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Asus NovaGo review: An all-day laptop with too many compromises

The Asus NovaGo is a two-in-one laptop running Windows 10 on a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip, but the experimental mashup is only sometimes successful.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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6 min read

If there's one thing laptops could do better, it's last longer. Battery life remains a sore subject for many, and it's still considered inadvisable to head off to a mission-critical outing without lugging along a power brick.

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7.6

Asus NovaGo

The Good

The Asus NovaGo has extra-long battery life and an always-on LTE connection. The keyboard is excellent, and this two-in-one laptop claims over 30 days of standby time.

The Bad

The phone CPU inside feels sluggish compared to Intel Core i-series laptops. Not every Windows app will work, or work well.

The Bottom Line

The Asus NovaGo makes good use of its Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 brain for long battery life and always-on cellular, but the performance feels more like a phone than laptop.

A new breed of laptop aims to change that, by altering one of the most defining things about your PC, the processor. The Asus NovaGo is one of a handful of new systems to swap out the usual Intel (or sometimes AMD) CPUs in favor of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the same chip found in smartphones such as last year's Samsung Galaxy S8. Other models coming soon include the HP Envy x2 and the Lenovo Miix 630.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Why do that? The promise is that these laptops and two-in-one hybrids will offer the same Windows 10 you're used to, but add 20-plus hours of battery life, plus a phone-like always on LTE connection. They also claim 30 days of standby time, which means you can close the lid and leave them sitting in a corner for weeks and still have battery power when you return. We're still testing battery life, but this system's "instant on" capabilities work as advertised. It boots up rapidly and resumes from sleep in a flash. 

Firing up the NovaGo, it looks and feels like any midprice Windows laptop. This model starts at $599 for 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and you can double both of those specs for $799. We tested an in-between version with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD that won't be sold in the US. Asus hasn't said how much it'll cost outside the US, but that base price translates to about £425 or AU$775. The system is expected to go on sale in the US around May 1. 

Editors' note: We'll add a rating to this review once we finish performance and battery testing.

Asus NovaGo

Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 1,920x1,080 touch display
CPU 2.6GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Mobile Processor
Memory 8GB 1,866MHz LPDDR4x onboard
Graphics Adreno 540 710MHz
Storage 128GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)

Always on, but not always fast

It's only after a little hands-on time that you start to notice some differences. Working on an LTE connection from a laptop isn't always ideal. Asus calls it the "world's first gigabit LTE laptop," thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE modem inside, but you're really at the mercy of your carrier. We used T-Mobile and maxed out at about 20Mbps in our corner of Manhattan. And, of course, you'll need to pay extra for that cellular connection.

Even on Wi-Fi, web surfing felt sluggish at times, like pages were loading slower than usual. In hands-on use, it certainly feels more like a lower-cost Chromebook or a Celeron-powered Intel laptop, which usually cost less than $400. But this is a mainstream-priced laptop, where you'd expect zippier performance and instant reactions from the OS.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The few benchmarks we were able to run on this ARM platform show performance that lags behind mainstream Core i5 laptops, which can cost around the same or less, and closer to entry-level systems, which can still be more than fine for everyday users. (For the record: "ARM" stands for "Advanced RISC Machine," but you can just think of it as "smartphone CPU" versus the traditional Intel or AMD chip.) We also compared the NovaGo to phones running both the same Snapdragon 835 and the newer 845 chips -- just the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, so far -- where it was also slower, but that may be because of how well optimized the Snapdragon is for Android. 

There have been many questions about which Windows apps would work on these Snapdragon PCs. By default, the NovaGo will come with S, which is the version of Windows 10 that restricts you to installing only apps from the official Microsoft App Store. Fortunately, it's now a free (and easy) upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, which will allow you to at least attempt to install and run anything. This test unit came with Windows 10 Pro already installed, so we have not been able to test it running Windows 10 S.

Because it was running Windows 10 Pro, I was able to install the Chrome browser, which worked fine. Other apps that installed and ran correctly include Microsoft Office, the Spotify desktop app and Steam, the PC gaming platform. But while I was able to get the Steam app to launch, my first few attempts to launch actual games have failed so far (but I've only checked a few at this point). The 3DMark benchmarking app ran -- but wonkily -- and turned in an invalid score, according to the app.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Some apps in the Windows 10 app store were available to download, but not all. Most of the PC games in my library indicated they would not work on this device, and that they needed an x86 architecture. Some of the games that are more phone-like, such as Asphalt 8 from Gameloft, installed and ran perfectly.

