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Asus NovaGo review: The promise and the problems with the Always Connected PC

With 17 hours of battery life in our tests, the Asus NovaGo could be a great laptop—if it solved all the other problems.

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The benchmarks indicate several things: First, as you might expect, Edge delivers superior performance over the emulated Chrome browser on the NovaGo. But the tests also seemed to confirm my own experiences while using Edge: With some tests, Edge on the NovaGo generated scores that were within shouting distance of what I would consider a good, solid laptop, the Microsoft Surface Laptop. In other situations, they lagged far behind. With the NovaGo, web browsing—among the most common PC tasks—is a mixed bag.

Benchmark performance: It’s really slow

Our usual suite of benchmarks for Windows PCs posed several challenges for the NovaGo. Anything that used a 64-bit executable was a non-starter, including Cinebench. (Microsoft released a 64-bit SDK at its recent Build conference that will allow 64-bit apps, though we didn't have access to it.) Both of the PCMark Home and Creative tests ran, though the Home test failed to complete an early run when we first received the laptop. And while we weren't able to generate a PCMark Worlk test when our review ran, a later build managed to generate a score.

Evidence of the ongoing bug fixes? Perhaps. Remember, too, that all of these tests used emulated apps, which will depress performance quite a bit. 

We compared the Asus NovaGo against a small cross-section of PCs. Two, the Chuwi Hi13 and the Huawei Matebook, were among the slowest PCs we’ve tested. Others, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) and Samsung Galaxy Book, predate the Always Connected PC concept but still offer SIM slots. Finally, we added the significantly pricier Microsoft Surface Laptop, whose superb battery life makes it a contender. (Note that several of these are Windows tablets, rather than laptops.)

Both the Home and Creative tests from PCMark demonstrate how well the Snapdragon-powered system completes basic tasks like web browsing, light “gaming,” and video calls. The Creative test adds some image and video manipulation. While Qualcomm has been adamant that standardized testing is not an appropriate measurement of performance, the tests confirmed what we already knew: Right now, a Qualcomm Snapdragon PC is really slow. 

Asus NovaGo handbrake pcmark home Mark Hachman / IDG
Asus NovaGo handbrake pcmark creative Mark Hachman / IDG
Asus NovaGo handbrake pcmark creative Mark Hachman / IDG

Here's the new PCMark Work score, too. No surprises here. 

pcmark work asus novago Mark Hachman / IDG

Another standardized app we use is HandBrake, an open-source tool we use to convert a movie file for use on an Android tablet. It's a good CPU stress test. 

Asus NovaGo handbrake Mark Hachman / IDG

Handbrake’s transcoding took forever to run on the Asus NovaGo—not exactly what you want to happen when you’re converting a movie in time to catch a plane.

The results were bad: possibly the worst we’ve seen in a long time: 17,623 seconds, or 293.7 minutes, or almost five hours to transcode the movie. That’s slower than the Atom X7-8700 in the 2015 Microsoft Surface 3, the Core m parts that populate some  PCs like the HP Folio 1020, or the Celeron N3450 in the Chuwi Hi13

Somewhat ironically, the 3DMark Sky Diver test was able to run, measuring how the integrated Qualcomm Adreno 540 GPU would fare in 3D gaming. Given the fact that the Chuwi Hi13 was able to run light games like DOTA2 and League of Legends, we’d expect that the NovaGo could do the same. Asphalt 8, one of the more demanding mobile games available, also ran perfectly acceptably.

Asus NovaGo sky diver Mark Hachman / IDG

Only a Chuwi laptop powered by an Atom chip performed worse than the Asus NovaGo.

Conclusion: One to watch, not buy

If the Asus NovaGo intrigues you, despite all its caveats and inconveniences, then I can very hesitantly recommend it. Asus and Qualcomm certainly satisfy the basic premise of an all-day, always-connected PC, a necessary evolutionary step for the platform. But when one of the vendors involved with the product recommends that you join the Windows Insider beta program to apply bug fixes as they’re implemented, this is a problem. 

We do know that the NovaGo experience will improve. As developers write and release versions for ARM chips, those higher-performing native apps will be delivered automatically via the Windows Store. Microsoft hopes, too, that other apps will eventually be delivered as what it calls Progressive Web Apps: a mobile webpage, packaged as an app, which will help fill the gap. 

Nevertheless, the Asus NovaGo is a version 1.0 product competing against generations of established rivals. Only the most committed buyers should buy the NovaGo over a more traditional notebook.

This review was updated on August 6 with an additional PCMark Work score. 

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At a Glance
  • The Asus NovaGo convertible notebook offers incredible battery life and persistent wireless connectivity, but a range of bugs and app restrictions currently restrict it to a user who doesn't mind its limitations.

    Pros

    • Absolutely amazing, all-day battery life
    • WiFi + cellular connectivity means that you're always connected

    Cons

    • Windows 10 S limits the type of apps you can install
    • 64-bit apps won't run, and you won't know it until you try
    • You'll need to supply your own cellular SIM and plan
    • Performance ranges from fair to extremely slow
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