These PCs start up, connect and last like smartphones

New Asus and HP devices use Snapdragon mobile chips from Qualcomm and promise longer battery life, always-on connectivity and other phone-like features.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
4 min read
HP Envy X2 Snapdragon

The new HP Envy x2 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile processor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're itching to get your hands on a 2-in-1 PC that's more like a smartphone, you're about to be in luck.

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm, along with partners HP and Asus, on Tuesday showed off the first two Windows 10 PCs that use its chips. The Asus NovaGo and the HP Envy x2 both sport Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor and its X16 LTE modem, giving them the smarts and connectivity speed traditionally found only in smartphones.   

Watch this: A laptop with 20 hours of battery life? Hell, yes!

The Asus NovaGo has a 13.3-inch LED-backlit full HD display, is able to run 22 hours of video and can stay on standby for 30 days. It will start at $599 for 4 gigabytes of RAM and 64GB of storage. The $799 model will get 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. 

The HP Envy x2 features a 12.3-inch display and will last up to 20 hours on a single charge and up to about 30 days in "modern standby mode." The device will have up to 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage. Pricing isn't yet available.

Using Qualcomm chips in PCs "gives us the capability to do some things we never would have been able to do before," Kevin Frost, vice president and general manager of HP's consumer personal systems business, said Tuesday. "People are going to spend more time ... on their Windows always-connected device than ever before."

Lenovo also will introduce a Snapdragon-powered device at CES in January. 

It's the smartphone features that the companies believe will set the devices apart from regular PCs on the market. What consumers are lacking, at least according to Qualcomm, is a "truly mobile PC experience." Most traditional PCs still need time to wake up, the batteries last only about 10 hours before dying, and they're reliant on public Wi-Fi for a connection. Many still are bulky and need fans to cool them down.

"People don't consider these [2-in-1 PCs] mobile," Miguel Nunes, product manager for Qualcomm's Windows on Snapdragon operations, said in an interview.

PCs based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon mobile chips vow to change that. They're designed to be always on, like how you don't have to wait for your smartphone to wake up when turning on the screen. Because 4G LTE comes standard in the machines, you don't have to worry about finding an open, secure Wi-Fi connection. The downside, however, is that you'll need a cellular plan to tap into an LTE network. 

The low energy consuming mobile chips, combined with a lot more space for batteries, means these machines can last upward of 20 hours on a single charge.

And importantly, they run regular Windows 10 and ordinary, off-the-shelf Windows apps, not the lighter Windows RT version from five years ago that bombed nearly from the beginning.

Terry Meyerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Windows and devices group, said the Snapdragon-powered PC he's been using needs to be charged only once a week. It wakes up immediately and always has a connection when he needs it, he says.

"This is a full PC, and it's fundamentally transformed the way I work," Meyerson said Tuesday at Qualcomm's techs summit.

No more Windows RT

Windows RT was powered by mobile chips (known in the industry as ARM chips) from Qualcomm, Nvidia and others instead of the more traditional x86 processors from Intel and AMD, and it couldn't run traditional Windows programs, like Outlook. It also confused consumers, who couldn't understand the differences between the limited RT and the full-blown Windows 8. In early 2015, Microsoft finally killed the last tablet running the RT software.

But Microsoft and Qualcomm weren't quite ready to give up completely. A year ago, the two announced plans to make Windows 10 run on the Snapdragon processor.

Asus NovaGo laptop: Say hello to 22 hours of battery life

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Computers need something to get sales going again. Global PC shipments have fallen for 12 straight quarters, including dropping 3.6 percent in the third quarter to 67 million, according to Gartner. Tablets also have struggled, with shipments down 5.4 percent to 40 million in the third quarter, according to IDC.

Still, there's no guarantee the Snapdragon PCs will succeed where Windows RT failed.

"These are definitely not mass-market products," Technalysis Research analyst Bob O'Donnell said.

The new 2-in-1s won't do everything. They're mainly aimed at people who want to search the web, access social media, check email or consume content like videos. They won't work well for photo editing, intensive gaming, or similar tasks. Though they can run traditional Windows apps, it's through a process called emulation, which can make the machines lag in some instances. 

Intel has built 4G LTE chips of its own and could put them in more PCs. AMD, the other x86 chipmaker, joined Qualcomm on Tuesday to unveil a technical partnership between itself and Qualcomm to make Qualcomm's 4G LTE chips work well with AMD's processors in higher-end PCs.

For Qualcomm, even selling a few PCs creates a whole new market for the chipmaker, as well as its smartphone customers.

"Most mobile players have not done very well on PCs," Nunes said. "They see this as an interesting opportunity to get into the PC space."

First published Dec. 5, 11:30 a.m. PT
Update, 12:35 p.m.:
Adds quotes from HP and Microsoft, along with other details.

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