The Asus NovaGo ($ 699) feels sturdy and looks stylish, with a generous helping of silver accents, though there’s little to distinguish it on the outside from other notebooks and convertibles from the Taiwanese manufacturer. The only giveaway that this 2-in-1 convertible laptop could usher in a revolution in mobile computing is a small sticker below the keyboard that reads “Qualcomm Snapdragon.” This is one of the first traditional computers to enter PC Labs powered by a Snapdragon 835, the same processor that you might find in a modern smartphone, which means it has excellent battery life and always-on LTE connectivity. Unfortunately, all of that is overshadowed by a significant hurdle: Developers have to make new versions of their apps that are compatible with ARM architecture, upon which the Snapdragon processors are built. If they don’t, their apps will run slowly or not at all, a problem that we experienced over several days of testing the NovaGo. Bottom line: This revolution needs more time to foment.
Choose Your Apps Wisely
Microsoft and Qualcomm engineers have taken great pains to make the process as seamless as possible, even making attempts to optimize the Firefox web browser, one of the main rivals to Edge, for Snapdragon. But the experience still leaves a lot to be desired. From powering on to launching apps to navigating through resource-intensive but essential websites like Google Maps, the NovaGo feels slightly sluggish, almost as if you’re using an old PC that has accumulated years of fragmentation and bloatware.
To understand why, we need to get technical. Most modern Windows apps are built to run on 64-bit versions of Windows 10 on Intel processors, which has largely supplanted the x86 (32-bit) architecture of previous operating systems and chip architectures. 64-bit apps won’t run on the NovaGo. 32-bit apps will run, but they require an emulation layer to translate their instructions into something the ARM architecture understands. This translation process makes the apps feel sluggish. Finally, Windows and many default apps that come with it (like the Edge browser) have been redesigned to run natively on the ARM architecture, so those will run the fastest.
The problem is that even these native apps are more sluggish than you might expect. Apps like Edge and Photos loaded images and websites at a glacial pace compared with how they run on a machine with an equivalent Intel processor. Edge even froze completely a handful of times, although it recovered without having to resort to killing it in Task Manager or restarting the PC.
To quantify the sluggishness, we ran the JetStream browser benchmark using Edge and Firefox on the NovaGo and on two machines with comparable Intel processors: the Core m3-powered Apple MacBook, and a Core i3-powered Dell Latitude 3390. The Asus rang up a score of 22 on Firefox and 70 on Edge; the Apple scored 145 on Firefox; and the Dell achieved 115 on Firefox and 177 on Edge. (Higher scores are better.)
Qualcomm’s own testing corroborates this slowdown. The company estimates delays of anywhere from a few tenths of a second using Edge to an astonishing 15 seconds or more when installing apps like VLC, Skype, and Adobe Reader.
To compound the NovaGo’s software limitations, it comes with Windows 10 S, which limits you to installing apps only from the Microsoft Store. The good news is that the store will tell you if an app is compatible with the NovaGo and which architectures it supports. If you switch to Windows 10 Pro (a free, irreversible upgrade for NovaGo owners) to install non-Microsoft Store apps, you’ll need to check with the developer to see if an app is compatible.
The silver lining is that Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Asus are working on improving the software experience, and their efforts appear to be paying off. When I first tried a NovaGo in March 2018, it was borderline unusable. Now, following several firmware and OS updates, the experience is significantly improved. Built-in apps like the Edge browser, Microsoft Maps, and Windows Explorer windows now load nearly instantly, and you can even play basic games like Age of Empires with no stuttering. Multitasking and app switching is also smoother, with few instances of spinning loading icons or brief system freezes, two annoyances that were initially common.
Despite the sofware issues, the NovaGo is still a promising laptop that offers three key features, two of which (LTE and battery life) work remarkably well, and I’ll get to those below. The third, always-on connectivity, is intriguing but a bit rough around the edges.
The idea behind the always-on concept is that as soon as you open the lid and log in to your Windows account, every electronic communication you received while you were away (messages, emails, notifications, and the like) are all displayed instantly, without having to wait for the computer to connect to a network and pull them in.
This does work, but it’s not as seamless as a smartphone or tablet in one key way: There’s no easy way to get important notifications when the display is off or the lid is closed. I couldn’t hear the ringing of video calls made via Facebook Messenger or Skype when the NovaGo was in tablet mode with the screen off, or in laptop mode with the lid closed. You’ll almost certainly carry both a NovaGo and a smartphone with you, so this is not too much of a problem, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re a frequent Skype user.
