I’m attending Microsoft Build 2018 in Seattle this week, and it’s been an eye-opening 4 days to ingest, digest and hopefully apply everything I’ve learned here. It’s more about inspiration and mental notes on what I need to look into when I get back home, but this time I also took the opportunity to visit the expo area to learn beyond the regular breakout sessions.

In one of the booths, they had on display Windows 10 ARM PCs, for which the marketing name is Always Connected PCs. Initially, I frowned with the name, because I come from a country that has ubiquitous 4G LTE (“fast mobile data”) for reasonably cheap prices. I’ve enjoyed unlimited mobile data for more years I can remember, and tethering my laptop to a phone is a non-issue for me. I frequently the mobile hotspot enabled on purpose on my phone, and just forget it’s even there.

So with this premise in mind, reading about the Microsoft and Qualcomm partnership late last year, that aims to produce these Always Connected PCs (ACPC) I wasn’t that impressed. “I’ve connected already, whenever I need to”, I was thinking at the time. “Why do I need a specific device for that?” I’ve also dabbled with vendor-specific 3G and 4G cards, going as far back as the late 1990s when we had PCMCIA cards with external antennas for wifi and mobile data (GPRS at the time, I recall). I’ve kept ACPCs on my radar since December last year when the initial announcement was made by Microsoft.

I’m more interested in battery life, especially when I travel and might not have charging opportunities readily available. ACPCs are providing real-life battery life of up to 22 hours, which frankly sounds unheard of and probably not attainable. They are also lightweight, and with a better, than normal battery life, you probably would not have to bring the charger along for short travels.

(Image courtesy of Asus)

Today, there seem to be only two devices that fall under the ACPC category – the HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo. The HP is available for purchase today, and they promise a delivery time of only one day (this while I’m in the US, so European availability is still a bit of a mystery). The Asus NovaGo seems to be partially available in Asia, but not anywhere else. At least I couldn’t find a link to purchase. With the HP, the device comes with a 4 GB and 8 GB configuration but the order link seems to only offer the 4 GB model which I think is not nearly enough.

(Image courtesy of HP)

So, back to me being in the expo area at Microsoft Build. I stopped by for a chat with the friendly Windows 10 ARM people and had a chance to use the HP Envy x2. My initial worry was performance, as all code, you run that is originally compiled for Win32 needs to go through emulation to be executed on the ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU. It’s akin to running Windows software on a mobile phone without porting it first. I was pleasantly surprised with performance – I ran Excel 2017, Google Chrome, Windows Calculator, Notepad, Edge, Command Prompt, and PowerCfg.exe without a hiccup. It felt like my Surface Laptop (see my initial review here) with the i5 processor — it just works. Also, the Surface Pen-like pen worked smoothly while drawing in Paint.

I ran PowerCfg.exe to get the battery report. It often reveals interesting historical data on device behavior and battery vs. AC runtimes. For the HP Envy x2, it listed runtime of 24 hours and about 30 minutes. Connected Standby, or Modern Standby as it seems to be called in Windows 10 today, had the battery capability rated for 400+ hours. That’s about 16 working days of standby. I didn’t dare to install a 3rd party battery meter, such as BatteryBar Pro to see actual runtime estimates while using the device.

I also had a chat with the staff to query about real-life usage of the devices. I understood that actual, real work on the device allows it to run for about two full days before there’s a need to charge.

Pricewise, the HP Envy x2 goes for about $999, but sadly as I mentioned before, it’s for the 4 GB model with only 128 GB storage. I find that pretty unusable, so the 8 GB/256 GB would make more sense but obviously that will add to base price – probably about $200-300 more.

There is also a mention that the ACPCs run niftily on Windows 10 S devices. The S here is important as that is the version of Windows 10 that Surface Laptop ships with. You can easily upgrade to Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise by changing the license key and letting it finalize the upgrade with a reboot – if you have a license. Battery life for the demo device I was able to use seemed great, and the device was not in S mode anymore (as I could run Google Chrome, which is not a Microsoft Store app that Windows 10 S only allows).

Thus, for anyone thinking of getting an ACPC, it would make sense to go for either device with 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB storage, and having a Windows 10 Pro/Enterprise license key to spare.

Thoughts on Always Connected PCs from the Microsoft and Qualcomm partnership