I’m going to thank both T-Mobile and Qualcomm for this. The latter because it supplies the Snapdragon 835 chipset that powers the NovaGo, along with most of the first gigabit LTE phones. That CPU contains the X16 LTE radio that allows these reliable, fast transfer speeds of 75 Mbps down (as detected by Speedtest). It took a little longer to load Engadget’s YouTube page than I’m used to on my WiFi connection, but the videos I picked started playing in hardly any time at all (a second or less). Pictures my friend sent over WhatsApp Web also loaded as quickly as they normally do on my phone or over my home WiFi, and the grainy selfies I took with the laptop’s webcam sent almost immediately.
Just as important, the Snapdragon 835 has held up pretty well, performance-wise. Running Windows on an ARM-based chipset seems potentially problematic, but so far I’ve had no issue installing and running most of my favorite apps. This is a Windows 10 experience that’s almost identical to my other PCs, save a couple minuscule differences. To be fair, I haven’t pushed the NovaGo very hard — I’ve been mostly using this for my usual on-the-go workflow, which consists of two windows full of tabs like Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Slack, and WhatsApp. If I were using this like my desktop-replacement laptop, there’d be a lot more Netflixing and shopping going on.
The NovaGo occasionally stuttered, especially when the Slack app is running, but I have similar issues with my Intel Core i5/7-powered PCs too. That’s probably because Slack is awful. I was also able to multitask smoothly while talking on a group video Hangout with my editor and colleagues. I still don’t know if this laptop will be able to manage Photoshop or other intensive apps — that’ll have to wait till I can test it more comprehensively for a full review.
You could get a somewhat similar experience with any old notebook and a cellular dongle. Of course, those setups require extra moving parts and didn’t offer speeds as fast as this promises. The software appears better integrated here, too. Going from WiFi to a cellular connection brought up an alert saying, “This PC is on a metered network,” warning me to pause background syncs to save data. When I switched over to a WiFi network in my office, the laptop struggled a little with the shift in connection. Some of my tabs went offline for a few seconds before coming back on again. That’s a minor hiccup, though. For the most part, changing between WiFi and LTE is seamless.
By now, I’ve spent close to 48 hours with the NovaGo (and have taken way more cab rides than I should, really). In that time, the battery has been chugging along just fine. It’s supposed to last up to 20 hours, which is a potential life-changer for my painfully long journeys to Asia. I haven’t used the NovaGo nonstop for that duration just yet, and in all honesty, I keep plugging it in because I want to run a battery test soon.
After about three hours of using it since the last full charge, the battery indicator said we’re at 72 percent, and that there was about eight hours of juice left on this thing. But I don’t think that estimate is accurate, since a little bit before that it was reporting five hours left.
A few quick final observations: Compared to the MacBook and MateBook I use at shows, the NovaGo’s keyboard is a dream. It offers ample travel and a spongy feedback that my fingers appreciate. Another advantage the ASUS laptop has over the Apple and Huawei is ports. As in, it has plenty of them. Instead of just one or two USB-C sockets, the NovaGo has HDMI, two USB As, a microSD card slot and a headphone jack.
The major downside so far is that it doesn’t offer USB-C. For a system that promises to be like a smartphone, this is a big letdown. I still have to lug around the ASUS-branded proprietary charger if I want to bring this laptop on a weekend trip, in addition to the USB C cables I’ll be taking for my phones. If I pick the MacBook or MateBook, I can bring just the one charger for all my devices. Finally, the NovaGo’s display could stand to be a bit brighter. In direct sunlight, it was hard to see what I was writing — all I saw was the reflection of my puffy winter coat.