To make sure that the NovaGo isn’t disconnecting from LTE as soon as it goes to sleep, you can set it to never disconnect in the Power & Sleep section of the Windows Settings app. (The other two options for this setting are “Always disconnect,” and a rather cryptic “Managed by Windows.”)
An Average 2-in-1
The NovaGo is a pretty standard 13.3-inch laptop, 0.6 inch thick with a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) touch display and a 3.06-pound weight. Although it’s certainly toteable and comparable with other 13-inch convertible models like the Lenovo Yoga 920, it’s heavier than conventional laptops like the LG Gram 13 (2 pounds) and even its stablemate Asus ZenBook UX330 (2.64 pounds).
The island-style keyboard is comfortable, and keys have plenty of throw, but they have a little bit of wobble around their center point, and there’s no backlighting. The touchpad works well for both single- and multiple-finger gestures, and there’s a small fingerprint sensor built into the upper right hand corner of the pad.
Since it’s a convertible, you can fold the NovaGo into tent mode and all the way back into tablet mode, which turns the keyboard off. On the side are two USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port, and a microSD card slot. There are no USB-C ports, however, a glaring omission in 2018 when even many sub-$ 500 laptops have them.
The NovaGo’s sole configuration sold in the United States comes with 6GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). This is a bit on the skimpy side for the laptop’s $ 699 retail price.
LTE and Battery Life for Days
The NovaGo has both eSIM and nanoSIM slots to support its gigabit LTE modem. According to Asus reps, it will have gigabit support for all four major U.S. networks.
I tested it with both Verizon and T-Mobile service over several days in New York City, a congested warren of competing wireless signals, and the results were impressive. While I never got close to the maximum 1GBps speeds that the modem is capable of, I never recorded unusable speeds, either.
The slowest was in a below-ground movie theater, where the NovaGo managed 22MBps download and less than 1MBps upload on T-Mobile. Above ground, download speeds were consistently higher than 100MBps, while uploads hovered around 10MBps. Even in PC Labs, a giant room full of hundreds of wireless devices, the NovaGo recorded 50MBps down and 17MBps on the Verizon network. To measure speeds, I used the Speedtest tool from Ookla (which is owned by PCMag’s parent company, Ziff Davis).
Qualcomm says it is working on a driver update for the modem to make gigabit speeds more reliable. Even if that doesn’t end up working out, 100MBps downloads are more than enough for multiple simultaneous video streams, so most users will find themselves limited not by bandwidth, but by the sluggishness of the software.
Asus and Qualcomm also claim an incredible 22 hours of battery life under typical usage scenarios, like web browsing, Skype calling, and streaming YouTube. Indeed, after a weekend of using the NovaGo for two to three hours each day, split about equally between streaming video and web browsing, I arrived back at PC Labs on Monday morning with 47 percent of the battery remaining. I’ve never experienced anything close to that level of energy efficiency from a laptop. Even when I left the laptop open overnight in the Always connect mode so it could sync notifications and messages, the battery dropped just 12 percent. Conventional Intel- or AMD-powered laptops that I’ve left overnight in this state with a full charge, even the long-lasting Apple MacBook Pro, were dead in the morning.
What’s even better is that the NovaGo is actually more impressive in this real-world scenario than it is on our battery-life benchmark, a relatively easy test that measures how long a laptop can play a local video file at 50 percent brightness with its Bluetooth and Wi-Fi turned off. The NovaGo managed 19 hours and 43 minutes on this test, which is very long but still shorter than the 22 hours that the Lenovo Yoga 920 managed. Ultimately, I wouldn’t expect to charge the NovaGo more than once every three days of casual use.
Considering the Trade-Offs
Is this go-anywhere LTE speed and long-lasting battery sufficient to make up for the imperfect software experience, though? That depends on your patience and how fast Microsoft and Qualcomm make software and firmware improvements.
Although they’re slightly more expensive, the Lenovo Yoga 920 convertible and the Asus ZenBook UX330 clamshell are far better laptops, and if you need to connect them to LTE, you can always tether them to your smartphone. If you really want a Snapdragon-powered, always-on laptop, you can count your options on one hand. In addition to the NovaGo, there’s the HP Envy x2 and the Lenovo Miix 630. Both of those are detachable tablets, so in fact the NovaGo is really your only option if you want a full-size laptop with a relatively comfortable keyboard.
Ultimately, the NovaGo is a machine for people who like to live life on the bleeding edge of technology, even if that bleeding edge, in some aspects, can be rather dull. Everyone else should buy a conventional laptop with an Intel or AMD processor.