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

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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.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Battery 9

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.

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 ($399 at Amazon).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why do that? The promise is that these laptops and two-in-one hybrids will offer the same Windows 10 ($148 at Amazon) 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.

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.

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.