Asus says of the system's app support, "Every application for ARM-based Windows laptops is Microsoft-verified for compatibility, security and protection to ensure the most secure Windows version ever built." In fact, there's a fairly long list of things these Qualcomm laptops can't do, including use certain peripheral drivers. 

But, as the saying goes, "your mileage may vary." Beyond the gaming problems, most of what I do on laptops is browser-based these days, so I didn't run into any real workflow-stopping compatibility issues with the NovaGo.  There's a sense of limitations, or at least bumpers designed to keep you on the road, but in practical terms, there's little the average user would need that this system can't do. 

As sharp-looking as a smartphone

The NovaGo looks and feels like a premium laptop, despite the plastic body. At 15mm thick, it's about the same as a MacBook Pro, and weighs almost the same at 3.1 pounds (1.4 kg). One advantage of the ARM platform is that this is a fanless design, which helps the system run quieter and can improve battery life. We've see that in only a handful of high-end Intel Windows laptops and two-in-ones.

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A matte gray covers the entire interior, from the wrist rest to the keyboard tray to the keys themselves, then extends over the back of the lid and the bottom panel. It's pleasingly fingerprint-resistant, which helped keep the laptop looking spiffy, even after all-day use.

The 13.3-inch full-HD display (1,920x1,080 pixels) is surrounded by a thick black bezel, which is the opposite of the design direction of most phones using the same Snapdragon 835 chip. Some of the better Windows 10 laptops are also embracing thinner bezels, like the Dell XPS 13, but at the expense of odd webcam placement. In this case, the webcam is in its traditional spot above the screen.

The keyboard, with its widely spaced, island-style keys, deserves a callout. Its deep, solid keys feel better than many keyboards on laptops that cost hundreds more, and unlike a lot of laptops in this price range, there's zero flex in the keyboard tray, even under heavy typing. The touchpad is serviceable, handling two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom about as well as most Windows laptops, but it's nothing special. A fingerprint reader (this is a Windows Hello-compatible laptop) sits on the upper-right corner of the touchpad.

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While this is a groundbreaking laptop in some ways, in others it's very traditional. Included here are a pair of USB 3.1 ports and an HDMI output, which are ports often omitted in high-design laptops in favor of USB-C. 

The nonstop laptop

If you're intrigued by the idea of a laptop with lots battery life, then you're squarely in the target market for the NovaGo or one of the other Snapdragon laptops. The system ran for 13 hours and 12 minutes on our battery drain test, which is an impressive score for any laptop, but not the "24 hours" Qualcomm and Microsoft were pitching. 

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If you're primarily interested in the always-on LTE connection, there are other Intel-powered options out there, such as the new LTE version of the Microsoft Surface. Or, you could just suck it up and tether to your phone like the rest of us do.

If those two major selling points don't grab you, you may not be in the market for a laptop with the brains of a phone. At this upper-midrange price, the performance just doesn't feel fast enough to justify the limitations. In fact, the NovaGo most reminded us of a Chromebook -- but at that point, why not just buy a Chromebook and pay a lot less?

Geekbench 4 Multi-core

Acer Aspire E15-57G6 10,891Microsoft Surface Pro with LTE Advanced (T-Mobile) 7,843Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2017) 6,896Acer Switch 3 4,472Asus NovaGo TP270QL (T-Mobile) 2,762
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Asus NovaGo TP270QL (T-Mobile) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Mobile processor; 8GB 1,866MHz LPDDR4x onboard; Adreno 540 Graphics; 128GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Pro with LTE Advanced (T-Mobile) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-7300U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Acer Aspire E15-57G6 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz, 2048MB Nvidia GeForce MX150; 256GB SSD
Acer Switch 3 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.1GHz Intel Pentium N4200; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 505; 64GB SSD
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2017) Apple MacOS 10.12.5 Sierra; 1.2GHz Intel Core m3-7Y32; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD
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7.6

Asus NovaGo

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6Battery 9
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