One month with an Always Connected PC

It sometimes takes time to fall in love.

always connected pc zoom
Mark Hachman / IDG

The Always Connected PC was a joint Microsoft-Qualcomm effort to create a laptop product that was better than the iPad Pro. [Disclosure: both companies are clients of the author.] At the heart of this effort was the realization that those using a tablet like the iPad pro as a laptop likely wanted a laptop in the first place.

Initial reviews of the two Always Connected PCs in the market (Asus/HP) have been less than glowing, but I think that’s because reviewers are thinking of this like a regular laptop and not an iPad Pro alternative. Thus, I took the best of the Always Connected PCs – the Asus NovaGo TP370QL– on the road for a month.

I was impressed. 

But you have to use it for a while to get why this class of product is special, and what the initial problems are. This is a first-generation device, and there are issues. But I found I generally preferred it over a normal laptop.  Here’s why. 

Two tricks

The Always Connected PC has two tricks…and one of ‘em isn’t working at the moment. One is that they offer battery life up to around 20 hours. The other is that this device is designed to be always connected to a cellular network and sync in the background even when the lid is closed. This last part isn’t working now, but I’m told it isn’t a problem with the laptop, it’s a problem with the email servers connected to it.  They need to be reconfigured to make this primary feature work.

The good news about that is you won’t need to buy a new one of these things to get that feature. The bad news is that there is no ETA for when that’ll be done. 

Still, I found I didn’t miss it much, as the device does synchronize once awake. And, given it’s basically always awake, the amount of time it seems like it takes when you open the lid is insignificant. 

Disadvantages

Now, a lot of the early users ran into tons of performance issues with Microsoft Office, particularly with Outlook.  But this was because they loaded the wrong version of the program. You need the version compiled for this platform, otherwise Outlook will crash a lot.

The connected Microsoft online store offers the correct version, and it runs fine. In general, 64-bit apps have the greatest probability of crashing on this machine. 32-bit apps mostly seem to run fine…but recognize this is not an X86 platform, so perfect hardware compatibility will be something to aspire to.  

As noted above, background sync isn’t working at the moment, but should be fixed shortly. Finally, the second version of this product is due to market in a few short months, Microsoft and Qualcomm are moving fast, and it should maintain the very high battery life while significantly improving performance.  The general advice of avoiding Generation 1 products seems to hold here, even though the current version was surprisingly good.

Experience

I generally use my laptop to write on, do email and messaging, and I also use it to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime. I don’t game much on it because I like a far bigger screen than a laptop when gaming.  I’d heard there were issues trying to get these on a data plan, but AT&T just charged me an additional $10 a month and I was good to go. Since I had the right version of Office on the device I didn’t experience the performance problems and, apparently, the apps I use on my laptops all ran just fine (as far as I could tell) on the Asus box.

Until you carry one of these you don’t get how amazing nearly unlimited battery life is. I could leave the charger in my hotel room and just plug the laptop in at night with my Smartphone and I was good to go for the day.

At events where WiFi was iffy, I turned that off and the WAN capability took over (not that many folks were using their cell phones, so the cell sites weren’t saturated). At airports or while on the ground waiting for the cabin door to close, I could download movies and content for the plane ride, and I didn’t have to worry about rogue WiFi hotspots trying to steal my passwords and IDs.

I was expecting to hate this thing and I ended up loving it. But I never would have gotten there had I not decided to carry one of these for several weeks, so I could experience massive battery life.

Wrapping up: wait for Generation 2

This was all a really good lesson for me in that to appreciate something very different, you have to use it long enough to appreciate the differences and accept the tradeoffs.

The Always Connected PCs are a two-trick pony with one trick currently not working. Still, the one trick that does work is amazing, and I was surprised to learn I really liked having a notebook with near unlimited battery life.

However, I recommend you wait until the next generation due in a few months. There are several reasons for this. The most important is everyone appears to be sold out of the first generation (Sprint may still have some and they had a unique unlimited data plan for these as well), so you may not be able get one anyway.  But the second generation should have a far more powerful processor, the servers should be working by then (so background sync will function), and there should be more and better hardware choices.

If you get a chance, however, I would suggest you try one of these out. Particularly if you really wanted to use an iPad but found it wanting because it was too iPad-like and you needed something more like a MacBook. While this is Windows, it does provide the vast majority of the benefits of a laptop computer on a light product that offers tablet-level battery life.

I can hardly wait to try generation 2.

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