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People are buying 4G LTE laptops -- and then not activating LTE

Lenovo has found people buy its Qualcomm-powered always-connected PCs more for their long battery life than the fact they're always connected.

Lenovo's new Yoga C630 features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 processor.

The best way to sell always-connected PCs is downplaying the actual connectivity part.

At least, that's what Lenovo has found through the past year of selling computers powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon LTE processors, said Matt Bereda, vice president of global consumer marketing for PCs and tablets at Lenovo.

Even though all of the devices are capable of running on 4G LTE wireless networks, most people don't actually activate the service on their computers, he said.

"Over half the people aren't connecting these devices," Bereda said Thursday in an interview with CNET at Qualcomm's Snapdragon Technology Summit. He attended the conference to tout Lenovo's partnership with Qualcomm and its plans to keep building "always-connected PCs" using the San Diego chipmaker's processors.

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Instead, "battery life is something that is grabbing a lot of people's attention," Bereda said. "That's where we've moved [our marketing] with the new Yoga C630."

Qualcomm this week has been hosting its annual technology conference in Hawaii. The company unveiled its newest mobile smartphone chip and talked up opportunities for 5G. Partners like Samsung, OnePlus, Verizon and AT&T have detailed plans for 5G devices and networks in 2019. Samsung, for instance, said it'll launch 5G phones in the US in the first half of 2019. OnePlus announced its first 5G phone, which will go to Europe.

On Thursday, Qualcomm unveiled its first processor designed specifically for always-connected PCs, the Snapdragon 8cx. The Snapdragon 8cx, like Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 855 for smartphones, is built using 7-nanometer process technology, the most advanced technique available today. It features big performance jumps from its predecessors in PCs and is capable of running more of the apps and services users want in their devices. Lenovo is one partner that will use the chip in future computers.

Higher cost

The aim of always-connected PCs is to bring smartphone features to computers, like all-day or even multiple-day battery life and constant 4G LTE connectivity. People spend an increasing amount of time on their phones and less time on their PCs, and they're holding onto computers for much longer than their smartphones. The answer for Microsoft and traditional PC makers has been to turn computers into something more like phones.

But that doesn't mean consumers want to pay for yet another wireless service plan. Bereda said cost is one of the biggest factors for why people don't use 4G LTE on their Windows or Snapdragon computers.

Apple charges more for 4G LTE versions of its iPads because of the modem that's added to the device. In the case of its new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, a Wi-Fi-only version starts at $999, while the LTE model starts at $1,149. But with the new Qualcomm-powered connected PCs, 4G LTE technology is included by default. The actual device doesn't cost users more. The service plans do.

"Any time you add cost to a device, it's an obstacle," Bereda said.

Then there's the fact a lot of people don't even realize they could use 4G LTE on their devices, he said.

To solve both problems, Lenovo has partnered with carriers on trial programs that give new users things like 90 days of free data connectivity, Bereda said.

"All of a sudden you get them used to it, and they can't ever imagine going back," he said. "They never really thought about it, but it makes sense. You get 4G on a phone, why not get it on a PC?"

Longer battery life

The most-wanted smartphone features in PCs are long battery life at 36 percent, face unlocking at 30 percent and instant-on at 29 percent. Cellular connectivity lagged behind, with just a quarter of respondents wanting 4G in their PCs, according to a survey by Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi.

"It is clear to me from the fact that 25 percent said they would want a cellular connection that when we talk about connectivity, it is not a question of solving a problem but rather delivering a level of convenience we have got accustomed to with our phones," she noted. For people to actually use 4G LTE service on their PCs, it comes down to what computer makers, Qualcomm and carriers offer users for plan activation and "compelling" data plan pricing.

"Offering that convenience for a free trial period will get users to never want to give it up, setting the bar for what the next computing experience should be like," Milanesi noted.

Still Lenovo continues to emphasize things like battery life in its marketing instead of 4G LTE, which is what it pushed with the Miix 630 detachable from January. That device was its first computer to use a Snapdragon processor, the 835.

Lenovo's new Yoga C630 WOS (which stands for Windows on Snapdragon), which launched last month, is a fanless 13.3-inch full HD two-in-one with up to 25 hours of battery life for video playback. It can last for days on a single charge in other use cases. The Yoga C630 uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon 850 processor.

"As we went into 850 on the C630, we prioritized our message to … the always-on nature of it," Bereda said. "And then there's the universal pain point of battery life, whether I'm a mainstream, basic user or a high-end user."

5G on its way

It won't be until next year that Lenovo hybrid devices roll out with the new Snapdragon 8cx. The company hasn't specified timing, but Qualcomm said PCs will start hitting the market in the third quarter, in time for back-to-school shoppers. Computers from certain vendors also will start including 5G connectivity next year, Qualcomm said.

Bereda declined to specify when Lenovo will start using 5G in its PCs but said the company wants to have 5G as soon as it can. 

One thing slowing it down is pricing. Bereda didn't specify how much more a 5G-enabled PC would cost but acknowledged it will be more since the components are more expensive. OnePlus CEO Pete Lau on Wednesday told CNET that 5G could add $200 to $300 to the cost of his company's $549 OnePlus 6T.

"With technology, generally most people like more tech than less on their devices," Bereda said. "But they're also not always willing to pay for it."

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