the Surface Pro. The keyboard itself weighs an additional 1.12 pounds.

HP is eager to point to the keyboard’s benefits, however. Wrapped in oxford blue leather, it offers a touch of class to the look of the device. The company promises 1.3mm of key travel, which is comparable to many laptops. A kickstand on the back of the case holds the HP Envy x2 in place for laptop use. A stylus is included, too.

Despite the internal differences, HP Envy x2’s innards almost identical to the Asus NovaGo. It includes 8GB of memory, 256GB of solid state storage, and a Qualcomm X16 LTE mode alongside 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Port selection does seem more limited, though – we spotted just one USB-C port and a headphone jack. Battery life is also a tad shorter, quoted at 20 hours of 1080p video.

Partnership with AMD

In a bit of a surprise, an executive from AMD took the stage to announce a partnership with Qualcomm. He talked through AMD’s year of Ryzen CPU launches and the company’s “return” to the high-end desktop market.

Now AMD is bringing high-performance CPUs to the notebook PC market and joining in on the always-connected LTE line from Qualcomm. The exact products weren’t named, but AMD is talking about a technical collaboration that combines its high-performance CPUs and Qualcomm’s always-connected modems. AMD says it’s been testing this combination and is working with manufacturers to produce these LTE, high-performance PCs.

Clearly, Qualcomm has established partnerships across the board to create a line that includes both entry-level and high-performance laptops.

How much do they cost, and when can you get one?

Asus’ NovaGo starts at just $599, while the HP Envy X2 hasn’t announced pricing just quite yet.

The only laptops that have processors somewhat like Snapdragon are entry-level Chromebooks, and clearly some manufacturers are shooting for that lower price point. On the other hand, the HP Envy x2 looks positioned as a luxury device rather than an entry-level computer.

We know a little more about availability, as these systems are expected in Spring of 2018. That’s still a few months off and, importantly, well after CES 2018, which happens in the second week of January. Qualcomm mentioned that Lenovo, in particular, will be producing laptops in the Always Connected PC line and showing them off at CES. We expect to see more precise details, including pricing, at that show, and we’d be shocked if a few other manufacturers don’t jump on-board Qualcomm’s bandwagon in Vegas.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • HP’s Envy x2 claims longest battery life of any detachable Windows PC
  • Asus NovaGo, the first gigabit LTE-capable laptop, promises fast download speeds
  • Tune in here for Qualcomm’s December 5 Snapdragon Technology Summit keynote
  • Leaked benchmarks for new Windows 10 laptops show meager performance
  • Microsoft job listing hints at Surface device with a Snapdragon 845 chip

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